2017 Pitt Football Camp, Day 1 Recap Panthers Held First Practice of Camp on Tuesday Morning

Pitt Coach Pat Narduzzi

Opening statement:
“Great to have you guys out here today, that’s for sure. First day of camp, obviously an exciting 2017 season. It’s a little different camp, as you guys know, from the NCAA standpoint. We’re really out here a full week earlier than what we normally are, so there’s a lot of things going on with our kids. It’s kind of a modified week. Obviously, academics and things that they have to take care of from a university standpoint are No. 1. We backed up our next team meeting all the way to 9 p.m. So they’ll be busy all day with things they need to do, so, like I said, it’s a little odd. We’re missing some guys. I don’t know if we have any former professors here or not, so that’s kind of where we are there. As far as practice No. 1, it was a really good day. Lot of details and finishing, things that we need to do. The kids are out there all by themselves during the summer with our strength coaches that coach the weight room and drills and attitude and moral. But it comes down to fundamentals, you see a lot of details that we need to clean up. But the effort was good, the attitude was great and I’m happy with where we are.”

On if there is any update on Paris Ford’s status:
“Not at this point. We’re obviously in constant contact with him. He’s doing well. He’s doing better than expected at this point, and we’ll just wait for a decision to be made. I am hopeful with him and so is he.”

On the status of Jordan Whitehead:
“His status is status-quo. He’s got some things that he needs to take care of from a university standpoint, and he’ll be in-and-out basically this week and the next.”

On his message to the suspended players:
“It’s personal. It’s all personal stuff. First thing, this is going to be a disciplined program. We’re going to go by details inside too. I was a coach’s kid growing up and if I was one minute late, I’m not going out for the next month. That’s just the way it is. We’re going to be disciplined. And as soon as you lose your discipline, you lose your credibility as a football coach and as a program. And we’re going to have discipline. It’s going to be little things and it’s going to vary from time to time, but that’s all in the accumulation of pride. Three months of stuff comes out in one day, but those are all personal things that are talked about in that office. You got my statement and keep it right at that.”

On if he was disappointed by what occurred:
“I think I used the word ‘disappointed’ in my statement. Of course we are. Where our kids are, what they’re doing, who they are hanging out with and what choices they make are so important. We preach it all the time. It’s just like at home with my four kids. If there’s something I’m not happy with, I’m disappointed there and I get disappointed here; except I have 105 kids here. I have a lot of children and there’s going to be issues at times. You guys don’t hear about them all. There’s other ones. You don’t see guys out here pushing the plate for whatever they did. Discipline is what we do. We are going to be a disciplined program.”

On keeping “credibility” when it comes to discipline:
“I think it’s just being consistent. I think you have to be consistent with what you are doing. Surely we don’t want to do what we don’t need to do. I’d like to see everybody play; but you know what, if that happens, what’s going to happen now? So it’s a consistency with discipline that’s very, very important. It’s consistent to what we have done in the past. Those are older guys and we hope they make smarter decisions than some of the other guys.”

On if he thinks the rest of the team is getting the message as far as violations:
“I hope so. I mean, usually it’s three percent of the football team that you worry about, and then there’s that 97 percent that we aren’t even talking about—all the good stuff that’s done out there. A lot of guys already had the message.”

On the circumstances of the suspension and if it was a first occurrence or repeated:
“A little bit of both. Maybe one of them is a one-time deal and one is a few different things. It is what it is.”

On the talent and amount of options at the running back position this year:
“We’re obviously excited. We have a great backfield replacing James Conner. We’re looking forward, whether it’s Darrin Hall or Chawntez [Moss]. [Qadree] Ollison right now is leading the way I believe, at least after today. We’ll see what he did after today from the video, but I’m excited with what they are doing.”

On the challenge of getting other players ready while getting Jordan Whitehead reps:
“It’s important for all of the safeties. You look at ‘T’ [Terrish] Webb leaving and Reggie Mitchell. We’ve been looking. And we had a good spring with all of those guys back, so it’s no different than what it was. We need other guys back there to step up and make plays, and they will.”

On who is taking the most snaps at middle linebacker:
“It will be Saleem Brightwell, who had a great spring. We looked at the depth in the spring. He came out really playing well. He’s athletic, he can run, he’s very locked in and focused. He’ll be the guy. Chase Pine will be another guy, but he’ll have to grow up. Elijah [Zeise] will be another guy, so we have plenty of guys.”

On how much they’ll get out of Damar Hamlin in camp:
“I think that we’re going get a lot out of him. Damar [Hamlin] feels as good as he has ever felt. We’re being very cautious. The NCAA talks a lot about player welfare and keeping them healthy; we don’t need them to tell us how important it is to keep them healthy. I don’t want to be back where we were. Damar said, ‘Coach, I feel as good as I’ve ever felt.’ And I’m talking back to his sophomore year of high school, so he was injured through high school. He had a nagging issue and he feels great right now, so I’m excited. But I don’t want to get so excited that I throw him out there and say, ‘let’s go.’”

On if Damar Hamlin will play more safety or cornerback:
“He’s played a little of both. He ran a lot of the stuff with the corners in the summer. I didn’t get to see much of it. He’s going to meetings with the safeties, but he’s getting the mental load back there. I think that there is more mental in the safety area, but he can line up and play corner. So we expect him to play both. We want him to be a utility guy depending on how healthy he really gets, but we’ll decide that when it comes.”

On if there will be an addition to the offensive line in camp:
“Yes, but I can’t really talk about it. Hopefully tomorrow.”

