The Panthers secondary has a mixture of talent and depth at the safety positions, but also inexperience and lack of depth at cornerback. The safety positions should be very good as both starters return and some key backups also are back. At cornerback, replacing unanimous All-Big East cornerback Torrie Cox will be extremely tough. The staff will also have to find a replacement for part-time starter Shawn Robinson.
Starting with the safety positions, Pitt returns both starters from last season. Redshirt sophomore Tez Morris (5-10/185) is the returning starter at free safety. Morris had a very good season last year, his first as a starter. When you consider that Morris was only a redshirt freshman and finished 2nd on the team with 119 tackles, it’s all the more impressive. Morris is known as a fierce hitter who doesn’t back down from anyone. Former starter senior Corey Humphries (6-2/205) will push Morris for playing time. Corey came back from ACL surgery to see playing time in the second half of last season. Humphries had a strong spring and completes an excellent one-two punch at the free safety position.
Junior Tyrone Gilliard (5-11/190) is the returning starter at strong safety. He had a solid season last year and will look to take his game to the next level. Redshirt freshman Sam Bryant (6-0/205) was impressive this spring and looks to push for playing time. Bryant and freshman LB Charles Sallet (6-0/220) were probably the two most impressive freshmen that redshirted last season. Sophomore J.J. Horne (6-3/225) has moved to safety from linebacker and will be in the mix also.
Cornerback is probably the weak link of the entire team heading into fall camp. On a positive note, they do return two part-time starters. Senior Shawntae Spencer (6-2/175) has been a part-time starter the last three seasons and should be solid at one cornerback position. Senior William Ferguson (5-10 185) is a former starter at CB and was recently moved back to CB after playing WR for a while. Ferguson will battle sophomore Josh Lay (6-2/195) and junior Marcus Furman (5-8/185) for the starting position opposite of Spencer. Lay saw limited playing time last season as a true freshman. Josh really stepped up his game this spring and should be in the thick of things for a starting position. Furman impressed the coaching staff with his outstanding quickness and closing speed this spring before suffering a hip injury. Furman has played RB and WR in his short time at Pittsburgh, but he looks to have found a home at cornerback.
Two redshirt freshmen, Reggie Carter (6-0/190) and Larry Moore (5-9/180) will also look to provide depth at cornerback.
The incoming freshman class will also provide further competition. Eric Thatcher (5-11/180), from powerhouse Moeller High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, is a top cornerback prospect. Thatcher will not enroll at Pitt till January due to an off-field accident. Mike Phillips (5-11/180), from Warren Harding High School in Warren, Ohio, is another impressive cornerback prospect. Allen Richardson (6-0/180), from Euclid High School in Ohio, is a talented athlete who was recruited to play safety. He may also get a look at cornerback. Jameel Brady (6-0/195) is a hard-hitting strong safety recruit from Miami Killian High School in Miami, Florida. He will be joined by his high school teammate Kennard Cox, another incoming Panther recruit.
Cornerback should provide one of the best battles for a starting position at fall camp and, along with strongside linebacker and wide receiver, is one of the positions that are up in the air. Ferguson, Lay, and Furman all bring different levels of experience and they all bring different talents to the position. It’s the one athlete who can put it all together and play the most consistently that will win the starting job.