ShareThis Page

Competition to snag Pitt DB positions heats up

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 11:30 p.m.

Pitt's new secondary coach walked off the field toward a reporter after a recent practice, but his first words had nothing to do with crucial position fights at cornerback and safety.

But they spoke to how hard Troy Douglas is working with young players.

“Coach Douglas has a bad back,” he said, trying to smile through the pain.

Douglas is one of Pitt's most active coaches in this spring of transition, leading defensive backs through drills that emphasize turning the ball back to the offense. Players who don't “high-point” the football (catch it at its highest point) are quickly reprimanded.

A 26-year collegiate coaching veteran, Douglas is Pitt's first full-time secondary coach since Matt House was promoted to coordinator before last season. House (safeties) and graduate assistant Hank Poteat (cornerbacks) split the duties in 2013.

Douglas' unit includes returning starters Ray Vinopal at safety and Lafayette Pitts at cornerback, but graduating seniors Jason Hendricks and K'Waun Williams left vacancies at two other spots.

In the midst of the cornerback competition are three sophomores: Jahmahl Pardner and Clairton graduates Trenton Coles and Titus Howard. At safety, Clairton product Terrish Webb is competing with Ryan Lewis, Jevonte Pitts and Reggie Mitchell. Pitts is Lafayette's cousin and a fellow Woodland Hills grad; Mitchell transferred from Wisconsin after graduating from Shady Side Academy.

Coles, Howard and Webb played key roles last season as backups; the others have even less experience.

“They're a little confused on the checks and all the adjustments, and all the motions and shifts the offense is giving us,” Douglas said. “We'll get there. We have to keep working them and getting them better.”

Truth be told, Douglas was speaking of the group as a whole. The playing time earned by Coles, Howard and Webb gives them a slight edge in the spring, when impressions are made but jobs not necessarily won.

“Now, I know what to expect when I'm on the field, playing against these older guys,” said Howard, who started two games last season. “It's coming easier to me because I was in the process last year.”

Coles and Howard are enjoying their man-on-man competition. As Coles said, “I've been playing football with him since we were 5 years old.”

A state sprint champion at Clairton, Coles arrived at Pitt in 2012 carrying only 155 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame. He's now at 175 after two years of “lifting and eating right,” he said.

Vinopal, who is entering his fourth season at Pitt after transferring from Michigan, is the leader.

“Ray's so smart, he's like a coach on the field. I'm learning from Ray,” said Douglas, who spent the past two seasons at Iowa State.

Vinopal said players are pushing each other.

“We definitely have some leaders, guys who aren't afraid to get on people they think are slacking,” he said.

“That's a good culture to have because without competition and guys pressuring you, people are just going to do the minimum and no one's been doing the minimum, I guarantee you that.”

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.