Notebook: Paul Chryst reflects on play of defensive ends

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By Ryan Bertonaschi / Senior Staff Writer

Last season, a lackluster showing from Pitt’s defensive ends was masked by the presence of All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Donald is now a starter in the NFL, and Pitt’s ends are doing just fine.

Senior David Durham leads the Panthers’ ends with six tackles, and redshirt freshman Luke Maclean has contributed with four and a tackle for loss.

“We’re very cohesive,” Durham said of his team of ends. “We trust each other a little more, and we’re more comfortable with the scheme.”

Coming into the season, Pitt coach Paul Chryst said star running back James Conner would play at defensive end on third downs, probably because of a lack in defensive end depth. 

Redshirt junior Bryan Murphy — who led Pitt’s defensive ends last season with four sacks and 15 tackles — elected to leave the team in the spring, and in July, redshirt junior Ejuan Price sustained a season-ending chest injury. Both scenarios left a young defensive line even more shorthanded.

Many viewed Conner as an emergency option coming into the fall. He has not yet played defensive end this season, which means it’s a job well done for Durham and company.

“Dave’s playing great,” Chryst said. “If we’re going to be good, it’s because our seniors are going to play their best football. His role is steadily increasing.”

Pitt’s defensive ends recorded only six sacks last season. This year’s brigade has two through two games: Durham had his first career sack against Delaware in week one, and freshman end Rori Blair helped the defense close out a 30-20 win at Boston College Friday with his first, as well.

“This is our second year of this scheme,” Durham said. “When you trust the guy next to you, you handle difficult runners a little better.”

On the other side of the line, the process to find a replacement for Artie Rowell has begun.

Chryst said that Gabe Roberts and Alex Officer will both receive reps at center during this week’s practices. The two will fill in for the injured Rowell.

Roberts is now listed as the starter on the depth chart. 

Rowell, a redshirt junior, tore his ACL in the second quarter of Pitt’s win at Boston College and will undergo season-ending surgery.

“He’s a guy that’s championed that role and he’s respected by our players. And he’s still that guy. Our guys still respect him, our guys are still going to look for him to help, but it’s unfortunate for Artie,” Chryst said.

Also on the offensive line, senior right tackle T.J. Clemmings was banged up at the Boston College game in the fourth quarter with an unspecified injury, and he did not return to the game. Chryst said he expects Clemmings to play on Saturday against FIU. Kickoff is at noon.

 

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