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Increased playing time a possibility for underused Pitts

By Jeremy Tepper / Staff Writer

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When safety Jevonte Pitts received word that Paul Chryst would leave Pitt for Wisconsin’s head coaching job in January, his immediate thoughts weren’t of anger or displeasure. They were of opportunity.

After redshirting his freshman year and playing almost exclusively on special teams last season, Pitts saw a new coaching staff as an opportunity to establish himself as a potential contributor. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Forest Hills, Pa., native was tired of watching his eligibility dwindle from the bench.  

“As soon as I heard Coach Chryst was leaving, I knew I had to step up, because I’ve been trying to play all these years, and the time has finally come,” Pitts said.

And step up he has. After nine spring practices, Pitts has thrust himself forward as the arguable frontrunner for the starting strong safety spot.

It’s a rapid jump for a player who was once buried in the depth chart and only boasts one career tackle. His lack of playing time was frustrating, he said. 

“It’s always discouraging when you think you’re going to come in and think that this is going to be my year, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, but it doesn’t happen,” Pitts said. “Then, you finally get a chance to play. I was discouraged at first, but then I got it together and came out fighting.”

Refreshed with a new opportunity, Pitts has ascended the depth chart. Like his fellow teammates, the defensive back praised head coach Pat Narduzzi’s scheme as more straightforward than other defenses, a change which has benefited him. 

With fewer audibles and changes prior to the snap, the defense is excited to compete athletically, rather than strategically.

“Everything is simpler, way simpler,” Pitts said. “Everything is scaled back, everything is more dumbed down, as opposed to us having so many checks last year, and it’s a fresh start. It gives everybody an edge, everyone wants to compete.”

Pitts has picked up the system quickly and has a knack for being in the correct place, according to Narduzzi.

“Jevonte’s been doing a good job. He’s sound,” Narduzzi said. “If you know how to do your job and do the little things right, you’ve got a chance to play. He’s a good tackler, and he’s in the right spot most of the time.” 

“Every down you play faster because you know what you’re doing,” Pitts added.

With less thinking, Pitts has utilized his self-described strength of hard hitting as well as his athletic ability and ability to process plays quickly, a requisite of Narduzzi’s defense.

“It’s about being an athlete. If you can’t come down and defend the run and play the pass at the same time, you shouldn’t be out there,” Pitts said.

Pitts pointed to speed and a sharper read on plays — a lesson from departing senior safety Ray Vinopal — as reasons for his improvement. 

Still, he hasn’t secured the starting job, which is currently alternating between him and  freshman Pat Amara. They have gone back and forth in playing first team in practice, Pitts said. 

Despite the battle for playing time between the two, their relationship remains very amiable.

“With the [defensive backs], we all look at each other as brothers, we hang out together, we text each other all the time. So it’s like when you were a little kid, playing with your sibling; you always tried to win against your sibling. Everything’s a competition,” Pitts said.

Whoever wins the strong safety position will likely play opposite Reggie Mitchell, who has also been a model for Pitts.

“I call Reggie a technician because he can do everything so well. He can hit, he can cover. When I watch film, I try to watch him and see what he is doing, and I steal some of his techniques from time to time,” Pitts said.

Mitchell reciprocated the praise.

“Jevonte’s a player. He’s going to make plays,” Mitchell said. “He’s one of our hardest-hitting defensive players that we’ve got and he’s been making a lot of plays this spring.

As spring practice continues, Pitts and Amara will likely continue to alternate, as Narduzzi has said he has no problem alteringthe depth chartbased on performances in practice. 

Even with his lack of output in the past, Pitts’ confidence appears unbridled.

“I always think I have a chance,” Pitts said. “I never count myself out.”

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Increased playing time a possibility for underused Pitts