Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was asked on Thursday at his first and so far only media availability during bowl practice, if any players were changing positions in advance of the Sun Bowl, whether to fill a positional loss or to get a head start on where they’ll probably be playing in 2019.
“Not yet,” he said. “There’s no slam dunks. There’s about three or four that we’ve thought about, but you want to kind of make sure you get your recruiting class all done before you do too much of that. Who’s where and where do you need a guy? There’s a couple that we have in mind. We’ll figure that out. No scholarships guys have changed positions.”
Except, maybe for one.
Narduzzi was pressed about the status of redshirt freshman defensive back Paris Ford, and he relented that Ford has begun the process of moving back to safety, where he played in 2017 while he redshirted. Ford spent this season at corner, but was using sparingly.
“He’s a guy that makes plays, but he’s got to be sound, because I don’t want to be sitting in front of these lights and cameras after the game feeling bad because we made mistakes that you can’t do in a game,” Narduzzi said.
The thought process of moving him from safety to corner in the first place was to give the talented youngster an easier path to the field. But it didn’t turn out that way. Fellow second-year corners Jason Pinnock and Damarri Mathis emerged as the prime contenders to challenge starters Phillipie Motley and Dane Jackson, and Pinnock ended up unseating Motley by the end of the season.
Pitt didn’t use its nickel package all that much this season, but when they did, it was typically Mathis, redshirt sophomore Therran Coleman or true freshman Marquis Williams getting those reps.
With only Motley graduating, the Panthers seem set at corner, and it’s tough to imagine Ford leap-frogging the sheer number players that earned more reps than he did this year.
At safety, Pitt is losing two-time captain Dennis Briggs, who will play his final game in the Sun Bowl. Briggs, who has never been Pitt’s most athletic defensive back, was able to mostly hold off challenges from Jazzee Stocker and Phil Campbell. Those two would have the inside track on any additional playing time available due to Briggs’ departure in 2019, but Ford definitely has the size and ability to be a part of that mix, whether it’s at strong safety, or at field safety if starter Damar Hamlin were to slide over.
“We’ve got Paris Ford playing some safety right now,” Narduzzi said. “Playing corner for as long as he has helped him understand what he has to do at safety. He’s learning and he’s been making some plays at safety. We’ll see how close he can get and we’ll see what the practice tape looks like.”
It’s seemed obvious to many outside the program for quite some time that moving Ford to corner in the first place was a mistake. Ford hasn’t been available to speak publicly since training camp, but it seems that others on the team share that mindset.
“I feel like Paris always could be a factor and could have been a factor,” Hamlin said. “He’s a safety. That’s what he is. From the first time he came in at safety, he’s looked very natural at it. He’s back to where he left off. He just looks comfortable back there and he’s ready to go when his number is called.”
That may or may not happen in the Sun Bowl, with Pitt likely to give Briggs one last shot at the spotlight before his career at this level comes to an end. But it should happen eventually, as Ford has the size, speed and ball skills to make an impact at the position at this level.
He may still need some coaching, as Narduzzi alluded to. But if anything, Ford’s time spent at corner will have just detracted from that.