lair – Battle fighting for a starting spot at safety

Every training camp produces a few surprises, and chalk one of those up to being Rashad Battle for the 2021 Pitt Panthers football team. The 6’3” and 205-pound sophomore is pushing to earn a starting safety position.

Battle played in all 11 games last year as a cornerback and on special teams. He stuck with cornerback through the spring, but now he’s not only working at safety, but pushing his way onto the field.

Just don’t tell Battle it’s a surprise.

“That’s what I came here for to compete, not to sit on the bench for three or four years,” he told reporters after practice on Wednesday. “I just came here to compete.”

The former four-star recruit out of Georgia is locked in a battle with Erick Hallett at the field safety position. Hallett has some starting experience, but really both are looking to fill the void left by Damar Hamlin.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi sees a tight battle (pun intended) right now for the starting spot.

“I guess what’s different right now is that Hallett has a little bit more knowledge,” he said. “Rashad Battle just keeps closing everyday. That’s just a great battle back there and it’s going to be the guy that wants it the most is going to be that guy.”

Battle was told about the prospect of moving to safety in the offseason. It was in an effort to get the best four players in the secondary at the same time, and he has embraced the change.

“It came, I’d say, pretty hard when it comes to footwork and stuff like that, but the knowledge is there from me learning corner and just learning the whole defense last year from my freshman year,” Battle said of the position change.

As a young defensive back, Battle noted he likes to watch Jalen Ramsey from his Florida State days, because he played both spots in college. Hamlin also came to Pitt as a corner, but quickly moved to safety before becoming a three-year starter at this spot Battle is trying to fill.

“Damar was a good player, real comfortable player back there,” Battle said of the former Panther. “He played corner his freshman year as well. So just watching him everyday, he took me under his wing, just like (Jason) Pinnock did: just learning everything, asking questions, and soaking it up.”

The Hamlin question was of course sparked by Narduzzi, who compared the two players earlier this week.

“Rashad Battle is really, really smart,” said the Pitt head coach. “He can play corner, safety, or nickel. He’s kind of like Damar Hamlin, he can do it all and he’s done it in a short time.”

Battle is taking it all in stride and is bringing confidence to the field every single day.

“It’s every bit I thought it was going to be,” he said of playing safety. “It’s about knowledge really, being the quarterback of the defense basically and the technique that comes with it.”

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