Who Are Our New DBs This Season?

Let’s revisit this defensive backfield issue now that the spring practices have been underway for a while.  I think I can speak for the majority of Pitt fans who say they want to see new and more talented blood in as starters and in the two deep.

My problem is I don’t think we’ll see that much if  at all… unless it is strictly in the two-deep.  Here are the returning in the defensive backfield with one newcomer, Maurice Ffrench, who is maybe, possibly switching over for depth.

DB 2017

You can see that out of the 13 players I listed (I dropped kids I think have no chance at serious PT) we have a combined total of 23 starts among them.  23 folks; among 13 returnees.  All those other “Games Played” were either in the DB rotation or special teams but mostly on special teams coverage units.

When researching this subject I started perusing the camp reports in detail and other media sites and guess which names popped up the most when the staff was discussing which DBs are playing the best so far?

Maddox, Motley and Briggs.  That’s who. I’ve heard Narduzzi twice talk about how well Briggs has been doing.  This staff is one that values not only seniority but actual game experience.  Remember that last season we fielded only one new guy in Whitehead – and even he had a year’s experience behind him.  Other than he they  were SR R. Lewis, SR T. Webb, and rsJR A. Maddox.

Don’t be surprised if we see that replicated in the beginning of this season with JR Whitehead, rsSR Maddox, rsJR Motley and rsJR Briggs in some sort of combination.  Every college ball fan wants that one freshman to walk in and become a starter right away and this year we Pitt people are keeping our fingers crossed that DB Paris Ford will do that.

We really need him to… boy do we.  We do have other kids who may jump up and snatch a starter’s job also. Last season people pinned their hopes on 4* DB Damar Hamlin (who had recruitment offers from every big school)  but injuries derailed that attempt as it may happen again with him this season.

rsFRs 6’3″ Henry Miller, 6’1″ Therran Coleman, 6’1″Phil Campbell and 6’1″Bricen Garner are four tall Narduzzi recruits who Pitt fans want to see get PT early and often.  But I wonder.  For defensive backs experience really counts as one mistake in blown coverage usually means seven points on the wrong team’s scoreboard. 

You can play a top-shelf talent like Whitehead because he’s that special and has the football intelligence to do that.  But regular DBs need time with a college coaching staff before they are ready for the most part.

The reason I listed the new kid’s heights is because our returning prospective starters average 5’10” with only Whitehead being close to 6′ at  5’11”.  We watched our opponent’s receivers high-point catches against us many, many times last season.  I finally had to spray Clorox in my eyes during the Clemson game to ensure I couldn’t see our futile DBs giving up yards any longer.

For that fact alone 6’3″ Henry Miller may get the spot in the two-deep that he wants.  But again, does height or speed make up for experience when it comes to fielding a decent and effective backfield?

On the flip side the experience that the returning DBs have has been on pretty crappy defensive backfields to say the least.  Especially last season’s amazingly poor showing.  Experience in watching WRs blow past you for TDs isn’t the greatest thing on a DB’s resume’ but there it was.

Now this is only mid-spring ball and we have the rest of it and a whole four week fall camp to go through before Narduzzi and Conklin come out with an ‘official’ two-deep for the Youngstown State game on Sept. 2nd.  That is a long time away, a lot can happen and especially injuries may occur.

But again, this staff sticks with experience when they can – but not all the time as we saw last season with RBs Chawntez Moss and Darrin Hall getting the bulk of the carries behind Conner instead of Quadree Ollison – but the certainly has done it at the QB position for two straight starters there with JR Peterman taking over for rsJR Voytik  (kind of I guess) and now Brown jumping over the rest of the younger QBs on the roster .

The question then is do you stick with players you know intimately and you trust or do you blow up the backfield and let the chips fall where they may?  It is an interesting predicament to have as a coaching staff and one I’m sure they wish would just go away.

But we don’t have much of a grace period for the staff to make adjustments and tinker with player combinations.  ysu.png

As you can see on the right we have a semi-easy opener against YSU whose QB, Hunter Wells, came on in relief and led the Penguins to a 7-2 record.  He’s a pretty good passer and will be starting against us this season.  That will be a smaller litmus test to see how well we are playing the pass.

