If you all remember I did a series of articles in June of 2017 that looked at the departing starters from the 2016 season and who I thought would be replacing them for 2017. With that I assigned a grade of “Upgrade“, “Downgrade” or “Draw‘.
What I’ll do first is look at each position, or unit, along the offense as of today and write down who I think will be the starter and why it will be that guy. Then I’ll assign a ranking of “Upgrade” if I see an upgrade in player quality, “Downgrade’ if I see a lessening of talent or “Draw” if I think we’ll match last year’s player(s) in the position or unit.
This Defensive Backs article is written by our fellow reader and commenter Erie Express (Rick Caldwell) and thanks to him for a well-written comprehensive coverage of this important unit.
TURN YOUR HEAD AND COUGH
Let’s start right off by naming who exited the program and the significance of their departure. First, the coach of this dreadful three-year run of DB play, Renaldo Hill has move on to take the same position in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. Second, the defensive coordinator, Josh Conklin, left to take the head coaching position at Elon University. Good riddance to both – I wish them much success. New leadership in this area is a huge positive in my mind.
We also lost a team captain in Avonte Maddox, who was a low 3* Rivals rated athlete from Michigan. He committed to Pitt and Paul Chryst in June 2013 and proceeded to start 28 games over the course of his 4 year career at Pitt. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 2018 NFL draft by the Eagles.
Jordan Whitehead also will not be back after forgoing his senior season at Pitt to enter the NFL draft and being selected in the 4th round by the Tampa Bay Bucs. Jordan verbally committed to Pitt and Paul Chryst in October 2014 and signed with Pat Narduzzi in January 2015. He played in 31 games and started 30 over his three years at Pitt, missing three games due to injury and four via suspension. As quoted by Reed – “…losing Maddox and Whitehead is a big deal.”
While researching which players may start and provide depth on the 2018 DB squad, I came across this “overlooked” fact about the start to the 2017 season. Pitt started last season with less than a full deck – not just that Whitehead was suspended for the 1st three games, but that four other significant contributors were on the bench to start 2017.
Phillipie Motely (projected starter) & Therran Coleman were injured in Fall camp, Damar Hamlin (4* recruit) was still recovering from off-season surgery and Paris Ford (4* recruit) was not in camp. Pitt did not have these five players available for the Penn State and Oklahoma State games.
Pitt finished 2017 as the 103rd ranked Pass D – there were 13 P5 teams ranked 104 or higher. Of the 65 P5 teams, Pitt ranked at # 52 regarding Pass D. (emphasis Editor)
On to 2018, where I predict HCPN will begin the season with a starting four of seasoned veterans with Dane Jackson RS JR and Phillipie Motley RS SR starting at the two CB positions. Damar Hamlin JR and Dennis Briggs RS SR will start at FS and SS, respectively.
I do believe we have impactful youth & depth that will see this starting line-up change by game # 2. FWIW, Ourlads.com has a two-deep at CB1 of Jackson/Ford, CB2 of Motley/Coleman, SS of Briggs as starter/Campbell as back up and FS of Hamlin as starter/Garner as back up, per Ourlads’ update on July 19, 2018. In both starting scenarios, there is a heavy presence of WPIAL stars.
CB Dane Jackson (6’ 185 lbs) is probably the most experienced and proven DB of this group, as he started all 12 games in 2017 with a stat line of 40 tackles, one sack, nine pass break-ups and two INT’s. Dane has played in 24 games and started 15 in the two seasons he has played, with his 1st season being a redshirt year. He was a 2* athlete out of the WPIAL who verbally committed to Chryst in June 2014 and signed with Duzz in January 2015.
FS Damar Hamlin (6’1” 195 lbs) may be the 2nd most talented DB on the roster, and has been hindered by nagging injuries throughout his short Pitt career. This 4* WPIAL recruit was the top rated D player in PA out of high school and the #7 rated Safety in the nation, per Rivals. Damar played in nine games and started four in 2017 with a stat line of 41 tackles, one TFL and one INT. Pitt needs Hamlin to meet or exceed the expectations of a highly rated 4* recruit and become an All-American type player in 2018.
SS Dennis Briggs (5’10” 195 lbs) was chosen as one of four team captains in 2017 by his teammates, a rare occurrence as a JR on Pitt’s football team. He was another 2* athlete who committed to Chryst in June 2013. Dennis has played in 38 career games and started four. Briggs has been a career back up and may end his tenure at Pitt that way as well.
SS Phil Campbell, as a RS SO (6’1” 200 lbs), is a 3* athlete who committed to Duzz in December 2015. He played in eight games in 2017 and started one, the Miami game where Pitt defeated the #2 team in the nation. Campbell is a big, strong, hard-hitting Safety that should see considerable playing time in 2018, and will probably start in game #2 vs PSU.
CB Phillipie Motley (5’10” 180 lbs) is a 3* DB who committed to Chryst in July 2013. He has played in 27 games and started four. Phillipie has been injury prone which has cost him much playing time over the past three years.
CB Jason Pinnock, as a SO (6’ 195 lbs) played in 10 games as a true FR in 2017. He is a talented 3* DB with an NFL body, who committed to Duzz in January 2017.
CB Paris Ford (6’ 195 lbs) is a multi-talented player who took a red shirt in 2017 and in my opinion, is the most talented DB on Pitt’s roster. He was a highly rated and nationally recruited 4* stud who committed to Duzz in October 2015. Paris was rated higher, out of high school, than Whitehead, Hamlin and George Hill.
We have yet to see this potential “star in the making” on the field for a college game. What we do know is at the HS All-American game, he performed great and the other players were raving to their college coaches to go after Ford and flip his commitment from Pitt.
My belief is Paris will start his career much like Whitehead did – coming off the bench in game # 1 as a DB and will start game # 2 at CB along side Dane Jackson. P.Ford will also see playing time on the offensive side as a playmaker – he has talent that can be used as a WR and RB.
CB Therran Coleman, as a RS SO (6’ 200lbs), is a highly rated 3* CB who committed to Duzz in August 2015. His Rivals rating of 5.7 is 0.1 short of the coveted 4* classification. Therran played in eight games in 2017 and started one (vs cuse as the Nickel Back). Coleman was a 2-way standout in HS as a QB and DB for Brashear.
He was the Pittsburgh City League Player of the Year as a JR & SR, as well as the individual track champion in the 100 and 200m dashes. This all points to a speedy, intelligent, athletic DB who has an NFL type body. Can he put all of that together and gain significant playing time? Remember, injuries have slowed his development.
Others on the roster have seen valuable playing time to add to the depth chart – Bricen Garner (RS SO 6’1” 190 lbs), Jazzee Stocker (RS JR 6’2” 190 lbs) and Damarri Mathis (SO 5’11” 190 lbs). All three will battle for playing time with the others mentioned above.
For purposes of time, I will not mention the 2018 class of talented DB’s nor the two new DB coaches. My guess is the 2018 FR all redshirt due to the depth I mentioned and the two coaches are better than the one we had.
Because of the depth that appears to be on this roster, the perceived strength of the front seven, the health of the projected two-deep and the fact that Whitehead was suspended for three games in 2017, I rate this unit as an: