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Whitehead practices on Tuesday, expected to play Saturday - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

Whitehead practices on Tuesday, expected to play Saturday

Pitt%27s+defense+could+receive+a+huge+boost+against+Georgia+Tech+on+Saturday+with+the+return+of+safety+Jordan+Whitehead+%289%29.++John+Hamilton+%7C+Staff+Photographer
Pitt's defense could receive a huge boost against Georgia Tech on Saturday with the return of safety Jordan Whitehead (9).  John Hamilton | Staff Photographer

Pitt's defense could receive a huge boost against Georgia Tech on Saturday with the return of safety Jordan Whitehead (9). John Hamilton | Staff Photographer

Pitt's defense could receive a huge boost against Georgia Tech on Saturday with the return of safety Jordan Whitehead (9). John Hamilton | Staff Photographer

By Steve Rotstein | Sports Editor

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For at least the 30-minute window that was open to the media, Pitt safety Jordan Whitehead suited up and returned to practice with the Panthers Tuesday morning.

After missing Pitt’s 43-27 win against Marshall on Saturday, Whitehead –– the reigning ACC rookie of the year –– appears to be on track to play against Georgia Tech on Saturday, according to Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.

Tuesday afternoon, Narduzzi released a statement addressing Whitehead’s status, saying the sophomore had not played for personal reasons.

“As head football coach, I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility for the well-being of our players. That includes protecting their privacy when appropriate,” Narduzzi said. “Jordan Whitehead did not play in last week’s game for reasons that are personal in nature. I won’t comment further on the topic other than to say I fully anticipate that Jordan will be available to play this coming Saturday against Georgia Tech.”

The announcement came after two days of uncertainty about why Whitehead missed last week’s game and whether or not he would suit up against Georgia Tech. At his Monday press conference, Narduzzi declined to answer multiple questions from reporters about Whitehead’s playing status, clouding the situation with uncertainty.

“You guys know I’m not going to talk about injuries or anything else about anybody,” Narduzzi said.

Without their star safety on Saturday, the Panthers managed to put together a defensive shutout in the first half and jumped out to a 27-0 lead.

Though the Herd then stormed back from the 27-point deficit to make it a three-point game late in the fourth quarter, Pitt put the game away with two late touchdowns.

Despite being an uninspiring performance by the defense that almost turned into a catastrophic defeat, senior linebacker Bam Bradley said he didn’t think Whitehead’s absence contributed to Marshall’s comeback.

“I feel like we didn’t come out with the same intensity and the same focus that we had in the first half,” Bradley said. “Obviously, momentum wins, so they got back in the game.”

Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin attributed the defensive lapses to complacency after coming out of the break with a big lead.

Conklin said Whitehead’s absence had no effect on the Panthers’ game plan on defense against Marshall. He even called his replacement –– senior safety Reggie Mitchell –– Pitt’s player of the game after making a team-high nine tackles.

“We didn’t and we don’t [change the gameplan],” Conklin said. “Reggie’s very capable. I didn’t really think there was a big dropoff with Reggie … he had a good stat line and played really well and really sharp.”

Meanwhile, junior cornerback Avonte Maddox said he has full faith in whichever safety is playing behind him.

“We’re all a team, and whoever’s in there, whoever’s behind [me], I trust that guy, no matter what the name on the back of the jersey is,” Maddox said. “If Whitehead’s in there, I trust that man. If Reggie’s in there, I trust that man.”

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Whitehead practices on Tuesday, expected to play Saturday