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Pitt Football Camp Notes: 8/23



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UPDATE (2:30 PM)-

Pat Narduzzi was asked about an update on safety Damar Hamlin, who he said earlier in camp was “as healthy as he’s been at Pitt.” Narduzzi repeated that sentiment on Wednesday, but Hamlin remains a limited participant in practice sessions and when asked about the options at free safety, defensive backs coach Renaldo Hill has deferred to Jazzee Stocker and Bricen Garner.

If Hamlin is as healthy as he’s been at Pitt, then the Panthers are being a lot more careful with him now that they were last year when he played limited minutes late in the season after missing a lot of time with an injury.

“We’re just taking it easy and taking it slow and don’t want to mess anything up,” Narduzzi said. “It’s a very, I don’t want to say serious deal that he had, but we just don’t want to go backwards. We’re going forwards right now.”

It seems unlikely that Hamlin will be able to unseat any of the starters between now and the first game against Youngstown State. With Jordan Whitehead returning for Week 4 at safety and Phillipie Motley likely returning at some point at corner, there won’t be any easy paths to starting time for Hamlin. If he’s going to make an impact this season, he’s going to have to outperform an incumbent to do so, and that’s going to be tough to do until he gets 100 percent healthy.

Defensive coordinator Josh Conklin spoke after practice on Wednesday and talked about the uphill battle for Hamlin, the new speed at linebacker and how things are shaking out in the secondary. Here’s more from Conklin and linebacker Seun Idowu.

UPDATE (1:50 PM)-

Pitt lineman Brandon Hodges during training camp. — ALAN SAUNDERS

Most of the coverage of Pitt’s offensive line this summer has focused on the battle at center between Connor Dintino and Jimmy Morrissey. But the Panthers’ latest alignment may have proven that battle moot.

The left side of the line seems to be set with Brian O’Neill at left tackle and Alex Officer at left guard. Wednesday, Pitt practiced with Alex Bookser at center, Brandon Hodges at right guard and Jaryd Jones-Smith at right tackle.

Offensive line coach John Peterson cautioned that the Panthers will practice with guys a many different positions in training camp to build versatility and that nothing is set in stone, but there is a reason that Bookser began learning how to snap the ball way back in bowl practice last December.

The advantage of that alignment is that it puts all five of Pitt’s offensive linemen with experience on the field at the same time, which seems to make a good deal of sense. It remains to be seen how Bookser will perform at center, but Officer can play there, as well, giving Pitt plenty of options.

Someone else will have to man the spot for the opener, as Bookser will serve a one-game suspension for an off-season DUI, but Peterson isn’t giving up any secrets as to who that will be.

Here’s more from Hodges on his preparation for his senior season.

Meanwhile, Morrissey, a walk-on from Eastern Pennsylvania that has impressed as a redshirt freshman, will be a walk-on no longer. He was placed on scholarship by the coaching staff following the final practice of camp.

With the additions of Paris Ford and Morrissey this week, Pitt is now at the 85-scholarship limit.

UPDATE (1:45 PM)-

After losing the starting quarterback battle, Ben DiNucci is setting out to be the “best freaking backup (he) can be.” That comes with the possibility to be one of Pitt’s better backups in recent memory, too. Other than the years when the starter situation was unsettled, Pitt’s best backup in recent memory is either Chad Voytik as a freshman or one of the three times it was Trey Anderson.

Here’s DiNucci on his goals for the season and more:

UPDATE (1:00 PM)-

As true freshman see their playing time opportunities decrease with the first and second units, they’re looking for more places to contribute.

One of those spots has been punt return, where wide receiver Michael Smith, running back A.J. Davis, cornerback Jason Pinnock and safety Paris Ford have joined upperclassmen Quadree Henderson, Avonte Maddox, Maurice Ffrench and Rafael Araujo-Lopes.

Whether any of them is able to make an impact at that spot remains up in the air, and probably has more to do with the number of reps Henderson is getting elsewhere than anything else. Here’s the punt return crew fielding some deep balls on Wednesday.

UPDATE (12:00 PM)-

When Max Browne was named the starting quarterback on Tuesday, Ben DiNucci, who he was battling with, was named the backup. But the depth chart is less clear beyond that and that brings implications for 2018.

True freshman Kenny Pickett got here in the spring and has done a lot of work to catch up to redshirt freshman Tom Macvittie. The battle for the starting job next season will start with DiNucci, but who his primary competition will be is still unknown.

If one of the two was kept on the main roster while the other went to the scout team, that would seemingly be a guide as to which player is ahead right now, but that hasn’t happened yet. All four scholarship quarterbacks are still wearing red non-contact jerseys with walk-on Jake Zilinskas sporting blue along with the rest of the offense.

Here’s the quarterbacks working on their footwork, minus Macvittie, who continues to be used on the punt block team, along with more sights and sounds from the final practice of Pitt’s training camp.

UPDATE (11:30 AM)-

Freshman A.J. Davis warms up at Pitt practice. — ALAN SAUNDERS

Pitt has had five running backs in the mix this camp, with Qadree Ollison, Darrin Hall and Chawntez Moss all working with the first team and true freshmen A.J. Davis and Todd Sibley working with the second team.

Soon, Pitt will start peeling off players to form the scout team during game weeks, which starts on Monday. Freshmen that are expected to redshirt typically head to the scout team right away. Will Davis and/or Sibley be in that group?

Pat Narduzzi isn’t giving any clues, but he said it makes sense for at least one of them to redshirt.

“If they’re going to be fourth or fifth on the depth chart, then yeah, but if they’re going to help us win a game, I don’t know how old I’ll be in five years,” Narduzzi said. “We’re going to play the guys that are going to help us win. They’ve done a good enough job in camp. You’d like to pick one and play one and redshirt one. You find the one that’s close enough to help you and then you see how your injuries go, too.”

Sibley seemed to be slightly ahead of Davis earlier in camp, but Davis has been getting work on special teams, which maybe provide him a way to contribute early on.

UPDATE (11:00 AM)-

Pat Narduzzi declined to name any more winners in camp battles on Wednesday after declaring Max Browne his starting quarterback on Tuesday. But he did have a lot to say about his team’s readiness as the Panthers break camp.

UPDATE (8:00 AM)-

USA Today’s computer college football ratings, which are compiled by Jeff Sagarin, came out this week, and Pitt ranks 39th in the country.

They’ll play six games against teams ranked higher than them, visiting No. 10 Penn State, No. 22 Virginia Tech and No. 29 Georgia Tech and hosting No. 11 Oklahoma State, No. 15 Miami, and No. 38 NC State.

That leaves Sagarin predicting Pitt to finish with roughly 6.5 wins, with the NC State game as mostly a toss up.

The full ratings and methodology are here.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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