On working with players having finals during the first week of camp:
“Everything is sped up here with our kids going to classes and writing papers. Avonte [Maddox] was up until midnight worrying about a poetry class. The issues that we are dealing with here are not just football. It’s university-related, which is great, but we are a week early, so it’s like spring ball. We’re practicing in the morning and have the afternoon off.”

On Avonte Maddox’s leadership:
“Avonte was a great leader in the spring. He’s continued to be a leader so far. We voted for our leadership council last night in our team meetings. I haven’t gotten the tally yet. We’ll see who after the summer, who our kids thought were the top dozen leaders, and we’ll do it again after camp and go from there.”

On if Zack Gilbert is still with the team:
“Yeah, he is. Zack is, and so is George Hill. But obviously, they’re [medically disqualified], so there’s no sense in bringing them back here yet to stand around and play music. They’ll be back and join us when school starts. We’re allowed to bring 105 in, so we are going to bring guys who can play.”

On what Ben DiNucci has proven to compete for the starting quarterback job:
“Well he’s showed me the past year, and he showed me some good stuff today. Just composure in the pocket—I told him to scramble today out of the pocket, and he doesn’t go throw the ball to the wrong guy. Those decision-making things that Ben has done, I think he has come a long way. The bowl game has done a lot for his confidence; that’s probably where it started. As much as I didn’t want to see him go in the game and Nathan be out—because I think we win that game if that doesn’t happen—I wanted to get him in for that other reason. He did a nice job in that bowl game. He made some nice plays and he kind of said, “Hey I can do this.” It’s hard until you get thrown in that fire. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance all year to get a backup quarterback really in there. Manny Stocker got in there at the end of a game at home I believe down in the end zone, had a couple runs. It will be interesting, and this will be a great camp for [Ben], Max, Kenny and Thomas.”

On Brian O’Neill’s participation in camp:
“We’re going to be cautious; we’re not going to be crazy. We know that guy can play. It’s just like Damar [Hamlin] or anybody else. He will be a little limited, especially early. If you saw some of the craziness that happens out there. Some of them can’t control themselves. You throw a crazy guy out there during what we call Wiz tempo, where there’s no contact and they’re not supposed to be bull rushing, and someone bull rushes. We need to be careful out there.”

On Max Browne’s gained confidence with his new team:
“I think every day, you see him walk down the hallways. He’s gotten so much stronger since he’s been here. Coach [Dave] Andrews and the strength staff has done an incredible job with his body. They’ve got him bigger and stronger. He’s put on 14 pounds of muscle, lost a little bit of baby fat. For an old guy, that’s a lot. Usually from your freshman to sophomore year you make that stride, not from your senior to grad year. Just watching his face and confidence on the field as far as knowing the offense. You can imagine having 15 days of spring ball, and all of a sudden now a lot of things are thrown at you—a blitz, a stunt, a different coverage you haven’t seen. I think his confidence and his look and demeanor have improved every day.”

On having former players next door with the Steelers:
“I wish they were next door, but they are out in Latrobe. I wish I could just peek out the window. That’s impressive what those guys are doing over there—James [Conner}, Matt Galambos, [Scott] Orndoff. It’s impressive they’re over there, and I think they are doing well from talking with Coach Tomlin.”

On if he expects the former Panthers with the Steelers to be at any Pitt practices:
“They’ll be really busy. They better be focusing on their new job, because if they don’t focus on their new job, pretty soon they won’t have a job. They’ll be there. I’m sure they’ll come in some days to say hello or shoot a text. But they have bigger and better things to worry about.”

On if he has been in contact with James Conner about his recent injury:
“Nope, I’m focused on my job. You know, if I worry about his job or what the trainers are doing over there, I’ll have some problems. I watch the news; I was talking to my wife the other day and I said, “God it’s weird, I have to watch the news to figure out what’s going on. Maybe I should text Jerry [DiPaola] to see what’s going on and get an injury report.”

On if James Conner changing body types was a concern going into the NFL:
“Not really, it’s not a concern for the Steelers. I think they know what they are doing. You’re talking about one of the best NFL teams in the United States. I think they’ll get him where he needs to be. I don’t make those types of decisions.”

On if more internal leadership is necessary to prevent future disciplinary concerns:
“No, I think it’s the same thing. It’s a different age we live in. Every year is a different culture that we are raising our children in. Who remembers growing up and wondering, “What is it going to be like when my kids are growing up?” It’s a crazy world out there. Every year things get crazier.”

On upperclassman leadership on this year’s Pitt football team:
“It’s a smaller class than we had last year. It’s obviously a smaller class. We had 21 last year, now we have 10 and a couple transfers; Matt Flanagan and Max [Browne] haven’t been around. I’m talking about Pitt guys who have been here for the long haul and have seen this thing built from the Paul Chryst era to what we’ve done the last two years. Every year, you’ve got a different group of leaders. We’ve lost not only good football players but great leaders. I mean Bisnowaty is about as great of a leader as you’re going to have. I was telling the guys last night, I’ll never forget Biz in my first year was up in the dorm, sitting Indian style on the floor with a little grease board teaching the freshman up. That’s leadership. It’s not trying to be a leader on the field; it’s the stuff you don’t see that makes good leaders. It’s something you try to teach these guys as a coach. We’ll see where we are, and it’s something we will try to develop through this camp. We’ll get closer as a team and the chemistry will be important.”

On the chemistry with the new coaches:
“It’s going great. Starting with Coach Watson, he’s done a great job. I think the guys are buying into to all the new stuff we’re doing and what we’re doing offensively. And Coach Partridge has those guys working on the D-line. Those are our two new guys, besides two quality control coaches in James Patton and Tim Cooper. It hasn’t slowed down a bit; it’s been going smooth and straight forward.”

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