For Pitt’s Dennis Briggs, Paris Ford, what they say matters, too

August 20, 2018

Pitt senior safety Dennis Briggs believes there’s nothing more important than getting your point across with the spoken word.

Even when he’s not wearing shoulder pads.

“You have to be able to clearly present your ideas to other people, whether that’s coverage checks or some type of financial analysis,” he said.

Briggs spoke in front of a crowded ballroom delivering the prayer at a luncheon the day before Pitt played Navy in the Military Bowl in 2015. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Pitt, so standing in front of small groups is no sweat, either.

Also, he married his wife, Loren, last year. No doubt, his communication skills can be put to good use at home, too.

In his current role, as a senior presence in Pitt’s secondary, he’s responsible for making sure he and everyone else knows what’s coming next from the opposing offense.

“We call him the wise, old man,” sophomore cornerback Jason Pinnock said.

Briggs has been a big part of the Pitt secondary since his redshirt freshman season in 2015, playing in a team-high 38 games (a shared distinction with Quintin Wirginis and Seun Idowu).

The secondary will have a different look Sept. 1 in the opener against Albany than it did when Pitt upset No. 2 Miami to close the 2017 season. Safety Jordan Whitehead and cornerback Avonte Maddox went to the NFL, triggering competition for starting jobs.

While Pitt enters its second week of training camp Saturday with a closed scrimmage, cornerbacks Pinnock and Paris Ford and strong safeties Briggs, Phil Campbell and Jazzee Stocker are competing for playing time. At the other positions, it’s a good bet cornerback Dane Jackson and free safety Damar Hamlin will get their starting jobs back.

No matter how it shakes out, coaches will find a spot for Briggs, either as a starter or at his familiar nickel back spot.

“I’m always optimistic,” said Briggs, a Wilkinsburg native and Shady Side Academy graduate. “I’m especially optimistic this year. These guys got chemistry. Me, Dane, Damar and Phil Campbell, we’ve been rocking for a long time now. One thing that is key is guys coming back with experience.

“That’s important because at the beginning of camp you could see guys had that recall from last year.”

One new face belongs to Ford, also no stranger to the spoken word.

The Steel Valley product has moved from safety to cornerback in his redshirt freshman season, and everyone has noticed -- for a variety of reasons.

First, there are his physical skills.

“Paris has unbelievable football instincts,” secondary coach Archie Collins said. “Now, he has to get his technique down. He’s an unbelievable playmaker.”

Freshman wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis added, “I have to get my mind right (when confronting Ford) because I know he’s coming physical.”

Ford, who has not been available to speak to reporters this week, also is known as a talker on and off the field. “You’re always going to hear him; he loves competing,” Pinnock said.

“Paris is not afraid to say anything,” Collins said, adding he hopes Ford doesn’t change any part of his personality.

″ ‘Just keep being you,’ ” he said, relating his advice to Ford. ” ‘Don’t change and be somebody else.’ He keeps the swag going. He keeps the confidence going. He keeps it fun.

“Sometimes, when he gets down, it’s not the same. (Collins tells him), ‘Hey snap out of it’ and, boom, he’s back out there and everybody’s getting back excited. He’s definitely a firecracker.”

Whether it’s Ford, Pinnock or someone else starting at cornerback, the goal will be to improve upon a pass defense that was ranked 13th in the ACC last season, giving up an average of 254.2 yards per game.

“We’re doing the same things we did last year,” Briggs said, “just trying to do them better.”

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