Pitt's new defense will rely on hybrid positions

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Pitt has several defensive players who have changed positions, although you probably wouldn't recognize it unless you understand the Panthers' new scheme.

Pitt has scrapped the traditional 4-3 base defense and will go to a three-man front. Depending on the down, distance and situation, the second-level number could be anything from two to five. (For example, Pitt will use a 3-3, a 3-4, a 3-5 and even a 3-2.)

To make that work, the Panthers will rely on an unusually high number of hybrid positions, and the coaches will use spring practices to identify players to fit those roles.

Last year, Pitt had two defensive ends in the base defense. This year, the Panthers will have one defensive end and a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker on the other end playing what is called the panther linebacker.

The Panthers also will have a hybrid safety/corner called the bandit safety and a hybrid linebacker/safety called the spur linebacker, who will perform as a traditional linebacker but also may be asked to participate in man-to-man coverage.

Pitt defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said that the hybrid positions will really enable the Panthers to defend different offenses -- particularly spread offenses -- out of the base defense.

"The best way to look at it is that our panther linebacker has to possess the skills of a linebacker as well as a defensive lineman," Patterson said. "I'd say he has to have the skills moreso of a defensive lineman, though, because he has to be able to rush and impact the quarterback but he also has to have the ability to drop back into zone coverages and make plays in space.

"Our spur has the skills of a defensive back and the skills of a linebacker, so I'd say he is 60 percent defensive back and 40 percent linebacker. He's got to be a little more athletic and make plays in space, but he also has to have the physical toughness to play linebacker.

"Now our bandit safety is probably the most versatile of all because he has to have the cover skills of a corner, the safety skills and he also has to be able to drop down into the boundary and force things off the edge."

Patterson said the bandit and spur positions will blitz in some situations.

Pitt has several candidates for hybrid positions. Because of the versatility the positions command, some players could play two different hybrid positions in one game.

For instance, Brandon Lindsey, a defensive end last year, likely will play the panther linebacker and defensive end spots.

Lindsey, Bryan Murphy and Shayne Hale likely will be in the mix at panther linebacker, as will Greg Williams or Carl Fleming, two linebackers who will play at spur and panther.

Another player in the mix for spur linebacker and perhaps bandit safety is Todd Thomas.

"Defenses have had to become multiple and versatile because of [spread offenses]," Patterson said. "So you look at guys like Greg Williams and Todd Thomas, those guys can play three or four positions in this defense. So when I look at both of those guys, I think their skills are tailor-made for what we do. Then you look at Lindsey, he could play a couple of positions as well."

Patterson said the reason his defense has morphed over the years is because of the spread offense.

"What it boils down to is, when they can spread you out, it is really just long handoffs," Patterson said. "So you need bigger guys who can get off blocks but also are athletic enough to make tackles in space."


Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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