When Pat Narduzzi took over at Pitt, there were a lot of deficiencies within the football program.
From a thin depth chart to outdated facilities, Pat Narduzzi came to Pitt with a rebuild in mind. The one thing Narduzzi did know, was that Pitt’s tradition could be rewritten under the right leader.
He is just that. He is doing just that.
The most notable issue Narduzzi faced was the lack of depth and talent at the quarterback position. Narduzzi arrived with incumbent starter Chad Voytik on the roster and not much else.
Narduzzi brought in three-year grad transfer Nate Peterman, who eventually won the job over Voytik after the second game of the season in Iowa. Just before Signing Day in 2015, Narduzzi received a commitment from Pine-Richland’s Ben DiNucci, who would go on to redshirt.
In 2016, the quarterback room got a bit more talented when Thomas MacVittie from Archbishop Moeller committed to the Panthers. After Voytik transferred out and Bo Schneider transferred in from Central Florida, Pitt had four quarterbacks on the roster, but only had one legitimate option in Nate Peterman.
Now, in year three under Narduzzi, the state of the position is as healthy as it has been in many years at Pitt. Max Browne, a former high school Gatorade National Player of the Year and five-star recruit, transferred in from USC. Browne and incoming freshman Kenny Pickett will join DiNucci and MacVittie to make up a strong quarterback group.
Let’s start with Browne. A lot has been discussed surrounding the former USC Trojan. Browne beat out Sam Darnold out of camp and went 1-2 as a starter losing at Alabama and at Stanford. After game three, Sam Darnold, who many believe will be the number one pick in the 2018 Draft, took over the starting role. In his career at USC, Browne compiled a 62% completion percentage, 2 TD, 2 INT and a 118 QBR.
Browne is a really gifted kid with a lot of arm talent. He has great size and does a good job getting the ball out quickly. Browne will have to continue working on his feet and decision making as camp moves forward. It’s really hard going from one program to another, especially when you were at that program for four years. Browne is a smart kid and with time should keep getting better. He is the type of player that will really benefit from getting a lot of snaps as the game should slow down for him. In the spring game, he looked like he was seeing everything in fast forward as opposed to a slower more confident pace. This is not his fault as he was learning a brand new offense and came off of what was a tough season mentally. Browne’s teammates recognize his leadership even though he is not the most vocal guy in the locker room. Look for Browne to live up to what his talent suggests.
Next we have redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci. I think he could be the surprise of the year in the eyes of most Pitt fans. His teammates don’t see it that way. Talk to any number of Pitt’s wideouts and they will tell you Ben has been showing his abilities since the day he got to Pitt.
DiNucci was extremely under recruited coming out of Pine-Richland, especially after his record-breaking senior year in which he threw for more than 4,000 yards. The first word that comes to mind when you watch DiNucci is: dynamic. He doesn’t have the most conventional throwing motion, but he is ultra athletic. His talents include being able to change arm slots, which is extremely difficult to do. He reminds me a little of Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma. Obviously Mayfield is a Heisman candidate, but there attributes are similar. His ability to extended plays and throw on the run fits well into OC Shawn Watson’s offense. In DiNucci you get a different skill set than Browne. A lot of the quarterback battle will come down to decision making within the offense as both guys bring something different to the table.
In order from most experienced to least in relation to class, we follow with Thomas MacVittie.
The first thing that people need to realize with MacVittie is that he really only played one season of quarterback at the high school level. He played as a wide receiver until his senior season. During that season, MacVittie dealt with a knee injury that forced him to miss a few games and kept him from 100%. That being said, MacVittie has more potential than any quarterback in recent memory to come to Pitt. MacVittie shut down his recruitment and would have had many more offers but told everyone he was solid with Pitt. That didn’t stop teams like LSU from trying to bring him in. MacVitttie was mentioned by some as the nation’s most talented quarterback in the Class of 2016.
So what is that has kept MacVittie from being mentioned with Browne and DiNucci? Experience. This year MacVittie will see his workload increase in practice and allow him to get used to being a true quarterback. He has it all. If you were to build the perfect quarterback, you would build him. MacVittie is 6-foot-5 and runs a legit 4.6. He has big legs and a big arm. Coach Watson will continue to work with him on his feet and decision making. When it all comes together for Thomas MacVittie, it will be a good day for Pitt fans. Patience is the key for MacVittie and as he is a kid with a really good head on his shoulders, I would bet on him finding that confidence and presence sooner rather than later.
Last but not least we have freshman Kenny Pickett. Kenny will surely redshirt this season, which has little to do with his own talent and almost everything to do with learning the playbook and the guys in front of him.
Pickett is a mobile quarterback who throws beautiful ball. Of the quarterbacks on the roster, Pickett probably throws the best ball. Granted, there are a lot of factors that come into play when vying for the job of starting quarterback, but being able to spin it is a good way to start. Pickett is an athletic quarterback that extends plays and throws exceptionally well on the run. Accuracy is a major asset that Pickett possesses.
Predicting a starting quarterback is really hard to do. Being a coach and having to name a starter when you have a number of guys that can play is even harder. Trust me, Narduzzi is not playing mind games by not naming a starter. He truly doesn’t know yet. If he did he would name one and move on.
This is a good thing, there is finally competition. Browne and DiNucci are the two favorites right now. A lot can change when you have three guys seriously competing for a job. Do I think the ball is Browne’s court? Yes. If all three quarterbacks have similar good camps, Browne will be the starter. The tough thing is we have no idea how any of the three are running the offenses, other than what we are told by the coaching staff.
What I will say is this. Pitt has four very talented, very capable quarterbacks on the roster. They all lack experience in some aspect. They all have some experience in some aspect. I do not expect a decision to be made until game week. Even then, I don’t believe there will be a set order until a few games into the season. Narduzzi is a big believer in players determining playing time, and that is exactly what we will see with the quarterback situation.