There is youthful talent in this unit but depth is a major problem. Despite not having an impressive offer list, I ranked Aaron Donald extremely high when he came out of Penn Hills. Happily for all involved, he made me look good by turning himself into an All-American caliber player in his first two seasons. And the good news is he'll still have eligibility after this season.
The other three probable starters- Bryan Murphy, Khaynin Mosley-Smith, and T.J. Clemmings- are talented, and even better they will have two more years after this season. If the projected starters produce, the future of the starting front four is very bright. But depth is lacking. Tyrone Ezell has yet to reach his potential but he'll also be back for one more year after this season so he still has a chance to produce. LaQuentin Smith may be better off at linebacker, but was forced to move because of the depth problem. He may eventually move back if the staff can add quality depth here, but if he doesn't at least he will have two more years after this season. Tackle Terrell Jackson and end Daryl Render are incoming freshmen and end Shakir Soto has committed for 2013. None of the three appear to be instant contributors. Giant 325 pound Tyrique Jarrett failed to qualify at Pitt this season but he's expected to return in 2013 after a year of prep school.
Clearly Paul Chryst has to add at least two more in this class and even more in the 2014. The fact that Chryst is recruiting a few jucos at the position shows you that he understands he needs some help immediately. California juco Edwin Delva is a tough and quick 6'3" and 295 pounds, and he wants to visit Pitt, but the competition is going to be tough. The fact that he plans to graduate in December of this year makes him even more important because he should be ready to contribute immediately in the 2013 season. Brooklyn juco Aaron Hush was at Temple for two years, entering at 210 pounds. He's now 6'4" and 290 pounds, but has enough speed and athleticism that most schools are looking at him as a strong side end. He doesn't have a redshirt available so he'll have to contribute immediately but that doesn't look like it would be a problem.
Three in-state linemen that the Panthers have a chance at acquiring are 6'2" 230 pound Erie McDowell end James Conner, 6'3" 265 Philadelphia tackle Justin Moody, and 6'4" 260 pound Eric Joraskie of Mt. Carmel. Conner has a lot of talent but his eligibility will be a major question mark. Moody is a player that was overrated by recruiting websites early on but still could be pretty good. Joraskie, who has already visited, is one of the fastest risers in the state...EDIT (Joraskie just committed to Northwestern). Ohio defensive end Antoine Miles and Illinois end John Strauser are lesser recruited prospects that the Panthers also have a chance with. Strauser is Chryst's nephew. Unfortunately, beyond that the Panthers have offered a slew of Florida and Georgia linemen that they look like they have no chance with at the moment.
Clearly, there is no sure thing star in the bunch of 2013 possibilities, but the best case scenario is that the Panthers can acquire another quality developmental prospect for the future and two jucos who can provide competition and depth immediately.
The good news is that the 2014 class will see at least two highly talented tackles in the WPIAL. With a name like Brock Boxen, you would have to think he was made to play football in Pittsburgh (or be a character in an action movie), and that may well happen. The staff has already offered Boxen and the early word is that Pitt may be the team to beat. He's not the 300 pounds that Rivals lists him at (266 according to his father), but he hasn't even entered his junior season yet so he could easily put on 20 pounds or more before he enters college. That would make him even better because he's already very quick and tenacious. Aliquippa's Jaleel Fields is a quick 6'2" and 260 pounds right now and he is also expected to be a major Panthers target. With the Aliquippa pipeline in place he could easily be a Panther also.
Position status: Incomplete. Talent and depth is needed and adding Soto and Jarrett, while helpful, isn't enough. The two jucos would be huge for instant help and then one of the two PA players for development purposes would be nice, especially if Chryst can add on Boxen and Fields the following year.
The good news is that there is some young talent here, and no seniors are expected to be heavily in the rotation this season, but the bad news is that there isn't nearly enough talent or depth.
Middle linebacker Dan Mason is practically a miracle in cleats, and theoretically he'll still be playing in 2013, but one has to consider his future as a football player iffy still. One bad hit could cost any player his career but with Mason is may even take less than that. That scary thought makes the lack of depth even more perilous. Shane Gordon has not become a consistent quality player but he'll be back next season, and talented sophomores Todd Thomas, Ejuan Price, and Eric Williams will still have two years after this season. Nicolas Grigsby is only a redshirt freshman this season so he could have a long and fruitful career.
