To begin the season, the Pitt Panthers face the difficult task of trying to win a couple tough non-conference games without starting safety Jordan Whitehead, who is suspended for three games. But after he returns, Pitt isn’t exactly going to welcome him back with open arms.
“We all sit here and grant Jordan a pass that he’s going to be an automatic starter,” Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin said according to The Pittsburgh Tribune Review. “We’ve had some guys who had a really good summer.
“I know he’s taken a lot of snaps and he’s been very productive and he has all the media accolades, but we feel like some guys are closing distance.”
Whitehead, who earned second-team All-ACC honors last year and ACC rookie of the year in 2015, very well could be Pitt’s most talented defensive player. But clearly, Conklin wants to send a message to his safety, along with senior linebacker Quintin Wirginis.
Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi announced discipline for Whitehead and Wirginis last week. Both were suspended the first three games of the season for violating team policy. Free safeties Jazzee Stocker and Bricen Garner will compete to take over at safety in the first three weeks while linebacker Saleem Brightwell should start in place of Wirginis.
If Conklin’s words are more than just a message, that’s a good thing for Pitt. The Panthers will face Penn State on the road and host Oklahoma State in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively. They will need youngsters on defense to step up in order to win those two games.