Hours before the first spring practice of 2018 on Monday, Pitt put out a prospectus for the spring, with new additions, new coaches, new uniform numbers and a few new positions.
Among those making a move was 2017 top recruit Paris Ford. Ford was the No. 3 player in Pennsylvania and the No. 5 safety in the country when he came to the Panthers a year ago, but he’s not a safety at all anymore, making the move to cornerback for this spring’s drills.
Ford played cornerback, safety, wide receiver, returning kicks and did a little bit of everything else in high school for Steel Valley, and also served as a jack of all trades for Pitt’s scout team while he redshirted in 2017.
The move — at least for the moment — has Ford out of Pitt’s projected starting lineup. He’ll start behind redshirt senior Phillipe Motley and redshirt junior Dane Jackson and be part of a second wave that includes sophomores Damarri Mathis and Jason Pinnock.
That sent Pitt fans into a tizzy at the prospect of Ford being held off the field for another season. But rest assured, when the whistle blows on the start of the 2018 season in September, No. 12 in blue and gold is going to be out on the field a lot. Where is the only part that hasn’t been settled yet.
Ford spent the 2017 season learning the safety position, but the Panthers have a good amount of depth at that spot. Damar Hamlin, now a junior, is expected to return to the field safety position after starting four games there in 2017 and redshirt senior Dennis Briggs, who also started four games at 2017, will begin the spring at the top of the depth chart at the boundary safety.
On top of those players, redshirt junior Jazzee Stocker and redshirt sophomores Phil Campbell, Therran Coleman and Bricen Garner have all played and played a lot last season.
At corner, the depth isn’t quite as well established. Beyond Jackson and Motley, Mathis and Pinnock played some as freshman, but that’s the end of the line until the rest of the Class of 2018 arrives this summer.
Instead of the move burying Ford, it’s actually meant to uncover him. A player that can play four positions instead of two will have that many more opportunities to carve out a significant niche.
“It’s just trying to get your best 11 on the field,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said on Monday. “Paris could go back and be a safety in a second. Therran could go back and be a corner. It’s just kind of where we want to start. All of those guys should be learning all four spots. Therran knows both. Paris is learning both.”
“He’s such a great athlete, I think he can play both positions,” said new secondary coach Archie Collins. “I think that we’ll work him out at (cornerback) right now, but he could possibly go back to safety. None of that matters currently right now. Show your athleticism, show your ability to make plays, and all of that will take care of itself.”
Ford had an academic eligibility issue that kept him off the field during training camp in 2017. Narduzzi said at that point, it would be almost impossible for a freshman to make up the lost ground when it came to understanding the defense and make and impact on the field, and that’s why Ford redshirted. Now, Ford feels like he has a head start on 2018 with what he learned sitting out.
“I think I’ve learned a lot,” Ford said. “I’ve learned multiple positions since I’ve been here and also formations.”
The one area Ford can almost be assured of a spot is on special teams, where the Panthers need to replace All-American return man Quadree Henderson. However he’s able to contribute, the move doesn’t seem to have bothered the young athlete.
“I’m just going to go out and play wherever the coaches tell me to play,” Ford said. “Anything to help the team with, I’m down to do.”