During one of the first offensive drills of Pitt’s training camp this week, quarterback Nate Peterman threw a pass on a corner route to sophomore wide receiver Quadree Henderson. Henderson easily caught the ball, but Peterman wasn’t satisfied. He jogged out to meet Henderson as the latter was returning to the huddle and explained to him that the route needed to be finished farther into the corner.
It’s been a year of transition for Peterman. This time in 2015, he was the new guy on the team, a graduate transfer from Tennessee and the backup to then-starter Chad Voytik. Now, Peterman is the leader of the offense, and he’s been able to use his steady, consistent presence to earn the trust and respect of his teammates.
“Last year, when I first got here, it was kind of a gradual thing,” Peterman said. “You don’t want to step on too many toes. You kind of have to be careful with what you’re doing. As things have progressed this last spring, going through our fourth quarter program and the whole offseason conditioning, going through summer, [all of that has] just given me more and more steps to be more vocal and more of a leader.”
Henderson, who is one of the handful of receivers vying for a piece of the role of departed star Tyler Boyd, appreciates Peterman’s work ethic and up-front attitude.
“Nate is straight on,” Henderson said. “He’ll tell you everything you need to do. He’s spot on. You’d think he was an NFL quarterback. He’s always on us. But it’s a good thing that he’s always on us because we’re getting better and better everyday.”
For Peterman, the transition into a leader of the offense has been more about doing what has always come naturally to him, just in a larger role, than any sort of concerted effort to become more of a vocal presence.
“I’ve always tried to approach the game like that,” he said. “I think the quarterback needs to be that way and it’s kind of my personality to be a leader. The thing about leadership is that it’s just influence. It’s [any way] you can influence somebody. It’s not always yelling, it’s not always doing the crazy stuff, sometimes it’s just talking to guys. However I can do that, I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
“Nate’s just a calm guy that tries to do his job,” added head coach Pat Narduzzi. “He’s very intelligent. He manages the game and has gained respect the right way from our team. He’s one of those Eagles (members of the team’s leadership council). Nathan has just done a nice job of not trying to do too much. Some guys try to hard. He’s just being who he is and that’s been good enough for our kids.”
The wide receivers are a special area of attention for the offense this training camp. Replacing Boyd will be no easy task and there is no clear-cut favorite for a starter to oppose senior Dontez Ford. That means that the attention Peterman pays to the younger wide receivers will be hold even more importance.
“He’s very commanding,” said junior Zach Challingsworth. “He makes you own up to working hard. You have to have a good work ethic. He really prides himself on that. It carries over the to whole offense. As receivers, everything is critical, whether it’s the depth of our route, getting off the release, so he really demands a lot, but it’s pushed us to become even better. He’s a great leader. A lot of the guys look up to him.”
Peterman, though, credited the work of Ford with the young wideouts. During a passing drill on Wednesday, freshman Rueben Flowers dropped what should have been an easy bubble screen. Wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman had a quick word for Flowers, but then got Ford’s attention and just pointed in the direction of the rookie. The message was clear: take care of it.
“I think really, Dontez has been doing a great job of leading,” Peterman said. “I’ve been really impressed with him. He kind of leads by example. When he needs to talk, he speaks up. When he does something, he has great influence over those guys.”
The team practiced in pads for the first time after two days in shorts.
“There should be a little more intensity out there today,” Narduzzi said. “We’ll have a little contact. We won’t have a lot. Obviously, we can’t scrimmage. We’ll emphasize staying healthy, taking care of our kids, and staying off the ground.”
The team will continue to have some days without pads throughout the summer.
“It depends on the maturity of the kids,” Narduzzi said. “Sometimes, there’s a mental lapse where they feel, ‘we’re not in full pads, we can go through the motions.’ That’s one things we try to fight against. That’s one of the hardest things a coach has (to do), is find out where his team has matured. I think we have mature team, I think we did last year, too, and we did quite a bit of it.”
The Panthers will also take a few opportunities to visit Heinz Field for scrimmages.
Beaver Falls defensive tackle Donovan Jeter and his father were visitors to training camp. He spent time talking with Narduzzi and defensive line coach Tom Sims in addition to watching drills. More in our recruiting notebook.
Freshman wide receiver Maurice Ffrench was working out with the punt gunners. With his speed — he was also a track athlete in high school — a role on special teams could find him a spot on the two-deep.