It is true, as a city, we love the defensive side of the game. It is just a shame that we aren't where we should be defensively. Paul Rhoads in all likely scenarios has saved his job. Unless WVU puts up 60 points on us, I really believe that Wanny will keep him around since the defense did play better in the latter half of the season. The UConn and UVa losses put Rhoads in a tough spot but the opponents had a short field most of the time due to poor coaching decisions and because of turnovers. While the defense did improve, they did not come up big when we needed them to. The two freshest examples are Grothe's 80 yard td to start the 2nd half last week, and Louisville's late touchdown drive to put them ahead of Pitt late in the 4th quarter. There are only a handful of games I can remember since 2001 where the defense has held on tight to preserve a win. Usually the defense keeps us in games but the offense is so incompetent that we over look some of the defensive mistakes because of the poor play of the offense. Under Walt, Rhoads had a ton of talent. Claude Harriot, HB, Lewis Moore, Gerald Hayes, Torrie Cox, Shawnte Spencer, and Ramon Walker just to name a few. The defenses then were fine because most of those guys were NFL players. The funny thing is though, you do not need NFL caliber players to succeed as a team in college football. If you get guys who play well as a unit and have an effective scheme you can make up for those short comings. Now on this team we're finally starting to see some players who will be in the nfl. Outside of HB, Clint, and Revis last year not many of the players were seen as impact players at their position. This year, Romeus, Mustakas, Duhart, Clermond, McKillop JR, and Berry have all taken strides to be considered more than above average players. On the flip side of that we have McKillop Sr, Mick Williams, Adam Gunn, Jameel Brady, Mike Phillips, Eric Thatcher, and Kennard Cox who have all seen significant playing time. The problem with those guys is that they are well below average college players (except Mick) and they are taking away from guys that should be seeing the field more.
Next year at DLine we are in the best shape I have ever seen in my 7 years at Pitt. Romeus, Duhart, Malecki, Mustakas, Tucker, and Sheard will all be returning and should make up the best front four in the Big East. Hopefully we get the right players in there from the start. This year there is no reason why Romeus and Duhart should not be on the field to start the game and for every play they can possibly be out there. Those two are HUGE impact players and can really make a difference in a game.
At linebacker we are in the worst shape we have ever been in. Scott McKillop is the only one who has shown he deserves a scholarship on this team. Brady, Gunn, Dell, and Murray are all awful. They have been given significant playing time and continue to embarrass themselves week after week. I was one of the many that felt Dorin would be an impact player on defense. During the pre-season practices he looked amazing. He made solid wrap up tackles, was in position, and never avoided contact. However, during games it appears he makes too many mistakes. It could have been that our offense was so bad during practice that it made Dorin look great, or it could have been that Dorin was given so few opportunities that he never had a chance to prove himself. To me, it always looked like he would be in for one play then go out and get yelled at on the sidelines. I hope Dorin continues to work hard in the offseason and improves to earn a starting spot. He is big enough and strong enough that just based upon ability he should be able to play well in his last two years here. Nate Nix and Dan Loheyde were two of our most highly regarded freshman linebacker recruits last year but both ended up redshirting this year. Add into the mix Tristian Roberts and Max Gruder, that gives us hope that one of those 4 can step up to earn a starting spot alongside Scott McKillop. It is unfortunate to know that this staff will only play the upperclassmen so get ready for another year of Gunn, McKillop, and Murray at linebacker. To be honest, I really would like to see McKillop (obviously), with Nix and Dickerson filling up the other two spots. That would allow us to rotate Loheyde and the others to find out who really are the best linebackers on this team.
At defensive back we have seen the biggest mismanagement of the year. Cox, Phillips and Thatcher have been god awful. I was very disappointed in the season that Thatcher has produced because in the short amount of time he played in the 06 season, he really dominated. It looks like he lost some intensity when he was injured last year and that really is a shame. Dom Dicicco is a heavy hitter and is arguably the 2nd best safety on this team behind Elijah Fields. If Elijah can get his off the field problems solved then there will be no excuse for both of them to be starters next season. I am willing to bet that next years starters will be Fields and Thatcher at the safety spots.
At the beginning of the season I was ready to anoint Aaron Berry the best defensive player on the team without actually playing one game yet. I was really disappointed to see him not see much action early in the season due to his ankle injury and I questioned why Ricky Gary was in the game. In the time that Gary was on the field all he did was cover his receivers and play good solid football. His reward was to never see the field and when Cox was yanked later in the season he was replaced by Jovanni Chappel. Don't get me wrong, I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jovanni, but I really feel that Ricky earned that spot based upon his play early in the season. For next year we know Berry will be our #1 corner. It will be interesting to see what happens with the other spot. Chappel is now the most seasoned corner of those remaining. Ricky Gary played well and should be given a shot. We also have the lightning fast Buddy Jackson, as well as the Chris Ball stolen from Alabama redshirt freshman Sherod Murdoch. I expect Berry and Chappel only based upon experience but I think this is the only defensive position battle that the staff will objectively look at and actually pick the best player to start.
Rhoads has his strengths and his weaknesses. I really hate our bend don't break defense. It has cost us in the past, and will most likely cost us in the future. Paul Rhoads should be ashamed of his work with the linebackers this year. Outside of McKillop they have been by far the worst performing position on the field (and thats saying a lot with how bad the O-line was). The corners improved throughout the season and the DLine is amazing. I don't expect one single change on defense. I really would like to see a linebackers coach brought in and let Rhoads call the plays if he is going to stay. Greg Gattuso is an amazing coach and should be considered a top candidate to become a defensive coordinator very soon. Chris Ball has taken some criticism from us, but to me, I think he is worth keeping around. I just really hope we can get someone from outside to teach these linebackers how to play smart, how to play physical, and how to be complete players.
Like I said, it will take a 60 point performance by WVU to raise questions of Rhoads getting fired. He may find a job as a head coach else where and if he does, we really need to consider making Gattuso our DC. Congrats Paul Rhoads, these last few games have saved your job when I once considered you to be the first casualty of Pitt football this season. If you are back, please just play the best players. Please be aggressive when the time calls for it. Please call for some nickel and dime packages on 3rd and longs. And to satisfy the yinzer in me, please let me see some blitzing.
BEAT THE HOOPIES!