Cornerback Lafayette Pitts is only a redshirt freshman, but he is one of several players in the mix to be a starter in Pitt's defensive backfield. And that means he will have his work cut out for him each week during the season.
In the 4-3 defense under new coach Paul Chryst, the corners will be expected to play more man coverage than they have in recent years and press receivers at the line of scrimmage more.
Pitts knows that puts all the cornerbacks under the microscope as they move away from the zone schemes utilized the past few years. But, Pitts said, cornerbacks love the challenge of playing man, and he and his backfield mates are embracing the defense.
"I love to line up and play against guys, and really, who doesn't want that challenge. It is what football is about," Pitts said. "We're playing a lot of man coverage and a lot of field to cover, and from what I see, we don't play much zone. So we need to make sure we are in a lot better condition because there is a lot of field to cover."
Pitts and K'Waun Williams have been running with the first team this spring, but Lloyd Carrington and Cullen Christian also have gotten time with the first unit. It is pretty clear that Williams will be one of the starters. He is a returning starter and one of the best players on the defense. The other spot, though, is wide open, and Pitts is working hard to learn the techniques and defense.
"It is exciting for us because we are all starting out with a new system and new coaches, so it really comes down to whoever picks it up fast enough and plays consistently," Pitts said. "That's all you can ask for is a shot like that, and all of us want to play and we know nothing is determined in spring. But I have a long way to go and so does the rest of the guys, so we all have to help each other along the way."
Pitt secondary coach Matt House has been impressed by his cornerbacks, who have shown a determination to learn the system and work on their techniques. He added that the competition has been good and that any one of the six -- Williams, Pitts, Christian, Carrington, Joe Lopez and Pat Fischer -- is in the mix to be a starter.
"The first thing we have to do is train their eyes, and I think we have seen a progression in their eyes as their eyes need to be disciplined not to be in the backfield all the time," House said. "They are doing the same movements they do in a zone, but the one difference is we will play a lot more press than they have in the past, and in the press, our guys are getting better. But it is like anything else. To do it well you need to do it right repeatedly.
"I don't think there is one profile of a corner who can play press than others. I think there is a lot of ways you can go about it."
House sees the potential for Williams to be a very good corner, but with only a handful of spring practices, he is not thought about piecing together a depth chart. His focus now and through the end of spring is simple -- teach the techniques and push the corners to improve every day.
"They all just need to keep working," House said, "K'Waun has started a lot of football games, so experience is a factor and is something you can't overlook. But we only have six corners, so we have a lot of work to do with them all, and we have a few freshmen coming in.
"As long as this group continues to buy in and work hard, I think we will have a very good group come the fall so that is what is exciting to me right now."
NOTES -- Several players were made to do "up-downs" after practice and Chryst said this is just one of many ways he gets the players' attention. Williams sat out of practice Tuesday with an undisclosed injury. "He is just a little dinged up," Chryst said. ... Backup quarterback Anthony Gonzalez has taken very few reps lately and might be on the verge of a position switch, Chryst said.
Paul Zeise: firstname.lastname@example.org , 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.