PITTSBURGH — Pat Narduzzi has a few more spots to fill.
Pitt had 21 players walk on Senior Day and redshirt junior James Conner declared a year early for the NFL draft, leaving Pitt with 22 open scholarships to start with for the Class of 2017. But since then, tight end Zach Poker, offensive linemen Mike Grimm and Alex Paulina, wide receiver Zach Challingsworth and running back Rachid Ibrahim have decided not to return, Narduzzi said Wednesday.
Grimm had hip surgery and his football career is likely over. Poker will graduate and has decided to not to return. Ibrahim will pursue a graduate transfer to a lower-level school.
That means that with the 24 players added to this point, Narduzzi still has three scholarships to work with. The Panthers remain involved in more than one freshman and after that will be in the market for graduate transfers, particularly on the offensive line, where the depth has been depleted due to early departures, and at tight end, where a position switch for Devon Edwards has left the team with no experienced returners.
Narduzzi also gave an update on some of the team’s end-of-year injuries. Running backs Qadree Ollison and Chawntez Moss are expected to be healthy for the start of spring ball. Darrin Hall, who was still walking with crutches, is still less than certain for a spring return. Cornerback Damar Hamlin was seen at the facility showing no outward effects from his sports hernia surgery. The same goes for wide receiver Tre Tipton. The only other injured returning players that had an injury at the end of the season were safety Jordan Whitehead and defensive end Dwayne Hendrix. Their statuses remain unknown.
The last big issues that Narduzzi was a bit reluctant to talk about was his ongoing offensive coordinator search, which he said is “going well.” But he did throw hopeful Pitt fans a bone as far as a timetable for a hire.
“Be ready before the end of the week.”
RECRUITING WITH THE BIG BOYS
I asked Narduzzi about how much he tried to balance going after top-level talent and really highly ranked recruits versus spending more time and getting in early on players Pitt has a better chance of landing.
The questions was asked due to some of Pitt’s high-profile misses, including Donovan Jeter, Lamont Wade, Nathan Proctor, Tyjuan Garbutt and others. Narduzzi’s answer was simple: you do both, but you have to go after the top talent if you ever want to land them.
While that answers the question, Narduzzi gave a long and passionate answer to the question that I thought Pitt fans would appreciate. Here it is:
“It all depends on what you want to be. You can settle for less, but we can do it all. We want to be on the top recruits whether it would be the guys in the area or anywhere else. We’re going to offer those guys. If you get a feel from a kid that he’s interested in your school and your program, what are you going to do, say you can’t compete? We can compete with anybody. If you can go beat the National Champions, you can beat anybody in recruiting, it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together.
“In the end, you can’t get them all. If we got everybody we offered … It’s just like [was] a stretch [to get A.J. Davis]. We [were] in the game. We [were] one of three or four. If you don’t put your hat into the ring, you aren’t going to win.
“You can talk about wasting time, but I don’t think we wasted time. There wasn’t a wasted minute out there. I have no regrets like, ‘Man, we shouldn’t have wasted our time on that guy and we didn’t get him.’ If you aren’t trying, you aren’t getting them.
“I’m trying until the end on some guys. I mean until the end. I’m still calling guys this morning going ‘Dude, are you sure?’ and then calling [family] up, ‘Are you sure, too?’ I’m going until the end. I’m never going to quit until the end. That’s why you’re exhausted when you get to the end of recruiting, because it is exhausting. But that’s why I’m here, to build one of those championships. … We won’t get there if we settle for less.”