PITTSBURGH — Coming off his best season, Pitt will return senior leader Damar Hamlin at the safety position for the 2019 season.
After battling injuries during his first two years at Pitt, Hamlin was finally healthy during the 2018 season and in total, Hamlin started all 14 games and recorded a team-leading 90 tackles.
But there are two safety spots in Pitt’s defense and after the graduation of 2018 starting boundary safety Dennis Briggs, there is a hole to fill alongside Hamlin in the Panthers’ secondary.
Through the early spring practices, it seems that redshirt senior Jazzee Stocker is poised to fill the position vacated by Briggs. Stocker also played in all 14 games during the 2018 season, where he served primarily as a reserve player to Briggs and sub package player. Stocker ended the season with 43 total tackles.
Pitt will also be looking for young guys to step up at the safety position behind Hamlin and Stocker. Paris Ford seems to be a likely candidate to step into such a role Panthers. After spending last season at cornerback, Ford has moved back to his natural position of safety for the 2019 season.
Ford, a former four-star recruit from Steel Valley High School, has not lived up to what some thought he could be coming out of high school. However, this spring, he seems more comfortable and vocal out on the practice field. Ford has been seen leading secondary drills and being coached up by secondary coaches, Archie Collins and Corey Sanders on a consistent basis. Ford saw limited action during the 2018 season. In total, he played in nine games, mainly on special teams and also served as a backup cornerback.
Other than Ford, expect contributions from redshirt juniors Therran Coleman and Bricen Garner during the 2019 season. Redshirt freshman Erick Hallett is another young safety that could help Pitt in the future.
In Pitt’s Blue-Gold game on April 13, Kenny Pickett will start for one team, that much is fairly certain.
Who starts for the other team is more of an open question. Jeff George, Jr. finished the 2018 season as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart, but redshirt freshman Nick Patti has been working as the second-team quarterback for most of the spring.
Both will play, but it seems as if the young Patti has caught the eye of new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.
Pitt featured a power running game in 2018 that was a perfect fit for the talents of big running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall.
With A.J Davis and Todd Sibley as the likely primary ball-carriers in 2019, the Panthers won’t be quite so big at running back.
But they’re still likely going to emphasize power running, something that offensive line coach Dave Borbely excelled at teaching a year ago. He spent much of Tuesday working on that skill with Pitt’s new group of linemen — which will replace four graduated seniors.
Former Pitt wide receiver and kick returner Qadree Henderson visited practice on Tuesday. He’s back in Pittsburgh for a week, working out with the group of local NFL players that includes Pitt grad Aaron Donald, before returning home to Delaware before reporting to New York Giants minicamp on May 4.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
Here are the rest of the sights and sounds from Pitt’s spring practice No. 9.