But the next two games are where the staff will show what the can do as far as major corrections needed from one year to the next.

Against Penn State, at Penn State, we’ll see QB Trace McSorley again.  If you remember he carved us up for 332 yards and one TD on 24 of 35 passing for a 151.77 rating last year.  We won that game on the shoulders of our offense – certainly our pass defense sucked regardless of that nice INT at game’s end.

The next week we’ll face OSU’s Mason Rudolph again, at home this time but don’t expect that to make much difference. If McSorley carved us up in ’16, then Rudolph chewed us up and spit us out. His 26 of 46 passing for 540 yards and 2 TD (a 167.48 rating) was a total embarrassment seen on national TV and is what started Pitt fans truly worrying about the fact that we couldn’t stop a kindergarten passing offense if we needed to.

Gee – it will be so much fun playing those two teams again, won’t it?  Whatever moves have to be made need to be made in early in fall camp in my opinion.  If we are going with new players back there then make them starters for the last two weeks of fall practice and get them solid playing time in those August scrimmages. That along with the YSU game to get their feet under them will get them ready for the Big Top.

We’ll find out this year if the true problem is the players not being up to snuff or if it is poor coaching from the DC and DB coach Renaldo Hill.  I’ve always felt it was on the staff. 

This year, with all the fanfare of Narduzzi’s recruits exiting their redshirt years and being able to play without penalty, has to show major improvements right off the bat. We can’t afford to start the season off with a 1-2 record because of our pass defense even though I think that’s whats to happen.

Notes:  We’ll do the POV Roundtable Call-in tomorrow night instead of this evening as I’m tied up with the Library of Congress Veteran’s History interview tonight.  I’ll post something when the interview becomes available to the public.

Remember that Human Book thing I did and that I mentioned how diverse the group of “books” were?  Well, here is a photo of the people who volunteered to be the books. 

This is one of me screaming at an older woman… I can’t remember why… maybe she was a Penn State grad.

Apparently the golfing is a scramble format and we’ll take walk-ins that day. Guys – drive down and hang out with us even if you don’t golf.

I have a question to the attendees:  I’m making up attendee goody-packages and will make name tags also – would anyone mind if I listed both their real first name along with their POV screen name on them?

…and don’t forget there is now a PayPal Donation button on the homepage…

74 thoughts on “Who Are Our New DBs This Season?

  1. Maddox, Whitehead, Briggs and Motley, thats the 4 I see starting in our opening game. No changes from the group that ended the 2016 season when the seniors from last year were omitted.

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  2. I’m not worried about experience. I want to know if any of these guys can make plays on the ball when in tight man coverage. Ryan Lewis had experience going into last season and at the end of the year he still couldn’t make plays. Talent trumps experience all the time.

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  3. As a natural frosh, Whitehead led the team in tackles 2 years ago. I would have to believe that the staff thinks that Ford can step into the same position this year and also play at a high level. Not sure though if they will start him until after the Ok State game.

    Since we’re talking DBs, here are 2 tweets from PG Brian Backo today

    Pat Narduzzi said Pitt’s defense was able to stop the offense late in Saturday’s scrimmage, thanks to three Avonte Maddox pass breakups.

    Narduzzi on Maddox: “For some reason, they targeted him. I’d go to the other side, but they went after him, and he had 3 PBUs to seal [it].

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  4. One more tweet as a tease to an article: Pat Narduzzi said today there’s ‘some separation’ in Pitt’s quarterback competition after practice 10 of spring camp

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    1. On topic comments from HCPN today about the DBs:

      On the defensive secondary improvements this spring:
      “I see us making more plays. In the scrimmage during the two-minute drive to win the game, [Avonte] Maddox came up with three pass breakups. For some reason the offense went after him and he had three PBUs at the end of the scrimmage to seal the victory. As a whole, I’ve seen a lot of good things. Dennis Briggs has really stepped it up, Phillipie Motley is really playing good. In the second group, Dane Jackson at corner and Therran Coleman has been getting all the reps with the twos, doing a great job right now.”