Entering this season are Devon Porchia and smallish but tough Mike Caprara. It's highly improbable that either will see the field this season.
But after that, there's not much. And even those that will be in the rotation have not consistently proven themselves yet. This unit could add at least four quality linebackers right now, even though an extremely strong 2014 WPIAL linebacker class could add a handful more.
One possible solution for the future is to return LaQuentin Smith to the position and move incoming freshmen Bam Bradley and Deaysean Rippy from safety. But that may be determined by how well the unit does this year and how well the staff adds to this class.
As for the latter, it's not looking like a top prospect is going to be added at the moment. Many of Pitt's top targets have already committed elsewhere leaving the new staff in danger of having the same linebacker recruiting problem that inflicted Dave Wannstedt's regime. To make matters worse, they are often going to Pitt's two biggest recruiting competitors in Penn State and West Virginia.
As of now the Panthers have two lesser recruited prospects as possibilities in PA players Brandon Chatmon and Matt Galambos.
The good news, as I mentioned previously, is that the 2014 class in the WPIAL has some excellent linebacker talent. The best of the bunch initially is Gateways's Brenon Thrift who could be a national recruit. He is more into West Virginia than Pitt right now, as is Monessen's Justice Rawlins whose brother Chavas committed to the Mountaineers for 2013. Expect Pitt to go hard after both, though, especially Thrift who will be in contention for the No. 1 spot in the state in 2014. Those two already hold Pitt offers as does Washington's Shai McKenzie, a favorite of mine who could be very good. Sage Curry of Beaver Falls and Nate Stone of Greensburg Central Catholic also look to be major prospects. Stone is fast, muscular, and mean, and he reminds me a lot of Dan Mason when he was at Penn Hills.
Position status: Incomplete. This position is going to be interesting over the next two years. Not getting enough elite linebackers hurt Wannstedt a lot and Chryst will have to be careful that he doesn't go down the same path. It may all come down to how well players like Price, Williams, Thomas, and Grigsby develop, as well as landing some of the quality 2014 class. If not Chryst may be forced to make position changes something that Wannstedt was also forced to do.
Finally somewhere where there's depth already for the upcoming season. Two starters form last season- K'waun Williams and Jason Hendricks- will be back after this season. It's no secret that I think that Williams is an all-star caliber cover corner. Lloyd Carrington, Cullen Christian, and Ray Vinopal will all see a lot of time this season, if not start, and all will have two more years after this season. Lafayette Pitts and Roderick Ryles are two talented redshirt freshman and Jamahl Pardner, Trenton Coles, and Ryan Lewis will probably redshirt. Then of course there are the aforementioned Bradley and Rippy who are two of the better prospects of the 2012 class.
But, you can never have enough defensive backs and Jarred Holley and Andrew Taglianetti will be graduating after this season. For that reason, the staff is correctly looking to add more defensive backs for the 2013 class.
Who those defensive backs will be is in anybody's guess. Other than the obvious- Clairton's athletic Titus Howard- the Panthers are not favorites for any of the multitude of players that they are looking at, but at the same time they are still not totally discounted from many. Most of the targeted defensive backs are from Ohio, New Jersey, Georgia, and Florida, and have many offers, so it will take time to see if some of these players will stick around long enough for the Panthers to move up in their eyes.
Some of the more realistic possibilities from the lengthy list could be 5'11" 180 pound Florida corner Blake McClain, 6'3" 205 pound Ohio safety Marcus Ball, and 6'3" 200 pound safety Reggie Green.
Then there is the 2014 class. Gateway alone has three major college defensive backs. Corners Anthony Davis and Delvon Randall, both 6'0" and 175 pounds, and safety Montae Nicholson, who at 6'1" and 190 pounds could be a national recruit will be major Pitt targets. Right up there as far as talent is Woodland Hills teammates, 6'0" 185 pound corner Harry Randall and 6'0" 185 pound safety Trevon Mathis, as well as 5'11" 175 pound Aliquippa corner Travon Henry. It's not often that the WPIAL has six major college defensive backs but that looks to be at least how many the region will have in 2014.
Position status: Incomplete. The status here will change quickly with just two good additions for 2013 since there is good young talent and 2014 could be a major defensive back class for the program.