Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is usually guarded about injury information, but he slipped a bit Monday when he said freshman cornerback Damar Hamlin is “progressing nicely” from an unidentified injury (although Hamlin had hernia surgery in the off-season).
He also said senior linebacker Mike Caprara (lower body injury) is expected to return this week.
Hamlin and Caprara were participating in practice early Tuesday morning (during the 30-minute media viewing window).
Does that mean Hamlin could be an answer to Pitt’s serious pass defense problems? If Pitt is counting on a freshman to patch the holes in its secondary, this could turn into a bad season.
But Hamlin is talented, and comes from a Central Catholic program that has earned a lot of respect from Pitt’s coaching staff.
In one breath, Narduzzi talked Monday about “one or two” personnel changes; in another, he said coaches need to make sure players presently in the lineup are getting better.
If Hamlin is healthy, he should play. But I have to confess, reporters aren’t permitted to watch the important moments of practice, so speculating on how Hamlin would handle college wide receivers is a mere guessing game.
Based on potential and his play at a quality high school program (you know he’s been coached well), he might turn into the team’s best cornerback, possibly by the start of next season (if not by the end of this one).
And he doesn’t have to start the game Saturday at Heinz Field against Marshall. Insert him in the second quarter, for example, and see what happens.
But it’s not easy for a freshman, part of the reason Pitt has used only four. And defensive tackle Amir Watts, running back Chawntez Moss and wide receivers Aaron Mathews and Maurice Ffrench have played only in reserve roles.
Defensive line coach Tom Sims speaks about freshmen from personal experience. He played as a freshman at Western Michigan before transferring to Pitt.
“I started, but I didn’t play the first six games,” he said. “It can happen.”
But not easily, he said.
“Think about it. This is the biggest step you take. When you go from high school football to college football at a Power 5 level, that’s the biggest step you take.
“When you go from Power 5 football to the NFL, you just play good college players every week. But you go from playing against kids from gym class and 135-pound offensive centers to all of a sudden, you got a grown man with a wife who’s going to be a first-round draft pick; you line up across from him and Watts was at the prom two months ago.
“It’s a difference.”
Well said, coach.
I’ll give Narduzzi credit for something else he said Monday: He actually brought up possible mismanagement of the clock in the North Carolina game that no one had mentioned (at least not to me).
With 3:06 left in the first half, Pitt had the ball at its 27 with a 19-13 lead. It didn’t seem like the time to shut down the offense because Narduzzi knew he needed plenty of points to win the game. But he did wonder about it later.
Using nothing but running plays by five different players, Pitt moved to its 46 where Quadree Henderson lost a fumble with 43 seconds left. Using two timeouts and a 15-yard pass interference penalty against cornerback Avonte Maddox, North Carolina ended up kicking a field goal on the last play of the half.
“Maybe we should have just kneeled it down and went in (to the locker room),” Narduzzi said.
No, coach, there was too much time left. You never get back wasted minutes.