During the course of the past couple of seasons, the Pitt Panthers have had some very good football players on the defensive side of the ball.
Their success has been recognized, as several Panthers have been named Big East Conference defensive player of the year in recent seasons. Linebacker H.B. Blades won the honor in 2006, and linebacker Scott McKillop started a run of four consecutive Pitt winners of the award when was given the honor in 2008.
McKillop was followed by Mick Williams and Greg Romeus, who shared the award in 2009 and Jabaal Sheard, who won it in 2010.
I only bring that up because current Panthers safety Jason Hendricks could have been the next name on that list. That is before he was lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
He will be replaced by Andrew Taglianetti, whose experience is unmatched on Pitt’s defense. Brandon Ifill will fill in as well.
Despite the Panthers struggles this season, Hendricks was putting together a very nice 2012 campaign.
Hendricks leads the Panthers with 48 tackles, and after his 11 stops against Buffalo, the Pitt safety had turned in double-digit tackles for the third consecutive game. He also pulled in his fourth interception of the season against the Bulls.
Looking at the conference as a whole, Hendricks has put himself in the running with the likes of Khaseem Greene and Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin on the short list of players who are likely Big East defensive player of the year candidates.
Coming into the season, many expected the name of Aaron Donald to be on that list, but with Donald having only two sacks on the season, he’s not a contender for the award, leaving Hendricks as the Panthers’ best defensive player of the season.
With the Pitt schedule getting tougher, Hendricks will be tough to replace. He is hands down the most consistent player on the Panthers defense.
Taglianetti can certainly do the job in Hendricks’ absence, but it weakens Pitt from a depth perspective.
With Pitt being particularly thin to begin with on the defensive side of the ball, the loss of Hendricks could be the one person they simply couldn’t afford to lose.