Pitt looks a lot better right now than they did two weeks ago.
I know that statement is not exactly academic, but let me explain. When I went down to practice two weeks ago, I honestly didn’t know what to think. The team looked really thin at wide receiver, defensive end, and corner. Now, not so much. Granted, two weeks ago, Aaron Mathews wasn’t at camp, Dewayne Hendrix was banged up, and no one had really stepped up at corner. Also, it was practice number six, my expectations were too high.
Today, I walked away from practice with a totally different mindset. Seriously, the team looks like they’ve done a 180, and this wasn’t done by Pat Narduzzi reinventing the wheel. What happened? Players got healthy, and the youth movement is stepping up.
Damari Mathis, Jason Pinnock, Rashad Weaver, Patrick Jones, Keyshon Camp, Chase Pine, Maurice Ffrench, Ruben Flowers, Henry Miller; these are all true freshman, RS freshman or sophomores that have been mentioned by either Narduzzi or their position coaches as guys that are making big strides. And I didn’t even mention Damar Hamlin or Therran Coleman, two guys with big time talent, but haven’t been talked about because they are getting healthy.
Now, I’m not insinuating this group is going to take this team to the National Championship, because at the end of the day, there is a ton of inexperience. In fact, there is pretty much no experience aside from Maurice Ffrench, and even he wasn’t all that involved in the passing game last year.
But, the team has talent at every position and the sky’s the limit. To say I was pleased to see this many young guys starting to step up is an understatement, but putting it together on Saturdays is a different story. Still, hearing that they are progressing, certainly beats the alternative.
Going along with the youth movement narrative, Monday was a big day for another new Panther, and really, the entire Pitt community. Paris Ford officially joined the team as he was cleared Saturday morning. Ford is late. He’s really late. But, he’s here and like Narduzzi said, he’s in school, which at the end of the day is what’s important
As far as football goes, I don’t know when and if Ford will see the field this year. I will say this, you don’t have a talent like that in your locker room, and concede the fact that he will redshirt; you just don’t. When Narduzzi said, “Ford will most likely redshirt, and if he doesn’t it will be a miracle”, I believe what Narduzzi is saying, because at the end of the day, that what is said and though of most freshman until they prove otherwise.
Being a freshman is hard enough, being seventeen days late makes it harder. Statistically speaking, most freshmen in college football do redshirt. Last year, of Pitt’s twenty-two freshmen, eighteen of them redshirted. That being said, Ford is the type of player that can make an impact when he is ready, and I truly believe we will see him this year.
There are factors that will help and hurt Ford’s chances to get on the field, it will simply come down to which outweighs the other. Going against Ford is the fact that for Pitt, the safety position is extremely complex. The safety moves around a ton in this defense and has to essentially be the coaches eyes on the field, in order to make any changes to the defense based on what the offense is showing. That’s a lot to take on as a freshman, let alone a freshman that had to miss the first seventeen practices.
On the flip side, Ford is as instinctive as they come. I followed Paris all through high school and how he is able to play on gameday is do to his football IQ being off the charts. If you watch his HUDL, for instance, you will see on many different occasions, Ford read the offense and inch up to the line of scrimmage timing a safety blitz perfectly. Great call by the defensive coordinator right? Wrong. Paris made those calls by himself for the most part. Those instincts cannot be taught. It will be interesting to see the development of Ford this season, but I think we can all agree that this is absolutely a, better late than never, situation.
I should probably also mention Max Browne. He’s a kid I root for. He just is. He’s a really good kid, a leader, and a good football player. USC was not the right place for Max. I didn’t think it was when he committed and that became more and more evident with each passing year.
It’s hard being the number one quarterback in the country and then going to Los Angeles. Being the quarterback at USC is like being Derek Jeter’s replacement in New York, (something Didi Gregorious has done exceptionally well with, I might add). Being the number one QB in the country and the expected savior of the program is even more un-charted territory. But hindsight is always 20/20, so it’s easy for me to say things could have been different for Browne had he not gone to USC.
Lucky for Max, he has a second chance, and so far he has taken the bull by the horns. In the spring game, he was very unimpressive, which was something even he admitted. After seeing him at practice, he looks like a different quarterback. When he played in the spring game, he had only a handful of practices under his belt after spending about three months as a backup, with the idea he was transferring.
Browne isn’t one to make excuses, so I’ll make them for him. After going through what he went through at USC and a transfer, being mentally and physically prepared for spring ball was going to be tough. What happened, however, over time was the progression of a quarterback finally looking like he is just playing football again, which after a few years of not really playing like himself must be a huge weight off of his shoulders.
I like Browne as the starter, and I love the fact that Narduzzi named him such while still in camp and not during game week. Browne has a big arm and a lot of poise that I am looking forward to seeing.
The dog days of August are finally coming to an end, let’s get this thing started!