Pitt's defense promises to be high energy, too
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All eyes will be on the self-proclaimed "high-octane" offense today when the Panthers play their annual Blue-Gold Spring football game at Heinz Field.
But defensive coordinator Keith Patterson believes his unit might be as much fun to watch as that no-huddle, spread-formation offense first-year coach Todd Graham will unveil today.
While the offense has grabbed most of the headlines and been the focal point of the season-ticket marketing campaign, the defense should be pretty exciting to watch, especially because the approach will fast and aggressive just like the offense's.
"We don't worry about what others are doing or saying, we worry about us," Patterson said. "We want to impact the quarterback and create turnovers. Sometimes [people] forget about the fact that we can make big plays on the defensive side of the ball and our style of defense means it is necessary to do that."
Patterson, however, has coached with Graham for a long time and knows that everybody will be talking about the offense because it sells tickets and generates excitement.
Game: Pitt Blue-Gold spring game.
When: 2 p.m. Gates open at noon.
Where: Heinz Field.
Of note: Tailback Ray Graham should thrive in Todd Graham's no-huddle spread; defensive tackle Aaron Donald is an explosive playmaker on the defensive line; center Chris Jacobson, whose development is key to the success of the offense.
He is OK with that because if the offense is successful, it likely means the Panthers will be reaching their goals and winning games.
"That front group has a chance to do some special things," Patterson said. "I feel really good about all of those guys and what they are capable of. I think in our scheme, they are going to be able to make a lot of plays against both the run and the pass.
"If there is an area I would call our strength, it is our defensive line. I'm used to [people talking about Graham's offense] and overlooking the defense. "
The Panthers will line up mostly in a three-man front, though a fourth player -- the Panther linebacker -- nearly always will be on the line of scrimmage in a stand-up position (as opposed to having his hand on the ground like a defensive end in a 4-3), and that is where the team's strength will be.
Patterson and Graham have raved all camp about the defensive line depth and talent, which starts with the returning tackles, Myles Caragein, Aaron Donald and Chas Alecxih.
Those three, along with players like Tyrone Ezell, Khaynin Mosley-Smith, T.J. Clemmings and Justin Hargrove should be able to become playmakers in the attacking scheme.
Pitt also has a number of playmakers who will fill some of the hybrid positions -- such as Brandon Lindsey, who led the team last year with 17.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks, Shayne Hale, Carl Fleming, Todd Thomas and Bryan Murphy, likely the most pleasant surprise of spring drills.
Patterson said that group will form the nucleus of what he hopes will be an active defensive front, and he hopes it will be able to protect a secondary that, for now, is thin.
"Those secondary guys can run all day, I'm not worried about them getting tired," Patterson said.
"We have some very good players back there and, while there aren't a lot of them, we certainly feel good about that group and where they are."
Although "impacting the quarterback" is a huge part of the aggressive defense, there isn't likely to be much of that today as hitting quarterbacks will be off limits.
Patterson said that while that will take away some of the excitement and big hits, it doesn't change the fact that the defensive players will be graded on how they perform and, perhaps more important, how they prepare.
"The big thing for us is mental," Patterson said. "We are being smart. It's the final scrimmage. You want to stay 100 percent healthy but you also want to see how guys compete, how do they prepare, how are they mentally able to get ready for the game.
"This is an important day for our team."
First Published April 16, 2011 12:54 am