Andrew Taglianetti is just one of Pitt's talented safeties competing for playing time. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
The offensive and defensive lines have understandably been one of the biggest stories at camp, but another battle has been brewing over the past two weeks. Pitt has considerable depth at safety and corner with a solid mix of returning starters, talented transferred and experienced upperclassman all vying for a few coveted spots.
The result has been pretty fun to watch.
Pitt isn't deep at a lot of positions, but safety is definitely one of them:
The safety position might be the strongest because there is so much experience there and the four players are such good football players.
Senior Jarred Holley (5 feet 10) of Easton, Pa., one of only three returning Big East all-conference players on the team, and 6-0 junior Jason Hendricks of Brooklyn, N.Y., have worked as a tandem, but they have had to alternate first-team reps with senior Andrew Taglianetti of Central Catholic and sophomore Ray Vinopal of Youngstown, Ohio.
Chryst has been rotating the first team reps at camp, and the glut of talent is clear. The safeties were the best players on the field this side of Aaron Donald at each practice I was at last week. First team, second team, whatever combination, Pitt's safeties were fantastic. Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks are both in jeopardy of losing their starting position to Andrew Taglianetti and Ray Vinopal. That's not because of anything Holley and Hendricks have or haven't done; rather it's the play of Tags and Vinopal that have pushed the group as a whole.
Secondary coach Matt House doesn't seem to mind the competition:
"It is a good problem to have," secondary coach Matt House said. "I think with all the young [corners], reps are important, and the great thing with what coach [Paul] Chryst is doing is that he is giving the one's and two's equal reps.
"But we are going to try and find ways to get our best players on the field and that means there is no question we will find ways to get all four safeties into the games and use them in different ways."
Andrew Taglianetti, a sure-bet for team captain in my opinion, is looking at the positive:
Taglianetti, who is also an exceptional special teams player and likely will work as the nickel back on passing downs, said that the competition is good for all of the players because it is pushing them all to a higher level.
"We have four safeties who can play, we have four corners who can play right now," Taglianetti said. "I mean, the younger guys, a lot of them can play as well, but to have four game-ready guys at both positions is an asset. And there is a lot the coaches can do with it because he can put combinations of guys with speed, guys who can cover, guys who can make plays -- there is so much they can do.
"And for all of us, we know we need to bring our best to every practice because there are other guys ready to step in and you can see how intense the competition is becoming. That makes us all better and it makes the team better."
It would be easy to just make the third safety a nickel back - and that seems like that will be the case - but there's several corners who could still be competing for that position. Pitt's safeties are teamed with a less experiences, but maybe similar talented group of corners. Junior K"Wuan Williams is a returning starter and is all but assured to keep his spot. Across from him, the battle for playing time is fierce with Cullen Christian, Lloyd Carrington, Lafayette Pitts and Jahmahl Pardner all showing that they may be deserving of playing time.
Paul Chryst indicated that it may be Pitts who has the upper hand as the other starter:
"Lafayette's had a good camp," Chryst said. "Cullen made a couple of plays last night and does stuff. Right now, I'd say Lafayette's your one and Cullen's two, but, boy, you see growth in both, and that's a good thing."
Pitts, for his part, isn't taking anything for granted.
"When I came in, I just knew me and Cullen Christian were competing for it, and we're still competing for it. [Nothing's] solid right now," he said.
Lafayette and his cousin and teammate Jevonte Pitts were both excused from a practice last week to attend to a family tragedy. Terrible stuff.
But from a football perspective, everything seems to be going quite well for the redshirt freshman. Pitts was one of the more hard-fought commitments of the 2011 class. He committed to Pitt, decommitted when Wannstedt was fired, committed to Rutgers and was eventually won back by Todd Graham. Miraculously, he was able to redshirt last year, leaving him four years of eligibility and possibly four years as a starter.
See, Todd Graham wasn't all bad...