This afternoon we had some big news announced by Pat Narduzzi in terms of disciplinary action handed out to certain players regarding some off-season issues.
Jordan Whitehead and Quintin Wirginis will miss the first three games of the season due to suspension. Alex Booker will miss the first game of the season and senior Rori Blair was dismissed from the program.
So what does this mean going forward?
Well, as we only just learned of these actions taken by the coaching staff, internally, I’m sure Narduzzi and company were aware far in advance, giving them time to plan for the adjustments that will be made. There are two things that stand out right away. First, Whitehead is one of the top safeties in college football and quite possibly the most impactful player on this year’s Pitt team. Whitehead is on the watch lists for many national awards including the Nagurski Trophy, presented to the nation’s top defensive player.
The second thing that stands out? Penn State and Oklahoma State. That’s right, Pitt will be without Whitehead and Wirginis, two projected starters on the defensive side of the ball for games against two top ten teams. Penn State and Oklahoma State bring two different dynamics when it comes to using their offensive weapons. Both were going to be hard to deal with before this news, that challenge just got a little bigger. The already young defense just got younger, but they will have to grow up quickly if they want to contain one of, if not the nation’s most explosive running back in Saquon Barkley, only to follow-up against one of the nation’s top passers in Mason Rudolph.
Is this a blow? Absolutely. Is it the end of the of the world? Not a chance. As I wrote earlier this month, Narduzzi has changed the culture at Pitt. This is no longer a team that has a starting 11 and five more guys they feel comfortable playing. This team is young, but talent wise, they are a legitimate three deep at every position. If this happened five years ago, this would have been a nightmare. Now in 2017, it’s an unfortunate issue that the team will deal with, but, it’s next man up.
IMPACT AND ANALYSIS
Player Suspended: Jordan Whitehead, Safety
Players To Watch: Paris Ford, Bricen Garner, Henry Miller, Phil Campbell
Analysis: Whitehead will be missed, but he will return. In the meantime, look for a serious youth movement. Ford is the name everyone will look at, but don’t be surprised if Garner or Miller make a big jump with this opportunity. Miller brings serious size and athleticism to the position, but he played corner in high school. Garner has received praise from Narduzzi and defensive backs coach Renaldo Hill. Garner has a high football IQ. This group will have to mature earlier than Narduzzi may have anticipated but the talent is there. Narduzzi has always had the philosophy of putting his best defensive backs on the field at all times, this will not change.
Player Suspended: Quintin Wirginis, Mike Linebacker
Players To Watch: Chase Pine, Saleem Brightwell
Analysis: Another form of the youth movement. Brightwell earned playing time last year and had his highlight moment during the Clemson game when he picked off Deshaun Watson in the end zone. Pine is possibly one of the most intriguing players on the Pitt football team. He has NFL size and athleticism and could have a breakout year. He was primarily an edge rusher in high school causing havoc in the backfield, but could mold perfectly to the Narduzzi style Mike LB with his combination of size and athleticism.
Player Suspended: Alex Bookser, OL
Player To Watch: Brandon Hodges
Analysis: Hodges is a newcomer to the Pitt program as a graduate from Texas. Hodge’s arrival comes just in time for this news. Although Bookser is only suspended for one game, it is huge to at least gets another body on the offensive line so Narduzzi doesn’t have to use a redshirt that he doesn’t want to use. Hodges is a versatile lineman that projects best at guard.
Player Suspended: Rori Blair (Dismissed from Team)
Player To Watch: Kaezon Pugh
Analysis: In Blair the Pitt team loses a senior and former starter. Blair found himself in some trouble last year and was left behind while the team traveled to the Pinstripe Bowl. The loss of Blair hurts numbers wise. Look for highly touted redshirt freshman Pugh to make a jump. He is an ultra athletic kid with a ton of upside. He is another one of these recruits that chose Pitt over dozens and dozens of big-time programs. Pugh technically played linebacker at Aliquippa but spent most of his time up at the line of scrimmage. If he is able to grasp the new position, he could break out in a major way.
Again, these suspensions hurt the team, but they also hurt the players. At the end of the day, these are students and people who are trying to get an education and better their lives. It is important Narduzzi keeps reiterating this in order to build a program of positive culture. So far, he has done a very good job holding players accountable.