Cornerback competition coming down to the wire
Redshirt freshman Lafayette Pitts has been in a battle for the field cornerback spot with sophomore Cullen Christian.
Cullen Christian during a drill at practice.
Lafayette Pitts rests on the sidelines of practice.
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As training camp progresses and Pitt gets closer to its season opener Sept. 1, there are a few position battles that still need to sort themselves out.
One of the most closely contested ones has been between redshirt freshman Lafayette Pitts and redshirt sophomore Cullen Christian at cornerback.
Pitts has gotten the lion's share of snaps with the first team in practices, but Christian has gotten more in recent days.
Junior K'Waun Williams, a returning starter, has seemingly locked down the starting boundary cornerback position, but the job opposite him, at field cornerback, is open.
Thursday, Panthers coach Paul Chryst said Pitts had the edge for the starting job, but noted that there still is plenty of practices left.
"Lafayette's had a good camp," Chryst said. "Cullen made a couple of plays last night and does stuff. Right now, I'd say Lafayette's your one and Cullen's two, but, boy, you see growth in both, and that's a good thing."
Pitts, for his part, isn't taking anything for granted.
"When I came in, I just knew me and Cullen Christian were competing for it, and we're still competing for it. [Nothing's] solid right now," he said.
Whoever ends up starting will be making his Pitt debut in the season opener. Pitts redshirted last year after a stellar career at Woodland Hills High School and Christian -- a Penn Hills graduate -- sat out after transferring from Michigan.
They're both also facing a new job description. They practiced in a zone-based system last year, and Christian said he played mostly zone at Michigan. The Panthers' defense this year, though, will rely almost exclusively on man-to-man coverage from the cornerbacks.
"I love it," Christian said. "It shows that you're just more physical, faster. Zone, you just watch the quarterback and stuff like that.
"You've got to be more of a polished player to play just man."
Pitts and secondary coach Matt House both said one of the most important traits for a man-to-man coverage cornerback was eye discipline. In zone coverage, defenders have to look in the backfield to read the quarterback. But in man-to-man, they must keep their eyes locked on the receiver.
House said Pitts has improved his eye discipline in training camp, but Pitts said he still had some work to do.
"He had a little relapse [Wednesday]," House said.
Christian got more first-team snaps Wednesday night and in practice Thursday. Chryst has talked repeatedly during training camp about players needing to take advantage of opportunities to make plays when they arise, and Christian has heard the message loud and clear.
"When you get the ball thrown your way at cornerback, you've just got to try and make a play on it.
"That's the only way you're going to improve yourself," Christian said.
He also said he regularly studies his playbook with his roommate, who also happens to be the guy he's competing with -- Pitts.
"We go through the playbook and stuff like that together, there's no beef or anything between us," Christian said.
"We're just competing. We're just going to get out here and compete and may the best man win."
• Game: Pitt vs. Youngstown State.
• When: 6 p.m. Sept. 1.
• Where: Heinz Field.
• TV: ESPN3.com.
First Published August 17, 2012 12:00 am