With all of the talk of how Tino Sunseri will play at quarterback. With all of the Heisman talk surrounding Dion Lewis. With all of the NFL first-round talk about Jonathan Baldwin. With all of the talk about the pass rushing duo of Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard. None of them could mean as much to the Panthers BCS chances as senior cornerback Ricky Gary.
In all the cases above, we know what to expect out of them (maybe not Sunseri), but Pitt will not win the Big East and head to a BCS Bowl Game unless it's defense plays lights out.
The pass rush should be there. There are two new defensive tackles in juniors Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih. They both performed well in reserve roles last season and should be expected to do the same as starters.
I'm not overly worried about the linebackers either. Sophomore Dan Mason is a rising star and I wouldn't be surprised to see him earn All-Big East honors the upcoming season. Junior Max Gruder can also play.
The secondary though has questions surrounding it and Gary could be the answer. The safeties will be fine. Senior strong safety Dom Decicco will have a big year and sophomore free saftey Jarred Holley gets better by the day.
The corners are where the problems arise. Junior Antwuan Reed will man one side and has proven he can handle the job. The other corner was up for grabs. That is until Gary stepped in and claimed the job.
After a very physical camp, Gary was one of the stars, getting better everyday. Unless something shocking happens between now and the September 2nd opener at Utah, the senior will find himself in a starting lineup where the goal is very simple. Win the Big East and head to a BCS game.
Gary's not a rookie, starting ten games throughout his career, but not performing very consistent. At no time though during his tenure at Pitt has he had a stretch of impressive practices like the past three weeks.
For a team that will control the clock on offense and likely protect it's quarterback from making mistakes, the Panthers may find themselves playing a few low scoring, close games early on in the season.
Defensive breakdowns are how you lose those types of games. If Gary can keep improving to the point where the Panthers have a pair of solid corners, then Pitt could have the best defense in the country and be a very tough team to beat.
Gary brings very good man-to-man coverage skills to the table. Being able to shutdown receivers helps the pass rush out as well. Pitt needs to be able to get off the field on third downs, allowing them to run clock offensively with a lead.
By being able to solidify the secondary, Gary allows other less seasoned corners to play a lesser role and makes the roster deeper.
With all the talent on the field, the least talked about guy going into camp could wind up being the key to it all.