PITTSBURGH — For the first three seasons of Pat Narduzzi’s tenure at Pitt, a perceived lack of talent in the defensive secondary has been one of the reasons that’s been given for Pitt’s defense under Narduzzi failing to meet the standard he had established at Michigan State.
While there are three news coaches on the defense side of the ball, including two in the secondary, Pitt’s defense is expected to look very similar schematically to the way it has the last three years.
But there is a newfound sense of optimism amongst Pitt’s defensive backs that this year, the results are going to be different.
“It’s a new attitude, a new mindset,” junior cornerback Damar Hamlin said. “Definitely a new energy. … We’re just playing fast and all getting to the ball. It’s going to be a show. It’s just going to be explosive. You want to see guys flying around and having fun.”
Part of that comes from the extra attention the position received with the hiring of safeties coach Corey Sanders to go along with defensive backs coach Archie Collins. Collins and Sanders have been able to take twice as much time with that group of players since they arrived before spring practices.
“It’s made us 1000 times better, because it’s like every rep getting coached up on the field. It’s not waiting until the meeting.”
Speaking of spring practices, Hamlin was sporting his “15 of 15” windbreaker during his interview, given to him by the coaching staff for practicing fully in each and every spring workout.
That’s not a big deal for every player, but it is for Hamlin, who has dealt with a multitude of nagging injuries and three surgeries since his high school career ended. For the the first time at Pitt, Hamlin is entering training camp fully healthy and playing a position he’s comfortable with after moving from corner to safety in 2017.
“It definitely feels like that,” he said. “Sometimes I sit back and think like, ‘I’m a junior and it feels like it’s my first year.’”
But it’s not just a healthy Hamlin. He’s been pushed along the way by solid contributions from Jazzee Stocker, Dennis Briggs and Phil Campbell battled at the boundary safety, and as many as five cornerbacks saw playing time with the first team throughout camp. There seems to be an amount of depth that greatly exceeds what the Panthers have had in the past three seasons.
“It’s definitely increased,” Hamlin said. “We’ve got a bigger group now, a way bigger group, from safety all the way to corner. Guys don’t got to suffer out there hurt. If you’re tired, you can come out and get a blow and you can trust that the next guy in is going to get the job done.”