Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt and secondary coach Jeff Hafley noted several times this offseason that Dom DeCicco, a junior strong safety, probably was the Panthers' most-improved player from the start to finish of last season.
DeCicco wouldn't necessarily agree with that assessment.
"Oh, I don't know,'' DeCicco said. "There were a lot of good players on our defense last season, and we have a lot of talent coming back this year. I was a new starter at the beginning of the season, so I got off to kind of a slow start. But I think I got better as the year went on, so maybe that was true.''
Some rated DeCicco just behind fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop, in training camp with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers this summer, at the end of last season. And who could argue. McKillop and classmates Austin Ransom and Eric Thatcher were Pitt's top three tacklers, but DeCicco was next.
DeCicco had 56 tackles, including a whopping 38 solo, with a team-high four interceptions, seven pass breakups, a forced fumble and one fumble recovery. For a first-year starter, DeCicco was more than just a contributor. He made some big plays for the Panthers last fall.
DeCicco was big part of why Pitt's defense ranked among the nation's best last fall, but he believes it can be better this season.
"We feel that our defense is going to be strong, stronger than last year, even, and it should help us win a lot of games this season,'' DeCicco said. "We lost Scott McKillop, Eric Thatcher and some other veterans, but we really have a lot of talent coming back at every position.
"We're really deep up front, and we have some young guys to balance things out with the veterans at linebacker and in the secondary. This will be my third year now, so I should be a lot better. I expect to be better, and I think the experience we learned last year should really benefit us.
"In the secondary, we're deeper than we've been in years, and we still have some experience,'' DeCicco added. "Aaron's a senior, and Jovani will be a senior. Me and Scoot, we've played quite a bit now, and we have two years left. So, all of us, mixed in with young guys like Taglianetti, Antwuan, Holley and Ricky Gary give us a solid group in the secondary.''
Scoot is DeCicco's good friend, Elijah Fields, a redshirt junior who many believe will finally realize his tremendous athletic potential. Fields was the starting free safety after spring practice. But he'll be pushed by Andrew Taglianetti. One thing is certain, if DeCicco and Fields are in the game at the same time, Pitt should have the biggest safety tandem in the Big East with both players weighing in at about 225 pounds.
"Everybody's worked hard, and we had a good summer,'' DeCicco said. "We really came together at the end, and now we're ready for the season. So, we're definitely going to be ready for camp. We can't wait to get started.''
Pitt's first practice is Tuesday, so the wait is nearly over.
DeCicco Leads Pitt's Secondary
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