PITTSBURGH — The free safety spot vacated by Damar Hamlin might be the last one to get filled for the Pitt Panthers.
Hamlin was a multi-year starter at free safety, and for the last two, Erick Hallett II has served as his primary backup. Battle, meanwhile, is new to the position, moving there after spending his freshman year at corner in 2020.
“It’s ongoing,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said on Wednesday before training camp practice. “We’ve got two really good players there. It may not shake out until game day. … I think it’s two really good football players. I think it’s a good problem to have.”
In fact, it may be a problem that Narduzzi is OK having. Pitt has not rotated its safeties much over the years, with future NFLers such as Hamlin, Paris Ford and Jordan Whitehead taking the vast majority of the snaps over the years.
But with younger players involved, and rotation working so well at other positions for the Panthers, Narduzzi could simply choose to play both Hallett and Battle at safety this season.
“No doubt about it,” he said. “I think any time you can rotate … there’s some combinations you can put on the field. These tempo offenses, when you face them, you’ve got to give these guys breaks.”
Narduzzi felt that his team didn’t have enough ready depth at times last year, and a rotation could help insulate his team from injury or players being unavailable for other reasons.
“I mentioned it yesterday, the BC game [last year] still irritates me to this day, because you blame it on yourself, because you didn’t give your kids a chance,” he said. “They can’t run every rep. They just can’t do it. They more depth you have, as a football team, the better off you are, and I think we have as much depth as we’ve ever had this year.”
Here’s Battle, Hallett and some of the team’s other defensive backs working on a blitzing drill at practice on Wednesday.
Narduzzi mentioned on Tuesday that the fight to be the team’s top running back is continuing, as well, with Israel Abanikanda and Vincent Davis both making their cases. Unlike other positions, Pitt has long rotated backs, and both players will likely get carries in most games, leading to this battle continuing into the season as well.
Here, the running backs work on belly handoffs and perform a power running drill against a sled.