Pitt's linebackers come with plenty of talent. But how will it translate on the field?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
AUG 8, 2023 11:57 AM
If there’s a question about Pitt’s linebackers, it shouldn’t be about their athleticism. From the starters to the backups, position coach Ryan Manalac has a group of big, fast players who can hit, tackle and cover all over the field.
The projected starters look to be redshirt senior Shayne Simon at Mike linebacker, senior Bangally Kamara at Star linebacker, and redshirt junior Solomon DeShields at Money linebacker.
Simon’s role at Mike makes a lot of sense, as he’s the recognized leader of the group taking the place of SirVocea Dennis, who led Pitt in tackles the last two seasons before being drafted by the Buccaneers in May. Mike linebacker is the traditional middle linebacker role of the defense who relays signals for plays, is a primary communicator and has the most roles to consider on a regular basis.
“Shayne is the leader who’s vocal, and he does it when it’s the right time,” Kamara said of Simon. “He’ll always be the example, but won’t be too loud about it until it’s time to ramp up the intensity.”
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At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Simon looks to be sharper after a full year with Pitt football last season, when he transferred from Notre Dame.
“Having a year in the system helped me see where I went wrong last year,” Simon said. “That helped me realize there’s more for me to prove, and it’s helped me reevaluate how I play.”
Kamara and DeShields, on the other hand, are very used to Pitt’s system, as both are in their fourth years with the program. When Kamara settled into his role, he made one of the biggest plays of Pitt’s season in the Panthers’ Sun Bowl win over UCLA, when he intercepted Dorian Thompson-Robinson and set up the Panthers for a score that would tie the game in the fourth quarter.
“I’m bigger and I’m faster,” Kamara said. “Last year was my first year starting, and I had ups and downs. But I started to put things together and it showed in the UCLA game. I’m excited to get a chance to prove myself again for this team. There’s a lot of plays for us to make, and I want to be a guy who makes a lot of them.”
Kamara’s role at Star linebacker is more involved in coverage, which fits his 6-2, 230-pound frame. DeShields, at 6-3, 225, is more of a pass rusher at Money linebacker. That showed in his four sacks last season, which was fourth-most on the team and the second-most from the linebackers behind Dennis.
As a group, they were solid around Dennis last season. Now, they’ll need to be the catalysts in the aggressive defense that Pitt likes to play. But to meet that level of aggression, they’ll need to play more detailed football, according to Narduzzi.
“They’re at where we expect,” Narduzzi said of his linebackers. “But we expect more details from those guys. We want them to be better than they were. If they’re not getting better and there’s no constant progression, that’s not good.”
Wide receiver Bub Means talks with teammates and coaches during Pitt football practice at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday, August 1, 2022.
Christopher Carter
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Behind Pitt’s projected starters, redshirt senior Brandon George leads a young group of backups who are looking to prove they can be the Panthers’ next generation of playmakers at linebacker. George has the experience to provide relief at a variety of the linebacker positions. But around him, the Panthers are looking for their younger linebackers to turn their athleticism into playmaking.
Pitt can expect to see more from 5-11, 220-pound redshirt freshman Kyle Lewis, who played in four games but dealt with an arm injury last season.
“We’re crazily athletic,” Louis said of Pitt’s linebackers. “They compare me to SirVocea. Usually freshmen play Star linebacker, then play Money linebacker. Right now, I’m playing Money a lot.”
But he’ll also compete with a group of true freshmen who’ve made waves in the early days of training camp. Jordan Bass is a tall, long-armed freshman who was listed as a three-star safety on Rivals, while Rasheem Biles came to the program as a three-star athlete who was versatile in high school between positions.
“The young guys are still learning,” Narduzzi said. “But Jordan Bass has a burst. When you watch him run, you think, ‘Holy cow, he’s going to be really good.’ We’ve also got Rasheem Biles; he’s been really scrappy.”
While the starters work to improve on their details, the backups will look to prove Pitt has a good lineage of linebackers that can carry on the strong level of play established by Dennis that made him an NFL draft pick.

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