Pitt hopes to get more ‘Defensive’ in 2018

After 2 straight 8-win seasons, the Pitt Panthers were expected to take it a step further and contend for the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Coastal Division in 2017. Unfortunately, due to the departure of several players like RB James Conner, QB Nate Peterman and DE Ejuan Price, Pitt took a step back in 2017 with poor execution which led to a 5-7 (3-5 ACC) finish. In fact, they were just a bad loss to Virginia Tech away from a 6-6 (5-5 ACC) finish and another bowl appearance, but after going through 3 quarterbacks and an inspiring upset over #2 Miami, Pitt now hopes to turn the corner in 2018.

 

On Thursday, the team held it’s annual Media day and Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi addressed the media

“First of all, I’d just like to thank you guys for your daily, daily, daily visit to practice and obviously coming today.”Said Narduzzi “Hope you guys like that little Skelly (pass skeleton) period we gave you, some of you guys [to view], it was like getting a big candy bar instead of just a little candy…But I really like where we are at this point. We’ve got 19 seniors, and they sit in those front seats; they really have done a great job leading this team, and not only leading it through practice the last six days, but really, the summer.”

One of the areas that the Panthers hope is their strength is at RB where Darrin Hall returns after a career year in which he rushed for 628 yards and 9 TDs. That number may seem low, but Hall took the ‘bull by the horn’ (when the other RBs didn’t) late in the season that began with a 254- yard (2 scores over 90 yards) 3-TD game vs. Duke.

“It’s a right jab one day, a left jab and an upper cut.” Said Narduzzi when asked about the RBs “They are going back and forth.Hall and Qadree Ollison are leading that room and they are coaching their tails off on those young guys as well. A.J. Davis and I tell you what, [Todd] Sibley, both of those guys, Davis and Sibley have gotten better. They have done some nice things. Sibley has had two pad days in a row and gone out and shown he’s ready. He had a great move today and bounced it outside on a pretty good-sized run.”

And about the QB situation in which Sophomore Kenny Pickett returns after his inspiring second half of the season: “You know what, he’s smarter than he was in the spring. I think he’s more confident than he was in the spring…But we’ll find out on game day. I mean, you know, that bar is up there as far as where he set it against No. 2 Miami and that’s what everybody is expecting on September 1. So, he’s got to come out and deliver that. Kenny is a great kid, great player. He’s a leader out there on the field as I’ve said a hundred times and our team trusts in Kenny Pickett.”

 

The main concern with the team was with the wide receivers, in which the QBs had problems getting the ball to deep threat Jester Weah, who finished his final season with 698 yards (17.1 average) now it’s a question of who Pickett will get the ball to this year.

“You know, right now, there’s no glaring weaknesses right now. Our receivers are out there playing.” Said Narduzzi, who doesn’t seem concerned. “In the spring I would have told you health-wise that was a concern. But right now Coach [Kevin] Sherman is doing a good job at keeping the reps, making sure they are not getting worn out and fatigued and then maybe broken down and part of that is us being smart coaches and kids taking care of their bodies and really the results of the off-season program, maybe a little bit more running, more this, as opposed to that.

I’m watching Nick Patti, threes-on-threes, throwing the ball and watching Cam O’Neil make a nice catch and him make a nice throw and it was more of a trust thing.”

And then the main concern…the defense. Something that garnered Narduzzi many accolades at Michigan State, but not so much at Pitt “I think you gradually can see it.” Said Narduzzi when asked if this unit is improving “You could start to see it the end of last year. I don’t think that Virginia Tech or the Miami game was a fluke. I think we continued, got a little bit better and then I think with some of the new stuff we’re doing on defense, it’s giving them a little bit of an advantage. We tweaked it quite a bit and I think it’s just added a layer of paint as far as what we do defensively.”

What about the physicality on defense? “Like I said, I love the guys we had. I’ll take Ejuan Price back. I’ll take Tyrique Jarrett back. You know, and sometimes, you have them all together, Lafayette [Pitts], he’s a pretty good football player. So, there’s a bunch of them. You know, we love Jordan Whitehead, all those guys. It’s measured in do you win a championship or not. And it’s not how good a D-Line is, or a guy is. To me, you could have a great defense but if you go 5- 7, nobody cares. So, we get to a Championship Game then you can talk about the defense and I’ll jump up and down.”

LB Elijah Ziese– “Elijah Zeise is a great kid, No. 1. He’s a quiet, go-to-work, doesn’t say a word. Just works his tail off.” LB Quintin Wriggins– “A healthy Quintin Wirginis makes us a better defense. Love that guy. We did a goal line period today and the offense scored after two plays, and before he goes off the field he comes up to me and says, “Coach, can we get another series of that?” He wants to go again. It’s like, I want to go again.”

Paris Ford, who is expected to replace All-American Jordan Whitehead- “Just tell the fans to relax. It’s only day six. We’ve still got lots more football to go. It’s day six. I mean, like I said every day is a new day, so we can talk about them until May, and we may not be saying good things tomorrow or feeling good things tomorrow. I think it’s a day-by-day.”

WR Tre Tipton recovering from missing 2017 due to injury- “Tre has been really solid. Tre is a good football player. He’s got a ton of talent and we want him to give it every down, every play, every day. He’s had a good camp so far. He’s really been solid. We just continue to hope we get big plays out of Tre Tipton.”

Any Freshmen that stand out? “Shocky [Jacques-Louis] is a guy that right now, you go, oohh, our kids notice that guy right now that he can come play. We know mentally he was here in the spring. You know, Marquis Williams is another guy that has shown — and sometimes those skill positions, you can do that — at corner, that has shown some promise early where, hey, maybe we are going to play that guy right now. And then John Morgan, kid from DeMatha, defensive end, No. 6 out there, you’ll see flashing around. He’s doing some good things, getting some reps with the twos.”

When asked if he is a better coach today than he was Dec 24, 2014- “I’m not. I’m the same dude. Just I’m — same guy, maybe a little chubbier, maybe a little balder, that’s about it.”

So, there you have it. This has the looks of a team that lead by a head coach who is ready to be what their potential says they can be: One who will hope to have a good season instead of justmoments. Their mettle will truly be tested not only against the ACC, but also non-conference opponents in Penn State, UCF, and Notre Game. Let the games begin!

Please e-mail Ray at ray@urbanmedaitoday.com

Follow him@urbanmediaRay on twitterwww.PittsburghPanthers.com

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