Chris Peak recently tweeted out that Pitt’s top incoming freshman, Jordan Whitehead, will start his career at safety. It’s an unexpected twist for Whitehead, whom many believed would compete to start at CB. With Reggie Mitchell viewed as a leader on the defense, this puts Whitehead in competition with Terrish Webb, Jevonte Pitts, and Patrick Amara for the other safety position. Amara may play nickel CB again, a role he saw playing time in as a freshman. In hindsight, this should not be a surprise though. Whitehead primarily played safety in high school and if coaches are high on Lafayette Pitts and Avonte Maddox, safety could be the quickest way to get Whitehead on the field. Depth behind those two is suspect, however.
Given Narduzzi’s defense relies on safeties to play man coverage, this could be a good segue into playing CB in 2016 after Lafayette Pitts graduates. Or perhaps Whitehead will find his home at safety and stay there. The NFL is severely lacking quality safeties and perhaps Whitehead’s best path there is roaming center field. He has the speed and smarts to handle it and if he can be a physical presence at the D1 level a lucrative career could await.
As I mentioned earlier, depth at CB is suspect, which is my main quibble with this move. Behind Maddox and Pitts, only Patrick Amara and Ryan Lewis have seen any playing time I can recall at CB (other than Reggie Mitchell of course). Lewis has not exactly had success at in limited snaps CB and Amara will be fighting to start at safety opposite of Mitchell. This places a lot of pressure on freshmen to fill out the depth chart, a move Pitt fans know has had disastrous results in the past. I will trust the coaches here until proven otherwise given their impressive track record coaching the defensive side of the ball.
In other news, ESPN’s David Hale makes the case for Pitt as a darkhorse contender in the ACC Coastal. David makes the same argument many Pitt fans have: the offense is really good and with Narduzzi in town the defense has to be better. David points out a simple fact of Pitt’s defense: when they were bad, Pitt lost.
When its defense held its opponent below its season average yards-per-play, Pitt was 6-0. When it didn’t, it was 0-7. That’s pretty astonishing, given that the Panthers had an offense that was more than capable of putting up enough points to overcome a bad defensive game or two. Still, it never happened. Every single time Pitt allowed an opponent to have an above-average game offensively, it lost.
His logic is sound but he mentions that Pitt has demons that defy statistical odds. That’s the thing with Pitt: we always find a way to grab a loss from the clutches of victory. Narduzzi was part of a culture change at MSU and if he’s to succeed at Pitt beyond the mediocrity we’ve experienced the past 30ish years, that’s the biggest hurdle.