If Pitt had to play a football game today, they would have only three cornerbacks clearly ready, but all three have proven to the new coaching staff they are capable of playing at a high level.
Foremost is redshirt freshman K'Waun Williams, whose performance was a surprise last year and has improved since. The others are experienced seniors Buddy Jackson and Antwuan Reed.
Tony Gibson, the new defensive backfield coach, is excited about having three game-tested corners because it gives him a chance to sift through a large group of underclassmen and newcomers while getting a few of them ready to play.
He said Jackson has made the most improvement, but that is mostly because he took most of the snaps in the spring while Reed recovered from a concussion.
"Those three guys have done a great job of setting the tone with the way they've worked and the way they have come through the spring," Gibson said. "I think, looking back, the fact that Antwuan was out in the spring is the best thing that happened for us, because it gave Buddy a real opportunity to take all of the reps and to gain some confidence and really get himself to the point where he is ready to play.
"We know what Antwuan can do, there is plenty of film on him, but Buddy needed to have a spring like he did to really get on his way."
Jackson, 6 feet 1, 180 pounds, is one of the Panthers' most physically gifted players, but he has been an enigma at times while the former coaching staff tried to find ways to translate those gifts into performance.
Jackson, who also will return kicks, consistently runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds (he also has been timed at 4.2), has a 41-inch vertical leap and was clocked in the 100 in high school at 10.4 seconds.
But he never has found his way into the starting lineup. Now that it is his senior season, he is working harder than ever to be a major factor in the defense.
"Sense of urgency ... yeah, that's pretty high right now," Jackson said, with a big grin. "I just want to get better every day and do whatever it takes to help this team win, help us win that Big East championship. This is my redshirt senior year, this is it. I'm going to take it all in, be coachable and try to compete every single day."
Gibson said he had heard -- and read -- a lot about Jackson's work-ethic and toughness issues. He also said did not know what to expect from Jackson but has been pleasantly surprised and does not expect that to change.
"I had heard all about the negative stuff with him or the stuff that held him back or whatever," Gibson said. "But I've not seen any of it -- Buddy's been great. He's worked hard, he's been a leader, he's listening to what we say and he obviously has ability. I've been really happy with where he's at."
Jackson has been running with the first team at field corner but has been alternating first-team reps with Reed, and both also could play boundary corner, the position Williams holds.
The boundary position requires a corner to be a little more physical; the field position forces corners to cover more open space.
Beyond those three, Gibson must find and prepare at least two more corners from among the 19 players in his group of defensive backs.
So far, two freshmen have stepped into the roles of next guys in line. They are Woodland Hills High School graduate Lafayette Pitts and Lloyd Carrington (from Dallas). Also in the mix is redshirt junior Jeremiah Davis.
Pitts was a known commodity, and coach Todd Graham expected him to step in and contribute right away. Carrington's performance has been a surprise.
"I've been running Lafayette with the second team, and he has a good understanding of what we are doing and how we are doing it," Gibson said. "Lloyd only played one year of football and earned a few Division I offers, but we got him here and, boy, he has done some good things out there, and he's only going to get better.
"I've had some big groups before, but this one is the biggest I've had. But we have a lot of talent, a lot of athleticism, some speed -- we just have to sort it all out."
Paul Zeise: email@example.com or 412-263-1720.