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Pitt has safety in numbers in secondary

| Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
Pitt saftey Ray Vinopal during practice on the South Side Aug. 18, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Pitt safety Andrew Taglianetti during practice on the South Side on Aug. 18, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Pitt senior Jarred Holley has started 34 games and intercepted nine passes in three seasons and was named first-team All-Big East last year.

Sounds like a starter, right? Well, maybe.

Holley is one of four safeties competing for two starting jobs in the Pitt secondary. The four players — Holley, Andrew Taglianetti, Ray Vinopal and Jason Hendricks — have played in a total of 111 games with 60 starts.

With the opener less than two weeks away, coach Paul Chryst hasn't named two starters, but Taglianetti, a fifth-year senior, spent the past week disrupting Pitt's passing game and stating his case with authority.

In three days, he intercepted four passes, batted down two others that had reached the hands of tight ends J.P. Holtz and Drew Carswell and recovered a fumble, returning it half the length of the field.

“At this point, I think I can say he is what you want in a senior, locked in and having his best year,” Chryst said. “If you are going to have any chance of having success, your seniors have to play their best football and they have to lead. He is trying to do that.”

Training camp started two weeks ago with Taglianetti, a free safety, matched with Vinopal, a redshirt sophomore strong safety who started six games as a freshman at Michigan in 2010.

But when an injury last week idled Hendricks, who missed the final six games last year with a shoulder problem, coaches started to match players with different partners.

Injuries to Hendricks and redshirt freshman Steve Williams also have allowed for a fifth talented athlete, former quarterback Anthony Gonzalez, to enter the mix as a backup strong safety.

Gonzalez is learning a position he hasn't played since high school, but he has good instincts and size (6-3, 210). His interception in overtime clinched the 2008 PIAA Class AAAA championship for Bethlehem Liberty against Bethel Park.

“It's really good competition,” Taglianetti said. “Either way, it will work out for this team. Whoever the coaches determine are going to be out there Day 1, it's going to be the right decision.”

Taglianetti said coaches have designed some speciality packages that may allow three safeties on the field at the same time.

“We can just drop someone in the box (closer to the line of scrimmage) to get more speed out there as we get into more game-planning,” he said.

“We have four guys who can play and deserve to be on the field, so I think the coaches will find a way to get us out there.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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