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Will Lafayette Pitts bounce back for the Panthers in 2014?

A more focused Pitts appears ready to put 2013 behind him.

Lafayette Pitts looks to bounce back in the fall.
Lafayette Pitts looks to bounce back in the fall.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

By all accounts, Lafayette Pitts did not have a terrific 2013. A year after showing plenty of promise as a red-shirt freshman in the Panthers' defensive backfield, Pitts struggled ... badly. The season started with Florida State pass catchers running free, and while the Seminoles did that to everyone they faced, it didn't end there. It continued with more aerial fun for Old Dominion. Finally, it all culminated in a terrible game against Miami late in the year, where Pitts was benched. It had many wondering just where he would fit on the 2014 squad. The good news is that Pitts is seems ready to bounce back.

The story reminds me a lot of the little blurbs we would hear about Devin Street. Those began after Fraud Graham pulled the receiver into his office to question his loyalty, only to turn tail and leave himself for Arizona State. That seemed to light a fire under Street and he went on to two good years under Paul Chryst and Bobby Engram and now looks towards the NFL draft. He was doing extra work, being a leader, and seemed to be just outworking everyone else.

Things started for Pitts with the hiring of new secondary coach, Troy Douglas. Douglas promised a more aggressive approach with tighter coverage up on the line. This was music to Panther fans' ears since many feel that he has the talent to play closer to defenders. Heinz Field patrons have long been complained about the lax secondary coverage with noticeable cushions being given to receivers, on a fair amount of plays.

The Trib has a look into the 'new' Pitts:

Pitt junior cornerback Lafayette Pitts has much to prove after an unremarkable sophomore season, but he appears well eqiupped for the job.

So far, he is sporting:

• A bigger upper body on a 5-foot-11, 196-pound frame after a winter of conditioning.

• A new work ethic that he said regularly sends him into the film room.

• A style of play that Pitt secondary coach Troy Douglas approvingly calls "swagger."

At spring practice, the 5'11" cornerback is excelling:

Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House called it a "pursuit drill," with all 11 players chasing the ball carrier over 50 yards of turf. The objective: never give up, even when the task appears hopeless.

During the second day of spring drills Tuesday — still without pads — rising junior cornerback Lafayette Pitts set the tone.

Later, House enjoyed talking about it.

"It's 50 yards, but he had to run 80 yards two times in a row (coming from the opposite side)," House said. "Unbelievable effort, unbelievable finish, good football position when he finished."

Then there's the leadership factor based on the effort ...

"Really and truly," House said, "(Pitts' effort) is leadership to me. He didn't buck the second time. The second time was picture perfect, like the first time."

Finally, there is one last change. Much to the delight of national broadcasters who are blind and can't spot the trademark hairstyle that PItts sports that comes out of the back of his helmet, he has changed his uniform number. He will no longer wear #23 (the same as offensive player Tyler Boyd) , but instead will wear #6. It wasn't specifically to distinguish himself more, but more to pay tribute to his cousin, who passed away, per that initial Trib article. A little extra incentive to play well doesn't exactly hurt someone's effort. Now that he doesn't have the same number as Boyd, maybe he could run a little offense. Kidding ... or am I?

I'm not guaranteeing that Pitts is going to be an All-American, but he's certainly never lacked the talent. In fact, maybe he was relying too much on his talent. With Aaron Donald leaving the defense for the NFL, a few players will need to step up. If Pitts can get back to his form he displayed earlier in his career with the Panthers, that would be a great step in the right direction.

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