With the first day of training camp, there was a lot of news from head coach Pat Narduzzi. Several things related to the Panthers' secondary.
The biggest question, from an eligibility standpoint, is regarding Paris Ford, who is trying to get eligible. Ford isn't quite there yet and, as a result, isn't practicing with the team. But he and Narduzzi are hopeful that he'll get academically cleared before the season.
"We’re obviously in constant contact with him," Narduzzi said. "He’s doing well. He’s doing better than expected at this point, and we’ll just wait for a decision to be made. I am hopeful with him and so is he.”
Then, there's the case of one of the Panthers' suspended players, Jordan Whitehead. If you were hoping to hear from Whitehead about his recent suspension, well, think again. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Whitehead wasn't at camp and a clear reason wasn't given. Narduzzi's only explanation was that he is dealing with some stuff from a 'university standpoint.' Not only was Whitehead not there today, but he will apparently be 'in and out' for the next two weeks.
There was also some news regarding players who were actually in camp. Prized recruit Damar Hamlin, who had a disappointing first season last year, was there and is going to be playing some safety in addition to cornerback.
“He’s played a little of both," Narduzzi said. "He ran a lot of the stuff with the corners in the summer. I didn’t get to see much of it. He’s going to meetings with the safeties, but he’s getting the mental load back there. I think that there is more mental in the safety area, but he can line up and play corner. So we expect him to play both. We want him to be a utility guy depending on how healthy he really gets, but we’ll decide that when it comes.”
Hamlin at safety is still a big question mark to me. What Pitt has really needed are corners and if Ford can gain eligibility, he would bolster the safety unit even more. Part of this could be to help cover things while Whitehead is suspended for the first three games but part of me also wonders if we're going to see him end up at safety as Whitehead did, even though Whitehead was expected to be a corner.
If Hamlin turns out to be as good at safety as Whitehead has been, it's hard to argue. And if Whitehead leaves at the end of this season for the NFL Draft as some have projected, the Panthers will need help there. Plus, right now, Hamlin seems buried on the depth chart not even cracking the two deep. If this is a way to get him on the field then maybe it's the best way to go.
But Pitt really needs to find some corners. That's especially true as Maddox, who will have started for most of his four years at Pitt, graduates after this year.
Speaking of Maddox, Narduzzi also casually mentioned the struggles of being in camp and also taking classes at the same time.
“Everything is sped up here with our kids going to classes and writing papers," Narduzzi said. "Avonte [Maddox] was up until midnight worrying about a poetry class. The issues that we are dealing with here are not just football. It’s university-related, which is great, but we are a week early, so it’s like spring ball. We’re practicing in the morning and have the afternoon off.”
Just another reminder that these kids have more on their minds other than football.