Panthers have depth to fill big holes in defensive line
Chas Alecxih, left, tries to clarify a point during practice Wednesday at Pitt's South Side facility.
Tyrone Ezell, a Steel Valley high school graduate, will be one of the players looked to to help replace Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas.
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Even though Pitt was hit hard by graduation at defensive tackle, losing Big East co-defensive player of the year Mick Williams and Guz Mustakas, the coaches don't expect a drop-off in production this year.
That's because the Panthers have recruited well along the defensive front and have redshirt juniors Chas Alecxih (tackle) and Myles Caragein (nose guard) to step into starting roles. And redshirt freshman Tyrone Ezell has emerged as a swing tackle and should see plenty of playing time this season.
Caragein, 6 feet 2, 290 pounds, was the third tackle last season, spelling Williams and Mustakas, so it's no surprise that he is ready to replace Mustakas.
Alecxih, 6-5, 280, is an intriguing player because he is taller and leaner than Pitt's defensive tackles have been in recent years, and he plays more like an end in terms of looking to rush the passer first and stop the run second. He was a defensive end at Penn Manor High School.
"Chas has been working on the things he hasn't been good at, but one thing he is very good at is as a pass rusher," Pitt defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said. "He can be creative, he can cause problems in the backfield and he has been consistently near the quarterback. But he is a completely different animal than any of the other players. I don't even know how to describe him because he is a little unorthodox and he is a little bit taller and he is a convert; he has only been a tackle for a year.
"To be honest, production-wise, when you look at Myles and Chas, they were very similar to the numbers of the two starters. And they were better in some ways. The key is tackles for losses, and, hopefully, we can get that out of Chas. But his effort level and his desire are through the roof and he plays a lot on that element."
Alecxih said he's ready to take on an expanded role and said it started with the work he did in the offseason to get bigger and stronger.
"Last year I was a situational guy and was more of a pass rusher," Alecxih said. "This year I have to do it all, I have to be able to stop the run a lot more. I feel like Buddy Morris pushed me a lot more than he has in the past in order to get ready. But I still am able to be a pass rusher.
"It is not quite like defensive end, but it is close. But when I got here, I probably wasn't quite fast enough to play defensive end, so I put on a lot of weight since I got here and I've learned how to play a much more physical game. I feel like we play the most physical position on the field and I like that."
Caragein, who played at Keystone Oaks, likely will get the most snaps out of the tackles, alternating between both tackle and nose guard. Ezell, a Steel Valley graduate, is more suited for nose guard at 6-4, 285.
"They are similar positions and they can flip and always have to sometimes based on what the offense does," Gattuso said. "But Myles will flip, at least until we get more comfortable with that fourth tackle spot. So when Ty Ezell is in the game, Myles will play the tackle spot and that gives us a little different look -- we're a little stronger in there and probably a little quicker as well.
"I think what we'll see from Ty is that now that we have the pads on and we can tackle, he'll start to shine because he is one of those effort guys. When there is no tackling, he doesn't show up as much. He is really a physical effort guy and he needs tackling to really shine."
Ezell did shine in the spring when they were in full pads because he has such a good first step off the ball. But he also will have to use his strength to fight through the double teams the nose guard so often sees.
That is why Ezell is so excited about his position: He loves to hit.
"I just know that I have to go hard regardless because my feeling is, nothing bad can happen if you are going hard all the time," he said. "It is my job to try to clog up the hole and take on two blocks. Every play you are in the trenches fighting every time to get off that one block and get through the other block. I like being in there, I've been fighting in the trenches since high school. That contact is just something about it to me. I'm just used to it, is so fun."
The fourth interior lineman likely will come from a group that includes senior Tyler Tkach (6-3, 275), redshirt junior Justin Hargrove (6-4, 270, Baldwin) and true freshman Aaron Donald (6-0, 270) from Penn Hills.
Donald has been seeing more reps with the second team and even had some time with the first-team defense Wednesday. He has been one of the most impressive freshmen at camp.
Nothing bad can happen if you are going hard all the time."
-- Tyrone Ezell
First Published August 12, 2010 12:00 am