Thanks to his parents’ military background, Pitt linebacker SirVocea Dennis becomes leader
A year ago, SirVocea Dennis survived his second season at Pitt – conquered him, really – recording 14 ½ tackles for a loss while taking third-team All-ACC honors to the outside linebacker.
Then the coaches came up to him and said, “OK, you’ve shown you can handle the outside. Now we transfer you to the middle linebacker and make you the defense quarterback.
“It’s not a position I thought I could play,” Dennis told reporters Tuesday.
The son of parents in the US Army, he persevered and won the post in training camp against junior Wendell Davis (who won the post last year before getting injured).
“It’s definitely different, but it’s a whole lot different,” said Dennis. “The reason I thought I couldn’t play (in the middle) was to just get everyone in place, make all the right calls. It was always the trickiest part. Even though I did it with our Delta (transfer) package, it seemed a bit more difficult with our base defense.
How are things going after two games and two wins?
“As I got through the camp and now the game reps, it actually gets easy,” Dennis said.
The middle linebacker position is one of tenacity and leadership – Dick Butkus played there; Jack Lambert too – and those concepts weren’t difficult for Dennis to adopt.
“I come from a military background,” he said. “Basically I grew up in it. My mom and dad are both in the military. The two grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles. If I couldn’t do my homework on time, I would do a lot of push-ups and push-ups.
“I thought (the leadership) was the hardest part (of playing the middle linebacker), but considering that it comes from my background, it’s easier than I thought. Getting more into this role helps me become a better player. “
Dennis, a junior, is part of a large group of linebackers that includes Davis and seniors Cam Bright, Phil Campbell III, John Petrishen and Chase Pine. Everyone enjoys a lot of playing time.
First-year linebacker coach Ryan Manalac named Dennis, Bright and Campbell as starters in the first two games. But, for Manalac, it is a paper honor that must be earned every day in training.
Dennis has been on the field more than Davis (81 snaps to 49 in two games, excluding special teams, according to Pro Football Focus). Away, Bright and Petrishen (74/70) and Campbell and Pine (71/58) also split.
Manalac sends them out onto the pitch, but he’s never been able to find a job at Pro Football Focus – he doesn’t care how many shots they get.
“SirVocea got the green light out of the camp, had some good scrum,” Manalac said, “but Wendell is there. They are a little different players, in terms of skills. They bring a bit of something to the table. different at the table, but they are both very good football players.
“They compete every day. It’s not a frozen type thing. They prepare the fronts, prepare blitzes, do different things. These two guys are able to lead all 11s on the field, and they are able to get into position to make plays.
When Manalac arrived in February, he sat down with his linebackers and said to them, “You show me what you do.”
It turned out that the older players were willing to help the younger ones, which resulted in what Manalac calls “a brotherhood”.
“They push each other, help each other grow,” he said. “It’s impressive to see the details they take off (video study) and apply them in a game situation.”
When the players decided tackling Tennessee wasn’t up to the task, they didn’t wait for Manalac to say something.
“We actually faced each other,” Dennis said. “Usually we wait for the coaches to attack us about things like that, but (Tuesday) we clashed to attack… making sure we took good angles and made sure we did everything right. I’m one of the guys (leading the discussion) and they’re taking me too. It’s a group effort.
Dennis enjoys the way Manalac pushes him in meetings and in the field.
“You have to be a tough trainer. If you’re not, why are you coaching linebackers? He brings intensity, a good attitude to the game.
“He wants me to be better than what he sees on tape. When you have a coach like that, you understand that that’s not how he says it. This is what he says.
Jerry DiPaola is a writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Jerry by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .