PITTSBURGH—Following a morning practice, the seventh of camp, the Pitt football program held its annual media day on Tuesday afternoon at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side of Pittsburgh.
Head Coach Pat Narduzzi
“Hope everybody is having a great day. It’s obviously great to be here. I feel like I’m a little late, like five days late for today’s Media Day. Obviously as I’ve talked here I guess the last six practices, it’s a little different schedule based on the NCAA, and I think it’s important to note that usually this Media Day is after the second day is short, so we’re seven practices in, five contact days. Obviously not full live contact, but it’s a little bit later than I like to do. I’m not sure we’ll do it the same next year.
Again, the reason we backed it up five practices was because academically our kids were still in school, and really would rather give you all this information and let you have access to these kids a lot earlier than this. I think next year with academics it’s suited better for you to have this earlier at the beginning of preseason as opposed to almost seven practices, going on number eight. Number eight will be really a third of the way through our preseason camp. We’ll get 24 practices in before we get into game week, Youngstown State week. That’s it. After tomorrow, we’ll be a third of the way through the schedule.
But it’s great to have you all here today. Wish I got you here earlier. I want to really thank the guys that come every day. I see a lot of these friendly faces and appreciate the hard work you guys do every day to be here with us.
Kind of our slogan for this year has been “take it.” If you look up at our schedule and those potential bowl games that are ACC destinations for everyone in the ACC. You say, why is it “take it?” After two years here, I think the first year we were “earn a jersey.” Last year it was “the pursuit.” We were on the pursuit to be great, and this year it’s “take it.” We’ve need to take it to the next level. We’ve got to go take it is really where that comes from. Nobody is going to give us anything.
When you go beat two Power Five champions, when you beat the national champion, you’ll have target on your back at some point, and we need to go take it. There’s some close games we won a year ago, and we can’t let that happen, so if you want to win those close games, we’ve got to find a way to take it. So our attitude is every day to go out and take it, and I think with that schedule there, we’ve got an opportunity. It’s a one-game season, and I think there’s a lot of opportunities for our kids there.
After seven days of practice, we’re obviously very thrilled with where we are as a football team, technically and knowledge-wise. When I look at all the work that goes into it. We finished a bowl game and that started a long time ago. We talked back in the spring, but that fourth-quarter workouts, it’s all part of the process going into spring ball, and then our victor’s edge. Those are the three components. Now we’re into fall camp, which is the fourth stage, I guess, before we get to September 2nd, which is game time.
Obviously game time is the exciting thing. There’s a ton of hard work that goes into it. Coach Andrews and his staff brought our kids to camp seven days ago, I believe, seven, eight days ago, ready to go. They’re in shape. They’re stronger. They’re faster. Also you have to thank our staff, our coaching staff. Every one of them, from the coordinators all the way down to the graduate assistants with the preparation they did during the summer. Nobody knows the hours that they spend preparing practices throughout the summer for our kids to run while they’re not there, so it’s got to be more detailed. So I think our coaches have done a great job, and I couldn’t be more impressed with where they are.
When you look at our senior class, we’ve got a total of 15 seniors. Eleven of them are on scholarship, and three of those are graduate transfers that are going to play the first season. They’re still trying to figure out do we put the names on the back of the jerseys, script in the front, what color jerseys do we wear, the whole deal. I couldn’t be happier with those three grad transfers we have after seven days of practice, and obviously we had one of them here in the spring in Max [Browne], and two new guys there.
But overall when you look at it, we’ve got an exciting schedule. We’ve got a young football team when you look at the 15 seniors that we have. But we have a talented football team. We have a lot of skill. What wins football games? Is it the talent, or is it the experience? You guys can choose which one you like. But you’d like to have talent and experience. To me, I think we have talent and we have a lot of experience at a few different spots, but we have very eager kids that are working hard.
I think they get better every day, and we’re excited with where we are.”
On having the players stay at a local hotel near the facility during camp:
“Yes, that’s a great point. In the past, and again, you talk about a commitment from our university and athletic department. In the past, I hope you guys didn’t walk down the hallway last year, if you would have walked down our first-floor lobby during middle doubles, or fall camp, whatever you want to call it, we only had two doubles in the past, when you walked by the weight room you saw a bunch of blowup mattress, okay, in the weight room. Anybody ever see those?
Our kids would get through a practice, a grueling practice, get some therapy, do whatever they do, hydrate, eat, and then they’d go in there, and Coach Andrews would give them nap time there.
Really not what college football—big-time college football—is all about. Really, again, we just had a disconnect with being in the dorms and the travel and you’d waste 20 minutes over, 20 minutes back. We just thought it was important to get them here, close to us. They walk down just like the Steelers’ rookies do, so when you talk about being a first-class program, that’s where it is.
We’ve invested a little bit more. Obviously hotels aren’t cheap, so I thank Heather Lyke for getting that done and Chris LaSala for pushing it through, and it’s first-class. Our kids, if you ask them, ‘hey, how’s the hotel compared to the dorm?’ they’re going to be like, ‘way better.’ It’s not even close. So they’re getting their rest.
Rest and recovery is so, so important for our kids, and for them to be sleeping on a locker room floor or on a blowup mattress, and we don’t have any shades down there so the light is running through, you can’t get a real nap, and our kids needs naps. I remember when I was in college, those naps were precious. It’s important to those young minds. So we do have that.”
On the transfers on Pitt’s roster:
“Transfer happen. You’d have to ask those guys why they transferred. I mean, I can’t answer it. I think by the years sometimes they change. Dewayne [Hendrix] will be like, ‘I transferred?’ Dewayne is a Pitt man. Some of the new guys are new, and I think it’s always interesting to ask maybe why a guy makes a move. I saw yesterday in the news there was another guy grad transferred right in the middle of camp. It’s like, wow. But it happens. I won’t divulge personal information that I know that kids have said to me because that’s not my position to do that.
But I just know this: I think we have an attractive place here at the University of Pittsburgh, and I think it’s because of the people, and the interesting thing about great grad transfers, let me just tell you, we have three great ones, okay, that are going to play a lot for us. It’s not like you’re going to see a grad transfer come in and sit on the bench or watch and go, wow, he was a bust. We’ve got three great ones. We’ve done a great job at weeding through it, and it’s not hard to find out the health of a guy at a different place and we’ve seen some interesting pictures that you evaluate as coaches, and we’ve made some great decisions, and I couldn’t be happier. If I could get three more just like that, I would.
But I think the attractive thing about Pitt when you look at it is these grad transfers, let’s just stick with the grad transfers, I’m not going to talk about Dewayne or anybody else, but the grad transfers that we were able to get have been at other places. They’ve seen how other places are done, and I think when they come here and they visit and they watch how our process is done, they see and talk to our kids, you just for example, Brandon Hodges says, ‘this is a different place.’ It’s like,’ that’s great, you’ve been here a week. You’ve been here a week.’ He visited two weeks ago just about, maybe two and a half. I mean, so it’s different. Why is it different? I’m not going to speak for him, but I think the people and the way we coach them and the way we care about our kids is different, and that’s kind of how we want to run our program.”
On why players are transferring more today than they used to:
“Well, it’s happening because academically people are doing a great job of getting their degree. Back 20 years ago, a kid could be a junior taking an English 101 or taking some what they called basket weaving classes. No one was working towards graduation. Well, the NCAA has made after your sophomore year you have to declare a major, okay. 25 years ago, you didn’t have to declare a major, you could go through five years and never be going towards any major. You took general-ed courses and that’s all you did. You spent four years at a university and never got your degree. So the NCAA is doing a great job of getting you there.
Back in the day when I was a player, you’d go home for the summer. Now our guys aren’t going home for the summer. To have our players here in the summer working with Coach Andrews, getting therapy and doing all the things—they’re eating right, they’re here all the time. For us to pay for their housing, pay for them to eat and do all those things as a full scholarship student-athlete, we have to have them in school. If you didn’t want to go to school, well, we couldn’t pay for your housing. You’re on your own, so you’d better go get a summer job. So we’re paying for them to get here and they’re getting their degree, and I think they’re looking and saying, ‘hey, I got my degree here, let me go try something new.’”
On why players don’t stay at their original schools:
“I don’t know. How many grad transfers in the football program? We haven’t had any leave, and don’t expect to. I think if you treat them right, they stay and we keep them happy. I can’t tell you why, because we haven’t had anything.”
On if adding Brandon Hodges will significantly help the Pitt offensive line:
“Yeah. I love that guy so far. I mean I loved him in the recruiting process. You always look around and go, ‘what am I missing?’ It’s that iceberg, and you see the tip and you go, ‘man, this guy’s beautiful.’ He looks great. Puts a big smile on his face. You should see him eat—came on his official visit and ate this like big cheeseburger. I’m like, for breakfast? I mean, you just love everything about him. The guy’s a blue collar guy, and then you watch him practice and you’re like, ‘wow!’ I think he’s going to be a huge addition to our offensive line. It was a place we need an older guy to come in. We’re not just taking them—oh, there’s one there, we don’t need him. It’s a great spot, and I think he’s very talented.
On how Brandon Hodges ended up at Pitt:
“Kind of fell in our lap. I think that’s the kind of relationships you build. I mean, he reached out to Coach Watson. We don’t go out and—we don’t have a recruiting office like some places I think do, going out and reaching—this is a kid that reached out to us. I think Coach Watson, I believe—and I may be wrong, you may ask Coach Watson—but I believe, my records are straight, he kind of reached out to us and wanted to be back with Coach Watson. It’s never over after that, you know? He was courted by Florida State and visited there and Mississippi State as well, which is where he’s from. I think the people attracted him here.”
On the acclimation process for Pitt’s graduate transfers:
“It’s been really good. Both of them were smart. I think that’s where it starts. I’m watching Brandon out there today, and inside, he’s taking guys that are about the size of this podium and knocking them down in here, and I’m going, ‘whoa!’ He snaps on you. And Flanagan, he’s so smart, again, he’s graduated. We were kind of on Flanagan for a long time now. But he’s finishing up school and had some goals to do. But it’s been a lot faster than you would think. Because Flanagan’s obviously been here for a long time practicing, and they get along with the guys well. Our guys have done a great job because that’s who they are, of bringing those guys into our football family.”
On if there are more or less “or”s on the Pitt depth chart his season:
“I don’t know. I think when you’re a young football team, there might be a little less “or”s. Okay? Because when you have a young guys—I mean, when you have older guys, you would say that guy’s good, or we can go with that guy. If you’re a younger football team, there might be less “or”s. I haven’t seen a ton of “or”s. I don’t know we if we even put a depth chart out yet. I would say less “or”s this year just because you don’t have as many older guys that you feel. We’ll find out where they are. But there’s talented guys and there’s some talented guys that don’t know what they’re doing still like you want to going into the game. I guess I won’t know until we finish up the [remaining] two-thirds of this training camp to find out how many “or”s there will be. The more “or”s the better.”
On when a player missing several practices begins to hurt his chances of playing:
“For the most part, we got guys in place, and we’ve already addressed that issue. But I think anybody that’s not getting as many practices as we want—whether he’s injured or not at practice for a day, whether it’s academics or whatever—we’re catching them up. We’ve had some guys that that have had practices individually, where they’ve gone out with the drill coach in the evening and got their practices in. We obviously wouldn’t have you come back for a two-a-day; it wasn’t a two-a-day for those guys. So we’re able to do that and keep guys up to date. We have iPads and playbooks and mentally they got to be locked in. That’s a good question.”
On the importance of Max Browne joining the team in the spring to develop his leadership:
“If you got an offensive tackle, it’s not as important. I think if you get offensive tackle in August, it will be okay. But if you get a quarterback in August, it’s little bit more difficult. He’s been able to go through spring ball, Max has, go through spring ball and go through the entire summer, which the summer is a major thing. Obviously, the media is not sitting out there watching. Maybe next summer, E.J., we should go out there and watch a player run practice one day just to see how unbelievable, not only our coaches are as far as putting it together and making sure they know what they’re doing, because you got to coach them on how to do it without the coaches.
As I said after the first practice, we’re breaking a lot of bad habits. There’s some details that they don’t follow, but to go through it, for a quarterback draw back, hand it off to the right guy and watch the wraps go down the field, whether he throws to the right guy, whether he finishing the play or not, he’s out there doing it and the words are going through his mouth. So it’s critical for Max to have been here. Nathan [Peterman] didn’t have that. It took us really until Iowa to decide who our starting quarterback is. Hopefully we can decide on that prior to the season starting.
On filling the void that losing James Conner at running back left:
“We’re still trying to fill that void. Qadree Ollison is the lead guy right now. He’s the guy to beat. He’s got the target on his back. Darrin Hall has looked good. He’s playing with a little bit more leverage. Chawntez Moss has done some nice things. A.J. Davis and Todd Sibley, two young puppies, are guys that I think get better every day. I watched some of those guys make some moves today, make some plays and find some holes. So I think they get better every day.
And at tailback, we’re not looking for that one tailback. I’m looking at, ‘who are the top three?’ You need three or four of those guys. If you have one horse, that’s great. James was our horse a year ago. I hope we have two or three that we can rotate in there, keep them fresh and give people a different guy to tackle.”
On Dane Jackson:
“Dane’s had a great camp so far. So far—knock on some wood there. But Dane’s been really impressive, not only on special teams but in the secondary. It’s way too early, seven practices in, but I like the swagger I see out of our secondary right now. I mean, I see them celebrating together. I don’t know what it is; I couldn’t tell you what it is. Is it more confidence, more knowledge? Are they stronger, faster? I don’t know what it is. I think they’re more confident. Even if a ball goes over their head, I see them come back the next play and make another play. And that’s going to happen for a secondary. But I feel some little different swagger out of those guys that I didn’t really feel a year ago. So I like where Dane is right now.”
On injuries to players during camp:
“It’s still being evaluated right now. I’m not really going to comment on something that’s really not a fact yet. We’re still evaluating, looking at the process, and we’ll see where we are. It’s way too early.”
On when he will know how long injured players will be out for:
“Still too early. Still trying to figure it out. I mean, it’s part of football. And every day across the country, guys are getting banged up. And it takes time to figure out exactly what it is and where we go with it. So, when we know, if it’s significant, we’re going to approach it and let you guys know about it. I’m not going to put the cart first.”
On Pitt’s group of tight ends:
“In the spring, I didn’t feel so good. I’d like to hide under the podium here if you asked me in the spring. But right now, I mean, wow; it’s one of those “wow” positions right now. We brought three freshmen in in Charles Reeves and [Grant] Carrigan and [Tyler] Sear, and I don’t say those in any particular order. Probably needed to say it alphabetically; I probably should have said it alphabetically. All three of those guys are going to be great players here. You bring in a class, and you’re not sure. And there’s some other positions I’m not sure right now, but all three of those guys, right now as freshmen, those guys are going to be football players. And all three of them are getting reps and really getting better every day. They’re tough, they’re knowledgeable, really smart guys and picked up the offense really quickly. You look at those three, and Chris Clark has done a nice job in camp so far, still working on some little things there, and Matt Flanagan has been tremendous. I think you guys will be impressed when you see No. 88 get a chance to step out there and do some things. I’ve been impressed with what he’s done. And Devon Edwards has had a great camp so far. He’s a guy that’s a tight end, moved over to defense mid-season last year. I still think he can go over and do some things. He’s a big athlete running better than he has in the past. He’s done a great job in the pass game, and we’re continuing to work on his run game and doing things that he can complement his pass game.
So that tight end position, where it probably couldn’t be any weaker in the spring, has really [become] a strength right now, which is impressive, an impressive job by our coaches in bringing some guys in. It’s really four new guys, with Flanagan and three freshmen, it’s four new guys to that list.”
On the youth of the defensive line:
“I could see having some “or”s right there. That would be an “or” position, which means we have some depth there. I’ll start inside with the D-tackles with [Amir] Watts, [Keyshon] Camp and Kam Carter, who has been impressive. He’s steadily gotten better every day. He’s a super kid to coach, I might add, with all of the chaos out there and all of the conflict that reality TV shows will bring to it. There’s no truth to that. I’ll address that quickly, if that’s okay. But he’s done an unbelievable job, couldn’t be a classier kid to be honest with you.
He actually, I will even tell you, he got in a fight, the first fight in the practice. The first fight yesterday, it was a little one, but I was looking for it maybe it getting bigger, but it was small. And he’s like, ‘I’m sorry, Coach.’ What else can you ask for? Not too many guys say they’re sorry. Watts, Camp… Rashad Wheeler has been impressive, Central Catholic product. He’s been impressive. Shane Roy. There are five, six guys in there that can be “or”s inside, with Folston, Hendrix. Allen Edwards is playing the best football he has right now. He’s at the top of his game. I’ve been really impressed what he’s done on the field so far. Rashad Weaver and Patrick Jones are some guys, I mean, I would say if there’s a position, there might be more “or”s than ever. So don’t get mad at me during the season when there are “or”s on there. Those are some “or”s.
At that position, it’s going to be who has the best week of practice. So they’re going to be battling each other every week. If one guy gets better, it’s not someone loafing. If someone got better that week, or maybe fits that offensive style better, or can play the zone play better than the power, those guys will play. So I’ll tell you, that’s an “or” position.”
On if he watched Kam Carter on the Netflix show “Last Chance U”:
“I’ll tell you two stories now. My kids laugh at me because I call it Netflex. Netflex, I guess. I didn’t know it was Netflix. I couldn’t get on it. So I wouldn’t waste my time. But one Sunday, my kids said, dad, I can get it out for you, so I said, let me check this out. So I watched episode 1, and I couldn’t understand what everybody was talking about. I said, you know, if I got to read the bottom there, I am not really enjoying this show. So I watched probably most of that show and saw Kam.
Everybody wants to be in the media. TV shows, reality shows, sometimes it gets blown up. In recruiting him—this is a funny story—you know how they have that NFL show “Hard Knocks?” Isn’t it current? So, I’m thinking it’s “Hard Knocks,” junior college football, so I’m thinking it’s over with. And he told me about some things that happened in the show and I’m thinking it’s over with. And then, you know, probably E.J. told me, hey, that thing’s on this weekend. I said, ‘what?’ I thought that thing was over. I didn’t know it was still going on, so I don’t get to watch much TV or Netflex. I don’t get to watch that stuff too often. So that’s how much I know.”
On if he spoke with Kam about his portrayal on the show:
“No, not really. It hasn’t been an issue. If I had saw issues from that show… but, again, he told me about everything I needed to know prior to. Like I said, he’s a great kid. He was as up front and honest as you could be. He said, ‘Coach, I snapped on a coach one time.’ He called it “snapped.” He told us everything. I mean, it didn’t shock me. I think it’s all for the show.”
On how he handles suspensions:
“Whether I’ve been the head coach for the last two, going on three seasons, or assistant coach, assistant head coach and D coordinator, it’s not just a head coach’s deal. You talk to your whole staff: ‘Hey, what are we going to do here?’ We’ve got to set the standard what we want to be as a program. If you don’t put your foot down, you lose it all, really. You lose all respect.”
On his impressions of Pitt’s offense under new coordinator Shawn Watson:
“It’s still a work in progress. It’s so hard. I wish we had preseason game like the NFL does, so you can really find out. But when you go against each other the whole day, every day, and the defense kind of knows what you’re doing and the offense kind of knows the defense, there’s some advantages there. I’d love to get Youngstown down here and get to play against them every day. On September 2nd, we’d be a little better prepared. So it’s hard to see because of the style defense we are and how we meld into a different offense. Same thing, vice versa, our offense knows our defense so well. It’s so hard to tell. But right now, I like what I see. And there are some changes that I think needed to be done that have made things a little bit easier on our offensive guys, and we’ll find out September 2nd.”