Pitt Preview 2006 - Defense
Pittsburgh Panthers
Posted Aug 1, 2006

Pitt Panthers Preview 2006 - Pitt Panther Defense

What you need to know ... The secondary should be among the Big East's most productive thanks to the return of All-America caliber corner Darrelle Revis and Mike Phillips is coming back from an ankle injury. A second corner is needed along with far more production from the front seven against the run. The linebacking corps should do its part with H.B. Blades sure to be one of the nation's top tacklers in the middle and Clint Session and Brian Bennett returning healthy to the outside spots. The line isn't all that big and could be a big problem early on until several sophomores start to play like veterans. More of a pass rush is needed from ends Chris McKillop and Charles Sallet.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: H.B. Blades, 121
Sacks: Chris McKillop, 3.5
Interceptions: Darrelle Revis, 4

Star of the defense: Senior LB H.B. Blades
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DTs Rashaad Duncan and Corey Davis
Unsung star on the rise: Davis
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Darrelle Revis
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Blades, 2) Revis, 3) LB Clint Session
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, CB Darrelle Revis
Weakness of the defense:
Second corner, experienced tackles

Defensive Line
There's plenty of experience but not a whole bunch of size and there needs to be far more from the pass rush. There will be a rotation of sophomores at tackle who need to hold up better than departed starting tackles Thomas Smith and Phil Tillman did, while end Chris McKillop, the only returning starter, has to be an even better pass rusher. The depth isn't bad, but that's primarily because the starters are hardly a lock to keep their jobs.
The key to the unit: All the young players have to become savvy veterans, while Chris McKillop and Charles Sallet must get in the backfield more from the outside.

Defensive Line Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- DE Chris McKillop, Jr. - 44 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 6.5 TFL, 2 broken up passes
McKillop turned into the team's top pass rusher last season and wasn't bad against the run. He's a good-sized player at 245 pounds who has seen time at linebacker and fullback. Now his job will be to get in the backfield on a more consistent basis.

- DT Rashaad Duncan, Soph. - 15 tackles, 1 TFL
The 280-pound sophomore will combine with Nick Williams to take over Thomas Smith's old spot. He'll be a good interior pass rusher who needs to grow into a consistent run defender.

- DT Corey Davis, Soph. - 5 tackles
One of the rising stars on the line, the 300-pound sophomore has defensive end quickness to go along with his bulk. He had problems with a calf and hand injury limiting him throughout last year, but he was still able to see time in six games getting a little bit of experience.

- DE Charles Sallet, Jr. - 27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL
The 6-0, 235-pound senior is a speedy pass rusher who has to make more plays in the backfield. He doesn't have the size to be a consistent run defender even though he's experienced and tough against the bigger tackles.

Top Backups
- DT Nick Williams, Soph. - 8 tackles, 1 TFL
If the 275-pound Williams doesn't start at one of the tackle spots he'll be number 1A in the rotation behind Rashaad Duncan. He started out his Panther career on the end before moving inside.
- DE Vernon Botts, Sr. - 14 tackles, 1 sack, 4 TFL
The veteran reserve is one of the team's bigger ends and should be a stronger option against the run than Charles Sallet. He's 6-4 and 260 pounds with the athleticism of a former tight end.
- DE Joe Clermond, Jr. - 14 tackles, 2 sacks, 5 TFL
One of the team's most productive reserves over the last two seasons with 41 tackles, the 250-pound Clermond is a great athlete who has seen time as an outside linebacker.
- DE Gus Mustakas, Soph. - 7 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 TFL

One of the team's most versatile linemen, the 250-pound true sophomore will start out on the end and will see time as a quick tackle. He's a great athlete who'll find more time in the rotation.

The linebacking corps appeared a step slow and out of plays throughout last season, but now things should be much better with everyone healthy. There aren't any problems with H.B. Blades in the middle, who's almost certainly going to be the school's first three-time first team All-Big East player. Clint Session is back at one of the outside spots after having problems with a knee injury throughout last year, and Brian Bennett will be looking to regain his 2003. 118-tackle form getting the first look on the weakside after suffering an ankle injury. Derron Thomas and Scott McKillop are excellent reserves who could see starting time throughout the year.
The key to the unit: Everyone has to stay healthy and be far stronger against the run.
Linebacker Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- Clint Session, Sr. - 28 tackles, 2 TFL
The healthy return of Session will be a huge boost to the defense. He was never right last year struggling through an early knee injury forcing him to miss three games and limiting him when he was on the field. He was second on the team in tackles making 91 stops in 2004 showing great range and big hitting ability. He can play in the middle but will start out on the strongside.

- H.B. Blades, Sr. - 121 tackles, 1 interception, 1 sack, 3.5 TFL, 6 broken up passes
One of the nation's best linebackers, the two-time All-Big East performer led the Big East with 121 tackles and was excellent in pass coverage moving over from the strongside to the middle. The son of former Miami Hurricane star Bennie Blades has 286 career tackles with the range to always be around the ball and the size to provide a big pop when he gets there. 

