Aaron Donald's Replacement
Take 59 tackles (28.5 for a loss), add in 11 sacks and what do you get? Aaron Donald. Last season's all-everything award winner will be called upon every Sunday now. Entering the NFL draft, he is projected as a first-round pick. Donald's star-studded career at Pitt has come to a close and will leave one big gap in the Panthers defense this upcoming season.
Upcoming junior Darryl Render has been chosen to fill the void. Even as Donald's backup, Render had gotten a fair amount of snaps. He made 25 total tackles in 2013 during which he played every game, including a seven-tackle game against Georgia Tech.
Render will have to get help from other Pitt D-linemen to match Donald's production. One name to consider is Ejuan Price, whose season ended last year due to injury; Prince had 23 tackles in just seven games for the Panthers. However, the defensive line will get most of their leadership from returning linebackers Ray Vinopal and Anthony Gonzalez, who last year combined for 162 total tackles. Donald took leadership and control last year on defense, but now it will be in the hands of Vinopal and Gonzalez.
Who is going to be the lone standout for Pitt's defense? There is no answer yet. The defensive line will not be as sturdy without Donald, but there won't be as much fallout as one might expect.
The question may not be who can step up on the D-line. Rather, we should question the defense as a cohesive unit that gave up roughly 27 points per game last year.