      On if Maurice Ffrench can sustain playing both sides of the ball:
      “Right now in the spring we are trying to play him both ways because we are short on both sides, so you’re trying to fill the void. He is playing both ways and we will find out where we are when the fall comes around with the young guys getting here. We will start him out both ways and if another guy emerges, they we will try and get him to stick on one side. I can still see him going through the year being a guy to help us on both sides.

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    2. Reed, nothing but a tease for a story … here’s the actual quote:

      On if there is any separation at the quarterback position:
      “I think there’s some separation. Every day we talk about ‘Okay, who is the starting QB after today?’ in the staff room. It’s good that you don’t know; it means we have no leaks in the office. Every day we go through the depth chart and decide who’s going to be with the ones. We talk personnel every single day, not only what they’re doing on the field, but what they’re doing in the classroom. We know what our guys are doing everywhere.”

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      1. yet, from OC Watson:

        On the separation between the older and younger quarterbacks:
        “Yeah, it’s Max [Browne] and Ben [DiNucci]. Then Thomas [MacVittie] and Kenny [Pickett] came right along with them. They’ve done a nice job, the two younger guys. Both of them are getting their feet under them with all the different volumes of defense they see and the volume of offense we have in. They really have settled down their play and are following suit in example of those older guys.”

        Check out the PItt Athletics site for all of the interviews today

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  5. If the DBs founder again this year its on the coaching time for new BF coach and D coordinator. Technique comes from backfield coach. Our guys have shown some technique problems.H2P

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  6. Yes we need the DBs to be in the game this year. If they are not it’s time to change a BF coach and a DC. Technique of the DBs is the BF coaches responsibility if that is not a lot better this year that is on the coach. Too many cases last year it was not.H2P

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  7. @Reed Perhaps I am not correctly understanding the chart but Ffrench definitely played last year and more than special teams with 12 rushing attempts and 2 TDs. While he didn’t start, I recall that he played a good bit of corner in the second half of the Syracuse game.

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  8. Why are we so short on offense that Ffrench needs to be tested there? As a backup to Henderson is the only place I see a fill in needed. Maybe it just speaks to the Ffrench’s talent that getting him on the field in any capacity is the desired result.

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  9. Reed – no problem with real first name on the name tags. “Goody packages!” Whoo-Hoo!

    Briggs is surprising to me. Hardly recruited at all – seemed like a reach – but has gotten playing time. I think Reed is correct about the coaching staff putting a lot of emphasis on experience and who studies the best in the film room…

    I do remember that in the warm-ups to the bowl game, there was a specific drill the DBs were doing where they had to run with a guy and then get their head around and play the ball. Hope they don’t forget about that drill…

    I’m looking for Avonte M. to have a very good year. No “fall downs” this year – and hopefully opposing WRs don’t get away with as many push-offs…

    Go Pitt.

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  10. I think that Dane Jackson will emerge this season as a starter by season’s end.

    Reed, the name tag idea sounds fine to me.

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  11. In the order they were presented in this article:

    Miller, He’s not just big but fast and goes 205 lbs. I look for him to play a lot.

    Coleman. Nice size and speed, maybe a little underweight at the moment. Can’t teach speed, he will play some.

    Campbell. Also good size, I mark him down as a sleeper.

    Garner. Saw the young man play in high school. Always around the ball. A real ball-hawk. Anyone catching on yet?

    Jackson. Right Dr. Great athlete with size and swivel hips. He will make an impact.

    Henderson. I’ve heard good things about him but I simply don’t know much about him.

    Stocker. Another big kid with great bloodlines. Lots of playing time in his future.

    Hamlin. An X factor due to injury. I would rather see him sit and get 100% before he see’s the field this year. He’s as good as advertised.

    French. Must be really good, I don’t think he’s needed on D but what do the coaches know?

    Whitehead. Hope the change of positions brings him back to form. I guarantee a big season from him!

    Briggs. Seems like a starter but he better not slack, he’s a good example of why competition is a great thing.

    Motley. See above. Good athlete.

    Maddox. Clearly he is plain terrible?? The young man starts two straight years and the coaches must really suck. Here’s an example of armchair QB’s knowing more than the coaches. C’mon little queenie’s get with it. The guy is really good.

