Pitt welcomed a new defensive backs coach in the spring, and with him a new approach to playing in the back end.
The Panthers want their players to be more aggressive, something that was missing for much of 2013. Pitt had its moments, but its secondary seemed to play off receivers all too frequently. The result? Pitt allowed 7.4 yards per completion, tied for second-worst in the ACC. The Panthers also gave up 20 passing touchdowns, one of five ACC schools to give up 20 or more through the air.
But here is the stat that really stands out: Pitt had eight interceptions, worst in the ACC and tied for No. 98 in the country. The Panthers recorded an interception once in every 48 pass attempts.
So you can see why this was a group in need of a philosophical overhaul. Given the talent and youth returning, this could end up being one of the most improved units across the ACC.
"Even though the room is young in years ... the one thing in that room is every one of those kids has played in a game," defensive coordinator Matt House said in a recent phone interview. "The first time on the field, none of them will be star-struck because they’ve all been on the field before. That’s reassuring for them and reassuring for myself. They’re an aggressive group."
Safety Ray Vinopal leads the way, but he is the only senior in the group. Junior cornerback Lafayette Pitts is the next oldest when it comes to experience, although the Panthers are excited about junior Wisconsin transfer Reggie Mitchell. The rest are sophomores who played as true freshmen or redshirt freshmen.
Pitt is counting on all that game experience to help. Safety Terrish Webb, for example, played in every game last season as a true freshman. Cornerback Titus Howard, competing with Trenton Coles to win a starting job, played in 11 games as a true freshman with two starts.
House said Webb, Mitchell, Coles and Howard all played well in the spring. He also expects a much better season out of Pitts, who struggled at times in 2013.
"I don’t think there’s any doubt," House said. "Lafayette’s been more focused. He wasn’t satisfied with last season and definitely wants to improve on that. He’s done it throughout the winter and spring. He’s working hard."
The young, talented nucleus is there for Pitt to improve its numbers. Bank on a better group in 2014.