A prototypical middle linebacker the minute he arrived at Pittsburgh, Dan Mason is big, bad and intense. And Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt believes the sophomore has a chance to be special.
"We know he's going to be aggressive and give great effort,'' Wannstedt said. "And, of course, we know he's going to be a physical player. But he has to put it all together. He has to be able to play the run just as well as the pass, blitz and other coverages.
"He has to do it all, and in our defense the middle linebacker makes most of the calls on the field. He has to be the quarterback of our defense, and he should be able to do that. I'm glad he's played some, so it won't be like he's a first-year player. And that's good for a middle linebacker.''
Mason played in all 13 games as a freshman for Pitt last fall, including three starts, and recorded 26 total tackles with 15 solo stops, 3.5 behind the line, two sacks and an interception. In his first college start against Navy, Mason was spectacular with 11 tackles and both his sacks.
Mason finishes blitz on Navy quarterback.
"Once you taste college football, the game speed and everything like that, it's contagious,'' Mason said. "You want to get more and more every chance to get. So, I'm working hard to get better than last year. I got in some games last year, and I want to be ready to play the whole season this year.
"And if my teammates want to see me as a leader, I'll take on that responsibility. But I probably lead more by example. I just try to go hard in everything I do and show the way in that respect. I'm a talker on the field, but I just try to do everything the right way and lead that way.''
Mason is 6-feet tall and was 230 pounds at his last weigh-in, which is near his playing weight from last season. However, Mason appears to be more cut now and maybe even a little quicker. With continued hard work, and there's no other way to go for Mason, the sky's the limit for this kid.
"Every day is still a learning experience for Dan, so there's always things that he's seeing for the first time and learning for the first time,'' Wannstedt said. "The key is for him to keep a positive attitude and attempt to absorb everything he's being told and seeing out on the field.''
According to new Pitt linebackers coach Bernard Clark, Mason has everything needed to be a special player.
"The best thing about Dan is that he has such natural instincts, but the other thing about Dan is that you really have to slow him down,'' Clark said. "He's so excited about playing that he's really hyper out there on the field. So, I have to tell him that things are going to develop in front of him and to let them develop.
"Then, he can react off of that. So, he's a little too quick to react right now, and that's the biggest thing about him. But his instincts and speed are just so good that he has a lot going for him. And his reads will get there. I just want him to concentrate more on those reads, as opposed to just reacting first.''
While Mason excelled against Navy, primarily an option-running team, he struggled when the opposition utilized a spread-passing attack.
"Especially for a young man basically just out of high school, the passing game is going to take a while for him to pick up,'' Clark said. "And it's going to be the last thing to develop, their pass defense. But that's only because he hasn't played the pass as much as the run. So, he just has to do it.''
Mason realizes his short-comings, though, and he believes Clark is just what he needs to take his game to another level.
"He's been great,'' Mason said. "He's already shown me a lot of things (like) working on my footwork, pre-snap reads and everything like that. He's played the position (middle linebacker) at every level, so he's a good coach. And I can learn a lot from him.''
And that should scare Pitt's opponents more than anything this season.
Pitt Profile: Dan Mason
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