August 16, 2007

Panthers secondary shapes up

One of the stronger overall positions in this camp has been Pitt's secondary. Despite the process of replacing first-round pick Darrelle Revis, and installing a new coach in Chris Ball, the Panther secondary has adjusted well to these changes. Even with the loss of Revis, this group has the potential to be better as a unit. Experience is a given, while the only question right now seems to be health.

A look at the top four members of the secondary right now shows experience and leadership from three of the four. Aaron Berry is the wild card there. Berry certainly brings talent to the position, and has not wavered out of the first group the entire spring and entire camp to this point, which has to be a good sign that he will open the season as the starter.

Kennard Cox started all 12 games at corner last season, and was named Pitt's most improved player on defense. He led the team with seven pass breakups a year ago, and has looked solid all camp. With Cox and Berry holding down the corner positions, safeties Eric Thatcher and Mike Phillips only need to worry about staying healthy. Thatcher, in a short time a starter, quickly earned a reputation as a hard-hitting safety, while Phillips brings experience and leadership to the position. Thatcher missed the final seven games last season with a broken ankle, while Phillips was hit with some nagging injuries while recovering from an ankle injury in 2005.

"I don't know, as a coach, if you ever get satisfied with where guys are at," defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. "You go back to the early part of the decade with Mark Ponko and Ramon Walker, You had a combination of ability and intelligence, and I thought at the time it was the best safety combination in the Big East. This group (of safeties) reminds me of that group. They were a couple guys back there talking, and getting people where they were supposed to be."

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