Nate Barnes

Notebook: Training Camp August 27

News and notes from Pitt's final practice of training camp on how the team is finishing camp, a new contributor at defensive back and how Jordan Whitehead has developed during camp.

Camp closing

Pat Narduzzi expects his team to get "3 percent better" each time it goes to work, a standard he made clear during spring practices. 

So, after 19 days of training camp, are the Panthers 57 percent better?

"You know what, maybe 50 percent," Narduzzi said. "I don’t know if we got the full seven extra percentage in there."

The Panthers haven't quite finished as strong as they started, with the level of improvement not quite at three percent per day. 

"I think it’s tapered off," Narduzzi said of the energy level. "I think you’ve got camp legs right now, I think some guys are mentally and physically like ‘is this almost over?’"

The head coach acknowledged he's seen the same thing happen before, but will find out if that is his team's true character come gameday Sept. 5. 

Nickelback

Dennis Briggs arrived at Pitt last season as an athlete out of Shadyside Academy and spent his first season with a redshirt on, working with the running backs. Because of a backfield stuffed with talent, Briggs isn't a running back anymore. 

The redshirt freshman moved to defensive back before training camp began and three weeks after it started he's running with the first team in its third-down nickel package, known as "Delta."

"I just saw myself doing what I could to help out the team," Briggs said. a"I was in the middle of that running back depth chart, my goal for that when I was in the running back depth chart was to get a lot of special teams."

Now, instead of special teams, Briggs has a specialized role. 

He's working with the second-team corners currently, but has seen much more time on the field as the nickelback. Briggs--who played linebacker in high school--compared his responsibiliites to those of the Star outside linebacker, playing closer to the box and working in the flats. 

"I think it really fits my style of a play a little more," Briggs said. "I’m really comfortable in the shorter area and when I’m working at corner I work a lot in space."

Jordan Whitehead

Like Briggs, Jordan Whitehead was on the field with a lot of the first-team defense this morning at the safety spot while the team did walkthrough drills. 

Whitehead was the prize of Pitt's 2015 recruiting class and his commitment status during the transition from Paul Chryst to Pat Narduzzi was a major storyline early in the offseason. 

His talent is obvious. But defensive backs coach Renaldo Hill made it clear he isn't relying solely on that. 

"When you look at his production and the way he’s been moving up, he’s been learning from his mistakes," Hill said. "You tell him once and he’s got it."

Sounds like a coach's dream. 

Whitehead's competition, Jevonte Pitts and Patrick Amara, has the advantage of further experience at the collegiate level and a spring season's worth of practice. But it seems like Whitehead's natural ability has helped him make up for any ground gained by the others.

Narduzzi said earlier in the morning the players dictate who the starters are with their performance, not the coaches picking and choosing. Hill said the staff has been tracking the performance of Whitehead, Pitts and Amara and will probably decide who the starter on the team's first two-deep is Sunday.

It sounds like Whitehead has made the strongest impression lately. 

"If you look at the production from the last scrimmage you’d have to say Jordan was the guy. But as you go through practice throughout the week, we still grade that as well. So there might be one guy jumping ahead of the other guy for one day then the next day somebody else is ahead.  

When the Panthers take the field against Youngstown State next Saturday, don't be shocked to see No. 9 starting in the defensive backfield. After all, isn't production most important when it comes to football games?


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