Pitt secondary brings necessary experience, leadership to the team
Most mornings this spring around 7 a.m., Pitt safeties coach Cory Sanders expected a text message from sophomore Paris Ford.
“Coach, you there?”
“He wanted to get some extra work,” Sanders said, “which a lot of those guys do.”
With only two of 15 practices remaining this spring, Pitt’s secondary appears to be the strongest position group on the field, although it might be difficult to tell Saturday in the Blue-Gold Game at Heinz Field. Safety Damar Hamlin (Central Catholic) and cornerback Dane Jackson (Quaker Valley) will get the day off while nursing minor injuries. Coach Pat Narduzzi is taking no chances with Hamlin and Jackson, two of the most important players on his roster.
Nonetheless, the spring game is an important showcase for several Pitt defensive backs, especially safeties Ford (Steel Valley), Jazzee Stocker, Therran Coleman (Brashear) and Bricen Garner (Central Catholic). There is depth and competition at cornerback, too, with Jackson, Jason Pinnock, Damari Mathis and Marquis Williams.
Sanders wouldn’t reveal who is getting the most playing time opposite Hamlin, but Stocker, Ford and Garner are alternating, he said.
“The kids do a great job of pushing each other.”
Hamlin and Jackson are assuming leadership roles as returning starters and seniors. Pinnock, a junior, started six games, including the last three, so much is expected from him, too.
Mathis, who played in every game, said he found motivation simply by donning a different number on his jersey. He’s wearing No. 21 now, discarding No. 16.
“I always wanted to switch,” he said. “Like Prime Time, I want to bring that Deion Sanders type of swag. I didn’t ask for 16. It didn’t really look bad, but I never really liked it. I’m out there making plays with (21), so I can’t complain.”
Hamlin said leading others comes natural to him.
“My whole life, that’s just been the role I play,” he said. “I probably get that from my parents. I’ve always been one to help somebody else out.”
Sanders said Hamlin asks questions in meetings, even when he knows the answers.
“To make sure everybody knows the answers,” Sanders said.
Hamlin also revealed an important contribution the offense is making to the defense under first-year coordinator Mark Whipple.
“The new offense is definitely helping us getting ready to see all the RPOs (run/pass options) and all the different things we see from other teams in the ACC,” Hamlin said.
Pitt can’t begin preparing for ACC opponents too soon, with defense of the Panthers’ ACC Coastal championship starting Aug. 31 when Virginia comes to Heinz Field to open the season.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .