PITTSBURGH – When Pitt’s initial depth chart was released on Monday, there weren’t many surprises but there were a lot of “ors” – Keyshon Camp or Amir Watts at defensive tackle. Elias Reynolds or Saleem Brightwell will start at mike linebacker. Cam Bright or Phil Campbell III will get the nod at star linebacker. Either Jason Pinnock or Damarri Mathis will start at cornerback.
“I would say a majority of those ‘ors’ are because we feel pretty good about them,” Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said at his Monday press conference.
He also noted several times that he likes having depth, because it allows the players to stay fresh.
The defensive line will be comprised of defensive ends Patrick Jones II and Deslin Alexandre. Alexandre is starting in place of injured Rashad Weaver, who is out for the year with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman John Morgan will be the first man off the bench at defensive end with Habakkuk Baldonado next in line.
Defensive tackle will see the rotation of three players – Jaylen Twyman, Watts and Camp. Narduzzi said the decision to list Watts or Camp was based on the depth at the position. Both Camp and Watts have started double-digit games over the past two seasons.
The linebacking corps will feature Kylan Johnson starting at money linebacker. The graduate transfer from Florida beat out junior Chase Pine in training camp to win the starting job, though Pine is likely to see plenty of playing time. The mike linebacker position will be manned by Reynolds or Brightwell. Both have plenty of starting experience; Brightwell started all 12 games at the position in 2017, while Reynolds filled in for an injured Quintin Wirginis last season, making seven starts.
Either Bright or Campbell will start at star linebacker, neither of whom have any starting experience at the position. Bright played in every game last season as a reserve linebacker and on special teams. Campbell has switched positions from safety, where he started one game in 2017.
Redshirt senior Dane Jackson will start at corner for the third straight year, while the other side will be manned by Pinnock or Mathis.
Pinnock overtook Phillippie Motley on the depth chart last season, but Narduzzi won’t anoint either one as a starter; instead he’ll have three starters for the two cornerback positions.
“(Mathis has) been outstanding, he’s been consistent. His knowledge of the game, what an offense is doing,” Narduzzi said. “I think last year he played, you know, every formation was the same, every backfield was the same, every receiver split was the same.
“He’s got that. Those are the keys. The keys to playing offense and defense is when you can start knowing what the other team is doing as opposed to, I got my job done, but you have no idea what the other side of the ball is doing.”
Narduzzi says there’s a similar situation at safety, but senior Damar Hamlin is listed as the starting free safety, where he started every game in 2018. At strong safety, sophomore Paris Ford has won the starting job, though Narduzzi envisions rotating the two with Jazzee Stocker. Junior Therran Coleman – who had a game-clinching interception in overtime against Syracuse last year – is listed as a reserve safety.
“I feel the same way really at the safety spot with Damar Hamlin, who is outstanding, and then Jay Stocker, (and) Paris Ford are three guys that we can rotate,” Narduzzi said.
“We can keep them fresh.”