Summer Study: The Nitro Defense, DB

My internship in Washington, D.C. ended Friday, bringing to a close two exceptional months.  Now, I'm back home in Pittsburgh for a few weeks, with lots of free time on my hands and a renewed sense of conviction and excitement for the upcoming Pitt football season.  Therefore, I plan on spending the coming days drinking, gambling, and poolside lounging fully immersing myself back into the Pitt blogosphere.  It's good to be back, and it's good to have college football on the horizon.  Today we'll pick up with our examination of the Nitro Defense, taking a look at the Panthers' defensive backs.   

Safety

Redshirt junior Jarred Holley will return at free safety and will be looked to as a leader in the defensive backfield.  Holley started all 13 games for Pitt last year, collecting 54 tackles and five interceptions, good for second-team All-Big East honors.  He also saw significant playing time in 2009, starting eight games.  I'm a big fan of Holley, but there's basically nobody behind him on the bench.  According to the spring football prospectus, walk-ons Todd Gilchrist and Steve Valenza will provide the depth at free safety.  Yikes.  At strong safety, redshirt junior Andrew Taglianetti will likely get the nod, having notched 15 tackles and two blocked punts last year as a reserve safety and special teams player.  Redshirt sophomore Jason Hendricks will also see significant playing time, if not start.  In his first active season, Hendricks started five games last year at strong safety, racking up 42 tackles and a fumble recovery.  I expect Taglianetti and Hendricks to push one another leading to some positive performance, but the general lack of depth at safety is troubling.  I think Holley, Tags, and Hendricks are all fine players, especially with another year of experience under their belts, but how well they'll be able to patrol the backfield sans Dom DeCicco is a question of mine.

Cornerback

Senior Antwuan Reed returns as a starter after gathering 40 tackles, six pass breakups, and one interception in 12 games last year.  He also saw playing time in 2008 and 2009, making him the most experienced player in Pitt's secondary.  Senior Saheed Imoru, a junior college transfer last season, and talented redshirt frosh Brandon Ifill will also vie for playing time.  Both are largely unproven, but I like the depth they offer behind a veteran Reed.  At the other corner position, redshirt senior Buddy Jackson is looking to grab the starting job after a great spring during which he was named the Ed Conway Award Winner, given to the most improved player during spring drills.  For reasons I'm not sure of, Jackson never saw much playing time under Dave Wannstedt and allegedly had some attitude problems, but he seems to have gotten his act together and really wants to prove himself.  If he doesn't, sophomore K'Waun Williams will step in.  Williams saw consequential playing time as a true freshman last year as he started in the BBVA Compass Bowl and recorded a team-high 9 tackles.  Not bad for a first collegiate start. 

Due to the inherent difficulty of the position, I've always felt that secondary is kind of a natural weak spot on every team.  I don't expect that to be much different for Pitt this year.  This group certainly has talent and experience, but also a fair amount of question marks.  With some of the recent transfers Todd Graham was able to bring in, plus the addition of heralded recruit Lafayette Pitts, this group has the definite potential to become very good in a year or two.  This year, if the starters can stay healthy, the defensive backfield should be solid for Pitt in 2011; if not, they could easily become the most maligned group on the team.  Next time, we'll take a quick look at special teams and then move on to part three of the summer study: The Best Coaching Staff in the Country.

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