Pitt Preview 2006 - Defense
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.
Tackles: H.B. Blades,
Chris McKillop, 3.5
Interceptions: Darrelle Revis, 4
Star of the defense: Senior LB H.B. Blades
Second corner, experienced tackles
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
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, CB Darrelle Revis
Weakness of the defense:
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:
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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
The key to the unit: Continue the production of last
year and hope for a strong second corner to emerge to help out Darrelle
Secondary Rating: 8
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
The return of PK David Abdul after not starting since
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
- 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
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.