Pitt's M.J. Devonshire, cornerback teammates learn to ignore 'press clippings'

Pitt’s senior cornerbacks Marquis Williams, M.J. Devonshire and A.J. Woods aren’t afraid to speak what’s on their minds. It could be spreading a little trash on the practice field to irritate teammates and coaches (playfully, you understand); or, on social media, when they might feel disrespected by those preseason prognostications that pop up across the nation every August.
Enough Of The Yap Drop The Real List After Jan 8! Ima leave you with 2 things. 1. I’ll be on the real/fake list! 2. It ain’t 10 CB’s better than me & my bro’s Over Here! ✌???? https://t.co/YiqS5Q1fCt
Marquis Williams (@wiliamsisland14) August 2, 2023
Williams is tired of the latter.
“Enough of the talking,” he said. “We don’t have to reply to the haters out there. They’re going to always talk. We’re ready to put our pads to work.”
Is the nation sleeping on Pitt?
“Definitely,” he said. “We’re going to wake them up this year. My confidence level is 120%.”
Woods used simpler, to-the-point verbiage to get his point across when he said, “I think we have the best secondary in the ACC from a personal standpoint, believing in our guys.
Here’s what you get when you ask Marquis Williams if the nation is sleeping on Pitt … pic.twitter.com/m2FNSIhHQ5
— Jerry DiPaola (@JDiPaola_Trib) August 5, 2023
“Every year when those mock rankings come out for us, we’re always put toward the middle of the pack or towards the end. They did the same thing our ACC championship year.”
When the ACC Preseason Poll was released, Pitt was picked to finish in a tie with Duke for sixth. Two years ago, the Panthers were picked fourth — just in the ACC Coastal — and they ended up winning the whole thing.
Devonshire laughed when the ranking was relayed to him.
“I don’t really worry about what they say in the media,” he said. “My coach (Mike Zmijanac, formerly of Aliquippa) told me, ‘Don’t read your press clippings. If you put in the work, you’ll get the results you want.’ “
Devonshire has unique motivation, following as he does two other Aliquippa cornerbacks, Ty Law and Darrelle Revis, who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Being from Aliquippa, you always want to go out there and get the best of somebody to prove I’m better than your best,” Devonshire said. “I walk out there with that chip on my shoulder just knowing I’m from Aliquippa and I’m a corner. It kind of speaks for itself.”
Then, he stopped and made sure his listeners understood his obvious, most important point, “But I definitely have to put in the work.”
Those three players carry a special responsibility as veterans on a defense that lost four players who were selected in the NFL Draft this year.
“We lost a lot of production,” defensive coordinator Randy Bates said. “Who’s the next Calijah Kancey or SirVocea Dennis? We didn’t know who that was four years ago. We’ll know again next year.”
Bates points to Pitt’s 37-35 victory against UCLA in the Sun Bowl as both a symbol of hope and a warning that there’s plenty of work to do.
“They have stepped out on the field, and they stepped out against one of the best offenses in the country,” he said. “People outside may have thought they played pretty good. I don’t think we, inside, felt we played anywhere near as well as we would like to have (played).”
But seven returning players on defense started that game — Kancey and Dennis did not play — and eight others played key reserve roles. Pitt intercepted four passes, three by returning players Devonshire, linebacker Bangally Kamara and safety Javon McIntyre. Elliot Donald, Dayon Hayes and David Green had two of three sacks, and they’re back this year. Returning linebacker Solomon DeShields recovered a fumble.
The defense, actually, appeared to grow up in the second half of that game, not allowing a touchdown after halftime until the final 34 seconds.
“Our players, especially the ones who are young and out there for the first time, three, four weeks earlier were saying, ‘I should be the starter.’ Now, they realize they have a lot of work to do,” Bates said. “I think at the end of the day, we started our season in December. I’m even more excited about that part.”
Bates tries to find teaching moments in every game, and he discovered some late last season.
“At the end of the year, we slacked off a little bit in tackling,” he said. “We have to continue to attack and pressure the quarterback. We didn’t play as well (against UCLA), but we knocked out the starting quarterback (Dorian Thompson-Robinson) and we hit the backup several times and created turnovers. We have to continue to do that.
“I don’t have to tell them anymore. They learned it the hard way.”

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