PITTSBURGH — Most of the positions for Pitt’s starting 22 have been set or close to set as the team enters its third week of training camp.
At some positions, like defensive end, Deslin Alexandre, Habakkuk Baldonado and John Morgan will be three players replacing Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver. At left guard, it’ll be a one-to-one replacement as Marcus Minor takes over for Bryce Hargrove.
At free safety, though, the battle is ongoing. Pitt hasn’t traditionally done a lot of rotating at the defensive back spots, and there hasn’t been enough separation for Pat Narduzzi to name either redshirt junior Erick Hallett II or sophomore Rashad Battle to be the replacement for Damar Hamlin.
“Erick Hallett has got a little bit more knowledge than Battle and Battle just keeps closing every day,” Narduzzi said on Tuesday. “It’s just a great battle back there. It’s going to be the guy that wants it the most.”
The loser of that battle might end up on the field a bunch, anyway, as Hallett has done the last two seasons as the team’s third-down Delta defensive back. The team has traditionally used a safety for that role to make up its 3-3-5 sub package, and that could be Hallett once again, or Battle, or even converted safety John Petrishen, now a backup at Star linebacker.
“There’s a couple guys,” Narduzzi said. “John Petrishen, Rashad Battle, Erick Hallett. Really, three or four guys. We’ve got more guys at that position, the Nickel position, than we have in the past. … We’ve got more than we’ve had. Erick Hallett has done it in base. John does it in base, so he really gets a clue. Rashad Battle is really, really smart. He can play corner, he can play safety, he can play Nickel. He’s kind of like Damar Hamlin, he can do it all.”
Here’s Pitt’s defensive backs working on a tackling drill on Tuesday.
Tuesday’s session was the third in full pads for the Panthers after a session at Heinz Field on Thursday and another on the South Side over the weekend, and Narduzzi said he’s been impressed with the level of physicality in those practices — at times having to urge his team to ease up on one another — and the level of conditioning they’ve showed.
“Just impressed with our kids and their conditioning,” he said. “We haven’t had anyone in that tent for heat exhaustion. You guys know how hot it was last week. In the past, we’ve had guys in there. Our football team is in shape. I’m excited about where they are.”