    Ford. Left off the list? If he had enrolled in Jan he would be on the list and showing off his stuff. Super-star!

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  12. Ike that was a list of players on the roster, not incoming kids.

    Who said Maddox sucked? I said the whole pass defense sucked which they did.

    But Maddox might be the best of the bunch.

    Tomorrow night for the “Ike and Reed Show”. Same bat time, same back station.

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  13. Paris Ford is 6’2, I have no doubt he will see the field this year. Coleman, Jackson and Hamlin are 6′ and 6’1, Stocker is 6’2 and Miller is 6’3. I expect all to see PT this year as the season goes on.

    DL Camp was quoted today on how the line can help the secondary:
    “We’ve got to get home, just get home so they don’t have to cover guys for five to 10 seconds. We’ve got to get there. The faster we get to the quarterback, the easier it is for them.”

    This is something that has been overlooked. No doubt that the best pass defense is constant pressure on the QB …. and I don’t think that happened a lot this year, especially when Price was double-teamed

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  14. How does 5′-9″ Avonte Maddox even come back this year? He of I never once turned around to spot the ball and had to hold the jersey so he wouldn’t scream by me?

    Even in the videos I have seen from spring ball, he NEVER turns and holds the jersey nearly every play. If I were an opposing QB I would throw at him on every attempt. It would either go for a big gain or a hold.

    Hopefully one of the younger players relegates him to the bench.

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  15. Reed- “Maddox the best of the bunch”. Hopefully that was in jest. He NEVER turns around and is constantly beaten.

    Hopefully Whitehead remembers how to tackle – something he must have forgotten how to do last year. Guaranteeing a good year? I sure hope so.

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  16. Reed is essentially calling Maddox the tallest midget. That works on a lot of levels.

    “Who said Maddox sucked? I said the whole pass defense sucked which they did.

    But Maddox might be the best of the bunch.”

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  17. About the DB’s turning their heads. It’s been explained by Narduzzi himself? It’s more a science than a lack of execution. The PITT coaches have explained that they coach DB’s to only turn their heads when they are almost chest to chest with the WR they are covering. Seriously, I have read this numerous times. It’s the coaching.

    The other thing is, you can’t coach a player to be sticking to the WR like Maddox does. That’s natural talent. That said. Maddox gave up plenty of deep receptions…. but for the past 2 or 3 years, the coaches thought he was the best for the job.

    Finally, Maddox is one of the most respected players on the team. He’s a genuine leader and the other players love him. He will get a look in the NFL. Then the armchair QB’s will just not acknowledge the fact they were wrong. Like L Pitts and all the other whipping DB players in the recent past.

    It’s a tough position. …. ike

    H2P

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  18. Many of you either have short memories and or have Randy Newman bias. This is from Maddox’s Pitt Bio: “led Pitt in INTs and PBUs (tied) for the second consecutive year…finished third in TFLs ” (and he did that in 9 games)

    Maybe this is scant praise but Avonte Maddox was by far the best DB for Pitt last year

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  19. 5’10”, 5’11” seems to be the height that is looked at as ideal for a DB in the NFL anyway. I’m on my phone so I can’t just copy paste the link but there was an article a few years ago on bleacher report about how NFL teams were not really looking for 6’3″, 6’4″, 6’5″ DBs to match all the WRs of similar height in the league. They look for guys with great speed and agility who can master multiple coverage schemes and execute correct technique playing press coverage (in other words, properly execute bashing the WR in the chest at the line so the route is disrupted).

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  20. Reed, name tags work for me. The other guys in my 4some don’t even have real names…Just their “bar names” 😀

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  21. A midget can have the greatest experience in the world…………………but at the end of the day he’s STILL a midget!!!
    Also, I agree that Maddox was our best DB last year. BUT the Pitt pass D was the WORST in the entire NCAA, which I guess makes Maddox the best of the very worst! Geez

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  22. if a db presses at the line and disrupts the receiver, thats good. if the db has good hops, thats good. if the db turns his back, thats good. if the db gets into the receivers head, thats good. if the db can anticipate (high ball IQ), thats good. Deon Sanders wasnt that tall. Nor was Revis. You need some speed and cover skills. But both guys had high football IQ’s. They were aggressive and didnt back down. height for db’s is overrated.

