Defensive backfield, especially at safety, likely has most talent, depth


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Transfers and gaps in recruiting as a result of the coaching turnover the past two years have left a number holes in Pitt's roster.

That isn't the case in the secondary, however, as the Panthers have four safeties who are good enough to be starters and the cornerbacks are young but are extremely athletic and have excellent cover skills.

"It is a good problem to have," secondary coach Matt House said. "I think with all the young [corners], reps are important, and the great thing with what coach [Paul] Chryst is doing is that he is giving the one's and two's equal reps.

"But we are going to try and find ways to get our best players on the field and that means there is no question we will find ways to get all four safeties into the games and use them in different ways."

The safety position might be the strongest because there is so much experience there and the four players are such good football players.

Senior Jarred Holley (5 feet 10) of Easton, Pa., one of only three returning Big East all-conference players on the team, and 6-0 junior Jason Hendricks of Brooklyn, N.Y., have worked as a tandem, but they have had to alternate first-team reps with senior Andrew Taglianetti of Central Catholic and sophomore Ray Vinopal of Youngstown, Ohio.

House said there has been no real separation between the safeties but expects it to get sorted out now that the Panthers will be in full pads for the duration of camp.

Taglianetti, who is also an exceptional special teams player and likely will work as the nickel back on passing downs, said that the competition is good for all of the players because it is pushing them all to a higher level.

"We have four safeties who can play, we have four corners who can play right now," Taglianetti said. "I mean, the younger guys, a lot of them can play as well, but to have four game-ready guys at both positions is an asset. And there is a lot the coaches can do with it because he can put combinations of guys with speed, guys who can cover, guys who can make plays -- there is so much they can do.

"And for all of us, we know we need to bring our best to every practice because there are other guys ready to step in and you can see how intense the competition is becoming. That makes us all better and it makes the team better."

The safeties in defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable's unit will be asked to fill the hole and provide run support and even blitz far more often than they had in the past. That means the corners often will be left in man coverage.

In recent years, the corners have played a lot of zone so there will be an adjustment for them to being manned up.

But the strength of the top four guys right now -- redshirt freshman Lafayette Pitts (Woodland Hills), sophomore Cullen Christian (Penn Hills), sophomore Lloyd Carrington (Dallas) and junior K'Wuan Williams (New Jersey) -- is their coverage skills so the transition has been an easy one.

Williams is a returning starter and Carrington has worked primarily as his backup, while Christian and Pitt have been engaged in a battle for the other spot, though Pitts has worked primarily with the first team this first week of camp.

"Me running with the ones just means I have to keep working harder to prove I deserve to be a starter," Pitts said. "Cullen is pushing and competing as well so I can't have any setbacks and have to work hard. But I'm a cover corner, it is what I do well so I fit in this defense and I just need to keep working hard. I think we have a great group of guys."

NOTES -- Sophomore receiver Salath Williams left the team and will transfer to a Division II school. ... Pitt worked in the red zone a lot Friday. "I saw a lot of things I liked, but there are big teaching moments, too," Chryst said. ... Mike Shanahan, KK Mosley-Smith, Todd Thomas and Hendricks sat out Friday with various ailments. "As far as I know all those guys are day-to-day," Chryst said. ... The Panthers will hold their first scrimmage of camp today.

The opener

Game: Youngstown State vs. Pitt .

When: 6 p.m. Sept. 1.

Where: Heinz Field.

TV: ESPN3.

pittfball

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or Twitter: @paulzeise. First Published August 11, 2012 4:00 AM


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