Insider's Perspective: Pittsburgh's Defense

As we countdown the hours until tonight's kickoff, Panther's digest publisher Tony Greco stops by to give us an inside look at PITT's offensive personnel, as we ready for Thursday nights' kickoff.

Pittsburgh Defensive Personnel

DE – Brandon Lindsey
Pitt's biggest threat on defense. Last year, Lindsey led the team in sacks at defensive end, playing in a 4-3 scheme. He was briefly moved to a position called ‘Panther'—the name given to the primary rush end, that stands up. Though he registered one sack in the first game at Panther, he was moved to defensive end in Week Two. He responded in that game with a sack, and picked up his third sack last week against Notre Dame. By proving he can sack the quarterback as a 4-3 end, a 3-4 outside linebacker and a 3-4 defensive end, you can really put Lindsey anywhere and expect him to make an impact.

NT – Myles Caragein
Keep an eye at this position, because we saw an awful lot of sophomore Aaron Donald playing the nose last week against Notre Dame. Caragein is one of the leaders of the team and the defense. As the nose tackle in a 3-4, there's really not much more you're asked to do than draw double teams and help stop the run. Caragein does that, but Donald has a bit more explosiveness when he's out there. We could see a heavy dose of both players in this upcoming game.

DE – Chas Alecxih
There's a valid case that Alecxih and Lindsey are two of Pitt's brightest spots on defense—without question, the two toughest players to deal with in the front seven. Alecxih played tackle in the 4-3 scheme, and now moves out to end. He has more of the prototypical size you see of defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme, and has the most ideal combination of size and strength on the team. As for his athleticism, look no further than his 42-yard interception return in the opener against Buffalo as an example. Alecxih can make an impact.

PANTHER – Ejuan Price
Arguably, the most welcome addition has been the play of true freshman Ejuan Price. Price made his first career start in Week Two against Maine, and has seen a significant amount of reps since then. In addition to primarily being a pass rusher, Price also has the ability to drop back in coverage. He showed he's ahead of his years by picking up two sacks in his first road start, in a place like Iowa. He's not phased by being a freshman, or playing against teams like Iowa or Notre Dame. Price is the Panthers' next defensive star in the making.

MLB – Max Gruder
Gruder provides the most experience at linebacker, but it's been the inside linebackers that opponents have been taking advantage of in these early games. It hasn't been so much in run support, as it has in the underneath routes. The inside linebackers have been tested and caught out of position several times. Notre Dame started off going after the underneath routes a lot last week, but as the defense got more pressure on quarterback Tommy Rees, we saw less and less of the underneath routes. The bottom line—if South Florida can protect B.J. Daniels, there's a good chance we're going to see Daniels throw here a lot.

MLB – Tristan Roberts
After Florida native Shane Gordon started the first two games, then was benched in favor of the senior Roberts. Part of it was because of Pitt's inability to stop those underneath routes. To this point, putting Roberts in for Gordon is the only adjustment we've seen. However, the same problems have existed. There's a general consensus that Pitt doesn't have the type of linebackers it needs to run this scheme—at least not yet.

SPUR – Todd Thomas
Opposite of true freshman Ejuan Price, redshirt freshman Todd Thomas starts at outside linebacker. Thomas' position is considered a hybrid safety/outside linebacker position. Thomas is one of Pitt's best overall athletes. He has had a much anticipated wait to get on the field. Initially a member of the 2009 recruiting class, Thomas did not qualify and had to spend a year at Milford Academy in New York. He signed with the 2010 class, and started off as a receiver. Because of a deep receiving corps, he was moved to safety two games in last year to provide depth, but was heading for a redshirt anyway. He tore his ACL shortly after the position switch. Finally, after a long wait, he's on the field. He had a breakthrough performance against Notre Dame last week with six tackles, 1.5 tackles for losses, a pass deflection and a quarterback hurry. As evidence of his athleticism, Thomas was a pretty highly-regarded football and basketball player coming out of high school. On a whim, he thought he'd give track a try as a senior. Without any prior track experience, he won a WPIAL championship in the 4x100 relay, and was runner-up in the long jump. In his hybrid position, you'll see Thomas at outside linebacker, safety and in some cases a middle linebacker. It's all part of playing the Spur, and he's versatile enough to do it.

CB – Antwuan Reed
Surely, South Florida fans will remember Antwuan Reed from last year's game in Tampa. He was the corner that B.J. Daniels went after for four pass interference calls. It wouldn't shock any of us to see the Bulls go after him again. Reed is a little bit improved from that game. He sat out the spring and missed the BBVA Compass Bowl at the end of the year, as the result of lingering effects from a concussion. Despite all that missed time, he was able to regain his starting job from Florida native Buddy Jackson—who appeared to be in line to start after a great spring, and training camp. Reed has been getting closer to making plays. In the last two weeks, he's had two sure interceptions dropped. On both plays, he had nothing but green in front of him. If he keeps getting this comfortable, he's heading for his first interception of the season soon. A Pitt corner has not had an interception since Reed did last year, on what was the last play of the South Florida game last year.

CB – K'Waun Williams
Only a sophomore, Williams has been labeled Pitt's No. 1 corner. He and Reed experienced some growing pains to the new system in the first three games. This Notre Dame game is the best the corners have looked, by far. There was some concern early on that they were both playing too far off of their receivers. That wasn't a problem for both players last week, as they went up against a very good group of Notre Dame receivers. Michael Floyd only had four catches for 27 yards. The biggest reason for the corners playing too far off was what both the players and coaches called a miscommunication. Now, they all appear to be on the same page.

S – Jarred Holley
A three-year starter, Jarred Holley has nine career interceptions. He's one of Pitt's most solid defensive players, but we haven't seen him make an impact yet. He came up with an interception against Iowa two weeks ago—his first big play of the season. That's not to say he's having an off-year. He's been pretty quiet because opponents are doing a good job keeping the ball away from him. When he's in the vicinity, as proven by his numbers, he's a lock as a ball-hawking safety.

S – Jason Hendricks
Hendricks—similar to the corners—struggled in some pass coverage situations this season. He gave up a touchdown in one-on-one coverage against Maine, which raised some eyebrows. He answered in a big way last week, stepping in front of a pass intended for Notre Dame receiver at the Pitt 4, right before halftime. His interception prevented what would have been a 14-6 lead for Notre Dame. Instead, Pitt kept it close at 7-6. Though Pitt has given up an average of 306.2 passing yards a game—last in the Big East—they started taking some strides last week. This week, we'll see if the Notre Dame performance was a fluke, or if this pass defense is for real.

KEY RESERVES: S Andrew Taglianetti, DL Aaron Donald, LB Shane Gordon

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