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  23. Mel Blount was a freak in his time. Tall, lean and decent speed corner with an edge (nasty). He would be the prototype today. But they broke the mold with him. Much like Troy and Reed for a safety. I do like what I see in Whitehead though. He’s special.

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  24. Ike I love your posts but good god man.

    Maddox might be a good leader and well loved, that does not make him a good corner. I’m not commenting on character – he might have the highest.

    Problem having corners turn their head when they are chest to chest works when you can stay with the receiver. Look at the tapes. Maddox gets burned off the line, and always grabs and hold on to the jersey. From there he is playing catchup with the WR. He was out there because he was the best we had – that doesn’t mean he is a great or even good db.

    And Pitts is not an NFL corner. Is he on the roster? Yep. More of a long term practice squad and special teams. No personal knock to him at all. I wish he will become a great NFL corner.

    Agree with you corner is one hell of a tough position. No doubt about it.

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  25. OK Pitt it is and thanks for the kind words. Can we agree that he probably was one of the best CB’s PITT has had the past 3 years? Hence him starting all 3.

    I look for some subtle changes this year on defensive coverage’s. (at least I hope like hell) If someone on the roster can beat him out then I’m all for it.

    Here is where I come from on these topics. Why would Narduzzi not play the guys he really thinks will give him and the team the best chance to win the games? His defense guru reputation is on the line not to mention his job.

    BTW Mel Blount is my all time favorite Steeler and yes, he got beat as well. That dude was a stud and game/rule changer!

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  26. My bias with midgets stems to Sackseri. Another 3 inches taller and he could have been something. Instead he’s Pitt’s all time leader for sacks per game.

    We need to find some game changers on D. Whitehead is one of them. Need another 2-3.

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  27. I’m optimistic about our secondary and defense overall it’s only April why kill the rampant enthusiasm now?

    The Narduzzi defense is here to stay right?

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  28. If the QB has time to go thru his progressions on every pass play (like it seemed last year), it won’t matter how tall, how fast, or how well coached our DBs are, they will get burned just like last year. What our DBs need most of all this year are QB Hurries – and PLENTY of them. That will also greatly increase our Ints.

    Two best (appropo) FB quotes:
    “Games are Won and lost in the trenches;”
    “It’s hard to complete a pass from the prone position.”

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  29. Reed you are the best. No where else do we get this content.

    Corner is certainly the position that takes the most athletic ability to play. Need to have a short memory because you are going to get beat. We really need a couple of these young guys to separate from the pack. Hopefully we need one more safety to hit like a ton of bricks.

    It really was amazing how often we were in position to make a play last year but could not get it done, especially on the jump balls.

    The most important thing that will make our backfield better is consistent pressure on the QB. If we don’t get it, it doesn’t matter who is in coverage.

    Hope Ford lives up to his Rep and Hamlin gets healthy. Overall depth should be much, much better.

    A better backfield is certainly coming, hopefully sooner rather than later.

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  30. Clearly Maddox is the best CB has currently IMO. No that statement was not made in jest. So you folks will just just have to live with him being out on the field all game long absent injury.

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  31. Maddox is 5’5 and is atrocious. Love you guys but he makes Willie Gay look like Josh Norman. All our DB’s suck. Whitehead was avg last year. Freshman year he played way better.

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    1. Do you know how many tackles Whitehead had in the Clemson game before he broke his arm? I think it was nine. And that’s against the national champion. He may not have appeared to be as good as he was the year before but it’s really tough to evaluate a players performance without looking at the coaches game tapes. And when everyone jumps on Maddox without considering his lack of help because of the defensive scheme I’m not sure that’s fair. And although he isn’t big he tackles really well.

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    1. Well, a year ago we hired fast .. within a week, and only interviewed one guy — Kevin Stallings. So, what are you trying to say?

      Face it … Pitt Admin can pretty much screw up the hiring in any scenario.

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