PantherDigest.com Camp Four Stars
Early on in camp, the question was how much Cameron Saddler would contribute. As camp wore on, Saddler became more of a go-to guy, as Jon Baldwin was held out--either for the purpose of just holding him out, or later in camp when he was bothered by a hamstring. Saddler solidified his role as the team's slot receiver, where he made several big catches in traffic, or improvising--what he does best. Saddler may also be a factor in the return game, either punt return or kick returns. With Baldwin and Dion Lewis as demonstrated weapons in the offense, Saddler may be the next big play option before too long.
Nix quietly had a good camp. With the offensive line under close watch, because of the addition of three new starters in the interior, Nix and Jason Pinkston held the line together. Nix was often overshadowed by John Malecki on the right side of the line. Now, Nix will have to break in a new starter, most likely Greg Gaskins. Plus, he had the unenviable task of going against Jabaal Sheard exclusively through camp. He progressed in his first year as a starter, week by week. Nix looks ready to take the next step of his career--to possibly being an all-league type player. He's also providing leadership among the group.
Before camp, the defensive line was a bit of a question mark. It wasn't as much of a question mark as the interior offensive line and the cornerback positions. It became less of a concern through camp thanks to the play of Alecxih and Myles Caragein. Though Dave Wannstedt has been hesitant to confirm starters on the opposite side of the play, he never wavered about the play of Alecxih through camp. Alecxih was a member of the rotation last year, but had has name buried under last year's seniors Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas, as well as Caragein, who will anchor the defensive tackle position this year. In addition to being solid at stopping the run, Alecxih came through with a few big plays--sacks and passes batted down at the line, which have become his forte. Of any of these four-star players in camp, Alecxih is the biggest surprise on paper, because he came to Pitt as a walk-on.
If there was one positive that came from Greg Romeus being limited this camp with the ankle injury, it's been the play of Brandon Lindsey. He will still play behind Romeus and Sheard. Although those two expect to see a lot of significant reps during the season. Lindsey will be more than just a player who will come in to give one of the seniors a breather. When planning his rotation, defensive line coach Greg Gattuso has to figure a way to get Lindsey involved more, because he too adds a big play dimension, aside from Sheard and Romeus. He proved it this camp with the pressure he created--all this done against Jason Pinkston, was anchors the offensive line.
Gruder broke through as a starter last season, played solid at times, but struggled at times too. Of any of the linebackers, Gruder has shown the most development under new linebackers coach Bernard Clark. He moves over to the SAM position this year, and looked like a much more confident player this year. Gruder is also versatile enough to play in the middle. He looked sure of his assignments this camp, and was almost always in position to make the play. Mason has the most natural abilities at linebacker. Tristan Roberts and Greg Williams are interchangeable at the WIL position. Of all of them, Gruder has progressed the most, and will be an important fixture on Pitt's defense this year.
DeCicco has led the team in interceptions the last two seasons. He was a quiet player this camp--which is a good thing. His leadership is not only important to the team, and the rest of the defense, but to the secondary, specifically breaking in two new corners this year. Antwuan Reed was consistent through camp, while Ricky Gary improved more than any other member of the defense. This is a credit to DeCicco, who handled his assignments well, but also provided the support for his cornerbacks to make plays. If Pitt's pass defense improves at all this year, DeCicco--based on the calls he makes in the secondary, and of the leadership he provides, will deserve a lot of the credit. Statistically speaking, DeCicco is looking to become the first Pitt defensive player in school history to lead the team in interceptions, three years in a row. Only him, Bob Jury (1976, 1977), Troy Benson (1983, 1984), Alonzo Hampton (1988, 1989), Hank Poteat (1998, 1999) and Darrelle Revis (2005, 2006) have led the team in interceptions two years in a row.