Pitt Positional Preview: DB’s And Special Teams

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The 2015 Pitt Panthers could have a wonderful surprise hidden in their secondary and in the return game and it is all set to be on display this coming Saturday at Heinz Field.

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This post will comprise two positional previews in this “Thursday Crunch” edition column of our 2015 Pitt Panthers. Without further ado, let’s begin!

Coming into Saturday, the Panthers actually have some depth but better yet experience in their defensive backfield. The unit includes several difference-makers that are poised to burst onto the scene fully this coming season, something they made a push to do a season ago before the collapse against Houston.

Avonte Maddox might be the player to take that step into being a true force for the defense. Last season as a freshman, Maddox showed early discipline and the knack for disrupting the enemy’s passing game. He presses, likes to make legal contact and is sly in doing so. He compiled 32 total tackles and defended three passes while playing in all games and starting the final five.

Reggie Mitchell is seen as a consistent constant. By that I am saying that you know what you are going to get from him: strength in staying with the defender, making the press near the end of the route, and being the one to end a play coming up on the run.

The best thing about Mitchell is his overall versatility and in 2014 it was on full display. He played in all 13 games and started the first eight at corner before transitioning to strong safety where we saw continued maturation out of the then redshirt sophomore. Mitchell compiled seven pass break-ups and a nice tally of 62 tackles from the defensive backfield. I like his leadership, seeing it as his best attribute, along with fellow defensive back mate, Lafayette Pitts.

Lafayette Pitts has been one of those players, as he enters his senior season, that has underwhelmed based on his initial hype. That being said, this could be the sort of season we begged for two years ago. What I think gives him that chance is his buying into the conditioning and demand for durability from the new coaching staff and strength coach Dave Andrews.

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  • Pitts enters the season slimmed down and has a new burst to his step. Last season he played in all games and started each at corner, amassing 39 tackles and two interceptions, and defended six passes that came his way. To make the most of this season, Pitts must demand the most out of himself, adding pressure from the snap on the receivers that will force the quarterback to make a rash decision that will allow for a play on the ball. Sounds easy but it’s difficult and I think with the mentoring of Josh Conklin and Pat Narduzzi, it’s a feasible task for this seasoned senior.

    I am not sure if anyone has more attention put on him and demanded from him than true freshman, Jordan Whitehead. Pennsylvania’s number one recruit out of high school, he is being ushered in as the player that can make all the difference for the team, even on the offensive side of the ball. All that attention could be good, although possibly bad, but we will save that “glass half empty” ideology for someone else.

    What we know is that he is super-athletic and has the size to boot. He is continuing to compete with Pat Amara for the starting role but is destined to see time as the “nickel-back” to start the season. We can’t fault the coaching staff for needing to use his raw ability on the field at multiple positions this early in his career as a Panther.

    As I previously mentioned, Whitehead is in the running for the starting safety position with Pat Amara. Amara could be the perfect tutor for Whitehead as we saw Pat line up at nickel back for the Panthers in his freshman season a year ago. That being a side note, as we need to focus on the ability that Amara, who played in 10 games, two of which were starts, and wrapped up 18 tackles, one in the backfield, and added an interception. He is long at 6-foot-2 and has great range that covers a ton of the field. It should be interesting to see the how the competition in camp affected Amara and how it translates to the field week one.

    Terrish Webb could be an interesting development. He started the first eight games for Pitt at strong safety before a crippling knee injury against Georgia Tech took out the rest of his season. If he can shake off that injury, I can see him making a decent contribution to the team this fall.

    Through his eight games last season he racked up 33 tackles, tied with Pitts for the team lead with two interceptions, and defended another pass. Regaining his confidence will be huge, but if he can get it back, he can add depth and leadership to the younger players.

    Others that will see time in the defensive backfield are redshirt junior Jevonte Pitts, redshirt freshman Dennis Briggs, true freshman Malik Henderson, redshirt junior Ryan Lewis, redshirt freshman Phillipie Motley, true freshman Dane Jackson, and true freshman Jay Stocker.

    It will be difficult for each of the players on the depth chart to get time, but a select few will get their chance to contribute, outside of the definite handful. Jackson and Stocker stand the best chance of being redshirted. Not exactly a bad move.

    Next: Special Teams Preview