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Breaking Down the Panthers: Defensive line

Defensive line

Lost: Vernon Botts, Corey Davis, Charles Sallet

Returning: Joe Clermond*, Rashaad Duncan*, Doug Fulmer*, Gus Mustakas*, Craig Bokor, Derrell Jones, John Malecki, Chris McKillop, Greg Romeus, Tyler Tkach, Mick Williams,

Newcomers: Myles Caragein, Tommie Duhart, Justin Hargrove, Jabal Sheard, Tony Tucker

Breakdown: The defensive line appeared to be a strong suit for a change, and the Panthers might be able to use an eight-man rotation this season. Clermond and Mustakas shined in spring drills, but the number of players injured and the new arrivals could change the starting front.

Positives: Mustakas was a beast this spring, constantly getting into the backfield and harassing the quarterback. Remember, he’s only 20 and this is just his second season at defensive tackle. After an All-Big East junior season, Clermond showed no signs of drop-off and McKillop returned from a season-ending knee injury to play at full speed. Romeus is a budding star who adds size and speed off the edge. Duncan was explosive at times. Hargrove enrolled in January and, after moving from middle linebacker, he finished strong and could make the two deep. Although Malecki and Williams didn’t practice, both spent considerable time pulling weighted sleds along the sidelines and figure to be in great shape this fall.

Negatives: Fulmer was slow to recover from a season-ending leg injury and injured his other knee, which required surgery and could prevent him from being ready for the opener. Malecki and Williams both missed valuable practice time while sitting out spring drills with shoulder injuries. A knee injury slowed Tkach, who moved from end to tackle and back and now has to figure out where to play.

X factors: The coaching staff is counting on an immediate contribution from Duhart, who could play end or tackle. He signed with the Panthers out of high school but didn’t qualify and attended junior college. Duhart still has to learn the system, but could prove to be the physical force Pitt’s defensive front has been lacking. Mick Williams also has the potential to be a Tyre Young-like force up front, but he first has to show he can stay healthy.

Projected starters: LE Joe Clermond, DT Gus Mustakas, NG Rashaad Duncan, RE Chris McKillop. This could change, depending on the development of Duhart and Romeus, but these four have the most experience. The Panthers will rotate eight players, so look for Romeus to be used in place of McKillop in pass-rushing situations and for Duhart, Malecki and Williams to factor into the equation.

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