- Brian Bennett, Sr. - 16 tackles, 2 TFL
Bennett is hoping to revive his career after making 118 tackles and seven tackles for loss in 2003. He was pushed to a reserve role as a sophomore and missed most of last year with a broken ankle. The hope is for him to be back and healthy by the start of the season providing a 235-pound hitter on the weakside. He can play on the strongside if needed.

Top Backups
- Derron Thomas, Jr. - 45 tackles, 1 sack, 5.5 TFL
Thomas saw starting time on the strongside and could end up playing any of the three linebacker spots. He'll get the longest look at the weakside with Brian Bennett still looking to get healthy, but he'll likely end up on the other side in a rotation with Clint Session.
- Scott McKillop, Soph. - 27 tackles
The 240-pound sophomore saw time in every game last season playing behind H.B. Blades in the middle. While he has nowhere near the same athleticism as Blades, he's a strong run defender.

Defensive Backs
The Panthers finished second in the nation in pass defense allowing a mere 153 yards per game and only ten touchdown passes, but that was partially because teams spent so much time running the ball. The return of  safety Mike Phillips from an ankle injury and the hopeful emergence of Sam Bryant as a reliable starter should offset the loss of corner Bernard "Josh" Lay and all-star free safety Tez Morris. Darrelle Revis is one of the nation's best all-around corners, but he likely won't see too many passes his way meaning Kennard Cox and converted receiver Kelvin Chandler have to be prepared to be picked on.
The key to the unit: Continue the production of last year and hope for a strong second corner to emerge to help out Darrelle Revis.
Secondary Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- CB Darrelle Revis, Jr. - 41 tackles, 4 interceptions, 9 broken up passes
One of the best corners in the Big East, Revis did a little of everything well last season including return punts. He's a ball-hawker both against the pass and the run with the size to be a sure tackler and the speed to be a shut down defender. He should go from being an All-Big East performer to getting some All-America recognition.

- FS Mike Phillips, Jr. - 19 tackles, 2 broken up passes
The team's most versatile defensive back with cornerback speed and linebacker hitting ability, Phillips pops and plays much bigger than his 5-11, 195-poudnd size. He was on his way to a huge year at strong safety before suffering a dislocated ankle in the third game of the season and missed the rest of the year. He'll be back this fall getting the first shot at free safety.

- SS Sam Bryant, Sr. - 40 tackles, 3 interceptions
While not lightning fast, the 230-pound senior is a huge hitter who'll need to prove to be more consistent against the pass. He got the start over the final eight games of last season turning into a top run defender.

- CB Kennard Cox, Jr. - 4 tackles
The 6-1, 195-pound career reserve will have to battle hard to earn the job on the right side. He's a strong hitter who plays like a safety, but now he has to prove he can cover like a corner.

Top Backups
- CB Reggie Carter, Sr. - 5 tackles
A little used reserve over the last three seasons, the good-sized senior will try to make an impact behind Darrelle Revis on the left side.
- CB Kelvin Chandler, Soph. - 4 catches, 47 yds, 11.8 ypc
The 6-2 receiver has the size and speed to be a great target, but he'll move over to corner to battle Kennard Cox and freshman Jovani Chappel for the starting job on the right side. Athleticism isn't a problem, knowing how to play corner is.
- FS Jameel Brady, Jr. - 14 tackles
One of the biggest hitters in the secondary, Brady can play either free or strong safety with good size and nice range. He'll start out seeing plenty of time until Mike Phillips' ankle is healthy.

Special Teams
The return of PK David Abdul after not starting since 2004 will help ease the loss of All-Big East star Josh Cummings. Punter Adam Graessle is one of the best in the Big East and should be in the mix for All-America honors. The punt coverage unit was horrible allowing two touchdowns and a 17.1-yard average. Darrelle Revis is a fantastic punt returner averaging 11.6 yards per try.
The key to the unit: Better coverage on punts is a must while David Abdul must show he can be the field goal kicker Josh Cummings was over the last two seasons.
Special Teams Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- PK David Abdul, Sr. - 2-2 FGs, 6-7 extra points
Abdul lost his starting job to Josh Cummings after trying to come back from a car accident that cost him all of 2004. He takes back the job after hitting 22 of 38 field goals in his first two seasons. 
- P Adam Graessle, Sr. - 60 kicks, 2,532 yds, 42.4 ypc, 18 inside the 20
Graessle bombed the ball and was great at pinning teams inside the 20. Now he has to work more with the return team that allowed a ridiculous 17.1 yards per return.

Related Stories
Pitt Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 1, 2006
Pitt Preview - Futher Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 1, 2006
Pitt Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 1, 2006

Add Topics to My HotList
Get free email alerts with news about your favorite topics. Click link to add to My HotList.
Football > Pittsburgh
[View My HotList]