The loss of Gus Mustakas is a big blow to Pitt's defense. Mustakas, entering his second year as a full-time starter, and third year as a major contributor to the defensive line, was already second on the team with 11 tackles, and was a big factor in Pitt's early success on defense this season. Mustakas had already established himself as a decent player for Pitt, and through the first two games, seemed ready to take that next step, becoming one of the better defensive players in the Big East.
Head Coach Dave Wannstedt has put the defensive line in the hands of the other four defensive tackles, Rashaad Duncan, John Malecki, Tommie Duhart and Mick Williams. Only Duncan has played a full season healthy. Malecki was bothered by a shoulder injury last season, essentially playing with one arm. He did play in every game. Duhart is in his first year with the program, and Williams played in just three games last season before missing the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.
While Wannstedt was spoiled with being able to use five defensive tackles, Wannstedt insists he will keep the rotation at four, which will help preserve the redshirt for Myles Caragein. Former defensive tackles, Craig Bokor and Jared Martin, who are now guards, will remain at guard. Wannstedt indicated in his weekly press conference on Monday, that neither Bokor nor Martin will be moved back to defense. Bokor is listed as the backup at left guard behind C.J. Davis.
"It's a tough deal for Gus and a tough deal for us," Wannstedt said. "We do have some depth there, and we'll call on Tommie Duhart and Mick Williams to step up in a much needed manner."
Wannstedt is confident in the abilities of Duncan and Malecki, who will take Mustakas' spot on the depth chart. Duncan, also a three-year contributor, is third on the team, right behind Mustakas, with seven tackles. Duncan was able to find his way into the Grambling backfield on Saturday, and was credited with one quarterback hurry. Malecki picked up his first career sack on Saturday, and has lived up to his potential since being limited last season.
While Duncan and Malecki have proved they can handle the bulk of the snaps, players like Duhart and Williams will have to step up, at a faster pace than either one of them may have expected. Duhart has quickly worked his way into the rotation, in his first year with the program. He leads all defensive tackles with three quarterback hurries. For Duhart, his obstacle was adjusting from the junior college level to Division I. Even though he's listed as a sophomore, it's the equivalent of playing as a true freshman.
"Tommie Duhart is playing the same position he did in high school," Wannstedt said. "He was in junior college and I think that the structure of how we do things here, from class to practice to training, to the weight room. All the things that encompass a Division I program, is the biggest challenge we have with Tommie. It was a struggle getting him into a routine."
Mick Williams committed to Dave Wannstedt's first recruiting class as a running back. He redshirted in 2005, then was moved to the defensive line. Already at 260 pounds out of high school, Williams now checks in at 290. He suffered a shoulder injury in 2006 that forced him to miss the remaining nine games.
"Mick missed some time because of his shoulder," Wannstedt said. "He missed this spring, missed last spring and all of last year, virtually. He just needs to play.
"(Duhart and Williams) both played in two games so it's not like it's the first time that they'll be playing. They are both very talented."
Perhaps that can be said of all the defensive tackles. While it is a much deeper position than it has been, Pitt suddenly realizes how truly valuable Mustakas was. Five defensive tackles seemed like a lot, now four seems like not enough. There is no doubt the talent is there, but the learning curve becomes more accelerated than it was before.
"We'll go with the four guys we have, and we'll try to redshirt as many of the freshmen as we can," Wannstedt said. "We'll continue rotating them; I think that's a key. If we can keep guys healthy and continue to rotate guys we will do so. That's an advantage for us."
Tony Greco can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org..
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