Playing a new position is rarely easy but for Michael Pitts, a shift in where he fit on the depth chart did wonders in 2018. Pitts was the primary starter at the then newly created JACK position last season and he should continue to hold down the job this fall. Although the position is ostensibly similar to the defensive end posting that Pitts was familiar with prior to last year, the fact that he took to even a small change in his tasks shows that he is defender capable of doing anything the Cincinnati Bearcats need him to do.
The former three-star prospect had not found himself in many critical situations before last season. In fact, he hadn’t found himself in many live game situations of any variety. He redshirted in 2016 and then appeared in seven contests as a redshirt freshman in 2017. A change in which positional group he ascribed to coincided with a large jump intplaying time last season. Pitts started in all 13 games as a sophomore and he stayed on the field most of the time.
All those opportunities to make plays didn’t really start paying dividends until after the first few weeks. Whether it was due to unfamiliarity with his new post or just coincidence, Pitts made very little impact in the first two games against UCLA and Miami-Ohio, recording only two assisted tackles in those games combined. He would quickly pick up the pace from there, recording the first of his four sacks on the season against Alabama A&M while tallying at least a half tackle for loss in seven of the final 11 games. His most sterling performance came against Navy when he tied a career-high with six tackles, including two for loss and a sack. Pitts would cobble together 7.5 total tackles for loss and tie for fourth on the team in sacks and tackles for loss. In terms of total tackles, which obviously include those stops for loss, he had 34, splitting them nearly equally between those of the assisted variety (16) and solo efforts (18).
As if that wasn’t enough, Pitts also managed to make some plays that didn’t involve bringing ball carriers down. He had two quarterback hits, which were obviously related to rushing the passer, and he also recorded two pass breakups and even blocked a kick against USF.
Pitts may not have been asked to entirely change up how he approached defense last season. Going from defensive end to JACK isn’t the same thing as being asked to play wide receiver after spending your whole career on the offensive line. However, Pitts made the position his own and laid a strong foundation for what success means for the role and how others should play it. He did all of that in his first season with significant playing time. Now a junior, Pitts will have plenty of opportunities to continue to improve on his work from 2018, especially now that he shouldn’t have to worry about any major changes to his responsibilities.