Pitt's secondary a work in progress this spring

PITTSBURGH -- At times during Pittsburgh's practice on Tuesday, the safeties included a former punter, a former quarterback and a walk-on converted cornerback.

It's safe to say the secondary is a work in progress for the Panthers. Injuries, graduation and a dismissal have turned the spring into a scramble to find bodies in the defensive backfield. But there have been some success stories as well.

Start at cornerback, where Pitt is replacing senior starters Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel from a year ago. Junior Antwuan Reed has emerged as a worthy successor. On Tuesday, he had an interception and played excellent coverage against All-Big East receiver Jonathan Baldwin.

"I go against him every day, and it helps me a lot because he's one of the better receivers in the country," Reed said.

Reed was a backup and a special teams player his first two years. He showed some toughness by defending Notre Dame's Michael Floyd on a deep ball after being thrust into the game against the Irish last year because of injuries. He's been so good this spring that head coach Dave Wannstedt said, "when I look back on it, I probably should have played him more."

Junior college import Saheed Imoru is getting a long look at the other corner spot. Coaches describe him as a strong, physical player who can cover and tackle. But he's still learning the system, as is to be expected. Former starter Ricky Gary and Buddy Jackson will also battle for playing time this fall.

Safety has been a patchwork position because injuries kept Dom DeCicco and Andrew Taglianetti from practicing this spring, and Elijah Fields was dismissed earlier this year. But the situation has helped sophomore Jarred Holley, defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley said.

"Last year, Jarred played in every game and he would look over at Dom or look over at Tags for instruction," Hafley said. "Now, he's the only one with any experience, and that's forced him to become a leader and make all the calls. He won't need to look over at Dom or Tags any more because he's got confidence and got the defense down, which is huge."

DeCicco and Taglianetti are expected to back for fall camp, which should create a pretty good competition for starting jobs. For now, Hafley is filling in with that converted punter (Pat Costello), an ex-quarterback (Kolby Gray) and a walk-on (Todd Gilchrist), among others. Hafley said he told them at the beginning of spring that expectations wouldn't be lessened despite their inexperience.

"This is going to make us a better team, because it's going to create depth," Hafley said. "You've got to look at the positive side."