Holley was an unexpected contributor who became a starter. He eventually overtook Elijah Fields at the safety position, and became a pretty good player--looking more experienced than a redshirt freshman. His battle with Andrew Taglianetti for one of the starting safety spots will be one of the more interesting position battles this fall. Whether he wins or loses, he improved each week last season, and he should be poised to make an even bigger contribution this season wherever he plays. Know this--whoever wins,it will be hard to keep both Holley and Taglianetti off the field.
Dan Mason is in excellent position to be an impact player, literally. Playing at the middle linebacker position, H.B. Blades and Scott McKillop led the team in tackles during their respective years as starters. Even last year, with Adam Gunn succeeding McKillop at the middle linebacker position, Gunn still finished third on the team with 77 tackles, despite missing two games due to injury. Mason is a physical player, a throwback. Mason almost looked comfortable enough to start in his first training camp. It makes you wonder if he would have earned a starting job last year in training camp if he came in with a year under his belt---Gunn might have been able to stay outside, with Mason starting in the middle. Now, Mason has that year under his belt.
Caragein goes from top reserve, to top defensive tackle in a year's time. He was already making an impact on the defensive line as the season went on last year, on a line that already had Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas providing leadership and big plays. The coaches could not keep Caragein off the field. Despite Williams and Mustakas playing well, Caragein found himself getting more reps as the season went on. Now, he's the guy. By being a full-time starter now, and being on the field for almost every play, as opposed to just under half of the regular snaps, Caragein's impact--whether it be big or small--should be noticeable right away.
It wasn't all about Mick Williams the last couple of years at defensive tackle. Gus Mustakas was also a big part of Pitt's defensive success. Not only will Chas Alexcih have room to make an impact on Pitt's defense, but they will actually need him to make an impact. Both defensive tackles starting under the Wannstedt regime--especially dating back to 2007, have both found enough room to make plays.
Antwuan Reed and Saheed Imoru
Though Pitt's starting cornerbacks Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel combined for just one interception last year, they did start the majority of games at cornerback over the last two seasons. There may or may not be some transition there. The experience factor will be lacking. By the time they combine for two interceptions, they will have doubled the interception total from their predecessors. While the experience factor and ability to play as consistent starters is in question, any playmaking abilities that Reed and Imoru can bring will be a much welcome addition to the lineup.