Earlier, I addressed Pitt's offensive line situation as the Panthers continue to work out that position in training camp. Another unit with spots up for grabs?
By all indications, safety Jordan Whitehead and cornerback Avonte Maddox will start for Pitt this year to make up half of that unit. Maddox is less of a sure thing than Whitehead, but I still expect him to win a cornerback job as a starter the past year and a half. With that being said, the team still has open battles at the other safety position as well as at cornerback.
Narduzzi has already stated that Webb and Mitchell are fighting for the second safety spot and he reaffirmed that on Thursday, saying it's too hard to differentiate between those guys right now:
"Obviously they are very smart in what they do. I think they are both interchangeable. I think they can both play the field and the boundary. Reggie [Mitchell] being a little bit of a bigger guy might fit into the boundary more than Terrish [Webb]. He is a little bit more physical than Terrish [Webb], but they're both athletic. In our defense, they understand what we do, and they're able to play man to man on the number two vertical, and that's what we ask them to do. They have great knowledge. Right now they are both co-starters in my opinion. Who lines up on that first play against Villanova? I don't know, but at this point, that's what they're fighting to be: the first guy out there."
Aside from a very slight nod to Mitchell, it sounds as if those two remain extremely close.
At cornerback, there are more than two guys in the mix, it seems.
There's a lot of competition out there. Damar [Hamlin], Henry Miller, and Therran Coleman are some of the young guys, but some of the other guys like Malik Henderson, who has shown some improvement from a year ago, are physical. We aren't tackling, but you can see that he is snapping on people. The weight room has really helped him this offseason, and Dane Jackson has really done a nice job. Those are two guys who are redshirt freshmen that are not only going to help us on special teams this year, but are fighting to get a role in that defense."
Also in the mix, obviously, is senior Ryan Lewis, who may just be the leader in the clubhouse. Defensive Backs coach Ronaldo Hill talked a little about him:
"He sets the example. He sets the tone by coming out here early, working on his footsteps, getting the young guys out here and staying after practice so they can see how a veteran does those things. He understands that it's his last year, and he wants it to be special. He's putting all his eggs in the basket, and I believe that he's ready to go."
Now, before you count out the freshmen other than Hamlin, who many expect will be the starter by the end of the season, don't. Hill went on to say those guys are picking things up very quickly - by the end of the respective practices, to be exact. They may not start, but it doesn't sound like playing time will elude all of them, either.
Long way to go and it appears the coaches are letting these guys earn their spots.
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