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Pitt secondary prepared to challenge offenses this season |

Pitt secondary prepared to challenge offenses this season

| Wednesday, August 12, 2015 8:33 p.m
Philip G. Pavely | Trib Total Media
Pitt freshman safety Jordan Whitehead, a Central Valley graduate, makes a catch during practice Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, on the South Side.

Pitt’s defense is based on stopping the run at all costs.

“Load the box with nine guys,” said coordinator Josh Conklin, confident his strategy will work. “Making the offense one-dimensional is the goal.”

But when you do the math, that leaves only two players to worry about the passing-game dimension.

Bring it on, Pitt senior cornerback Lafayette Pitts said. He says he is ready.

“I’m more of a physical-type corner,” said Pitts, who carries 195 pounds on a solid 5-foot-11 frame after dropping 17 pounds this summer. “Getting up and challenging receivers, athlete on athlete, I really enjoy that. So do the rest of the guys.”

Finally, the players on defense are having fun after Pitt allowed an average of more than a touchdown per game through the air last season —three in 2 minutes, 42 seconds at the end of the Armed Forces Bowl.

Coach Pat Narduzzi, Conklin and cornerbacks coach Renaldo Hill are trying to piece the secondary back together, but there are issues:

• The returning defensive backs totaled only five interceptions last season.

• Someone needs to seize the starting job at strong safety. Pitts’ cousin, Jevonte Pitts, and Patrick Amara are competing, while talented freshman Jordan Whitehead watches and learns. Jevonte Pitts, a junior, never has been a starter, and Amara, a sophomore, missed most of the spring with a medical condition.

• Pitt also has to worry about a tough nonconference schedule (Youngstown State, Akron, Iowa and Notre Dame) and ACC Coastal Division quarterbacks Justin Thomas of Georgia Tech, Marquise Williams of North Carolina, Brad Kaaya of Miami and Michael Brewer of Virginia Tech.

Narduzzi isn’t saying much about his scheme, but he has a plan.

“Everybody always talks about spread offenses and the things that those offenses can do to you,” he said, “but there’s spread defenses, too. I think our defense is built for that. We’re trying to get speed on the field. I think speed kills.”

And not just in the secondary. Conklin is counting on a better pass rush — Pitt had only 19 sacks last season — to improve coverage in the secondary.

“Some of the pressure (on the quarterback) alleviates the pressure on the cornerbacks,” he said.

Cornerbacks Lafayette Pitts and Avonte Maddox have speed and experience, and free safety Reggie Mitchell won’t get left behind after starting eight games at cornerback last season.

But there’s much more to playing in the secondary than just running fast. Lafayette Pitts said players are taking on more responsibility.

“This defense is more of us trying to help each other improve,” he said. “It isn’t so much coaches yelling at us. They are there to help us if we need them, but it’s more of a team, and a players’ team, than just the coaches getting on us all the time.”

Hill appears to be good fit to guide his cornerbacks through the pressure of playing man-to-man defense. He played bump-and-run cornerback for coach Nick Saban at Michigan State and then 10 years in the NFL.

He said the key is to show the receivers respect, not fear.

“You have to be a guy who is aggressive and wants to get up there and challenge receivers,” he said. “I know we have two guys who can do that. And some other guys as well.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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