Versatile Whitehead eyeing larger role at Pitt
PITTSBURGH (AP) With 10 retired jerseys, 105 men on the team and only 99 options, there's bound to be some duplicate numbers on the Pitt sideline every year. As the Panthers wrap up their 2016 training camp, over two dozen numbers are worn by both and offensive and a defensive player.
But there's only one No. 9.
Maybe it's fitting. Unlike his teammates, the owner of No. 9 - sophomore Jordan Whitehead - is liable to be used in just about any situation.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Whitehead started 12 games at strong safety as a true freshman in 2015. He recorded 109 tackles to lead the team and added an interception, six pass breakups, six tackles for a loss and a fumble return for a touchdown on his way to being named ACC Rookie of the Year.
Yet defense was simply the beginning. By November Whitehead was unleashed on offense, as well, scoring a pair of rushing touchdowns against Notre Dame. A threat every time he touched the ball, Whitehead's averaged 10.2 yards per rushing attempt.
Oh, and he returns kicks too.
An encore will be difficult and Whitehead has been coy about his role on offense, saying ''you'd have to ask coach about that'' with a smile.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi isn't giving up any secrets about Whitehead's potential offensive role, either. Instead, he's spent training camp focused on how to get even more out of Whitehead on the defensive side of the ball. Narduzzi said Whitehead came into camp in great shape after offseason surgery and has been working hard on improving his craft in his second season.
''He looks like a million dollars out there,'' Narduzzi said. ''He really looks good. We've got to keep him healthy. It was a very minor surgery.''
Whitehead doesn't expect to make leaps-and-bounds types of improvements, but looking at his 2015 film, he definitely sees some areas to work on.
''Last year I came in and I was just trying to make a name for myself,'' Whitehead said. ''I'm just trying to do better and trying to do even more.''
He's been focusing on improving the deceptiveness of his positioning, making the calls for the rest of the secondary and have a better understanding of what each opposing offense is trying to do.
''I'm learning new things and Coach (Narduzzi) is putting in some new stuff so we're getting more detailed than we got last year,'' Whitehead said. ''Last year I was a step away from - who knows? - ten interceptions, five interceptions. Just a step away so that little step makes a difference.''
Improving on his first season is a lofty goal, but Whitehead says it's not just him. He sees the potential for improvement across the board on the Panthers' defense in their second year under Narduzzi. Pitt was 37th in team defense in FBS in 2015 at 363.2 yards per game.
''I would say (there is a high bar) not just for me, but for all of the defense,'' he said. ''Last year, they saw what we could do. So now the defense has way more pressure to perform compared to last year.''