PITTSBURGH — The Panthers are fairly healthy heading into the season opener against Albany this Saturday, but if there’s one place that head coach Pat Narduzzi hasn’t been feeling great about health-wise, it’s been his cornerback spot, where Paris Ford and Jason Pinnock haven’t fully practiced the last week of training camp.
“Nothing fatal, nothing that’s going to keep us out, but if there’s one position you could talk about being a little bit banged up, it’s been that position,” Narduzzi said in his final press briefing of the week on Thursday afternoon.
But he did get a boost in that department on Thursday, as he said that Ford looked good in practice and should be ready to go for game day.
“Paris Ford had a great day today,” Narduzzi said. “He’s been a little bit banged up. I expect to see 12 ready to go Saturday.”
There are some other Panthers that having been dealing with nagging injuries, including starting right tackle Alex Bookser, and Narduzzi said that anyone less than 100 percent is unlikely to play on Saturday and that fan’s shouldn’t panic.
“That’s my philosophy, always,” Narduzzi said. “If he’s a little bit banged up and you get him banged up any more, now you lose three games instead of one game. The health of these student-athletes is paramount. … We’re going to be careful with them.”
If Bookser doesn’t go, Upper St. Clair alum Gabe Houy is in line to step up and start at right tackle.
PICKING A WINNER
Narduzzi said that there’s a good chance Phillipie Motley and Damarri Mathis will be his starting cornerbacks on Saturday, with Motley resting returning starter Dane Jackson. But he’s still not totally satisfied in the overall lack of separation he’s seen in his secondary.
“I can’t sit here and say, ‘That guy is for sure the best guy,’” Narduzzi said. “I don’t know if that’s a problem. We’ll find out.”
Narduzzi said Motley has come the closest of any of his defensive backs to standing out.
WILLIAMS GETTING A LOOK
Narduzzi said there could be several true freshmen that get onto the field on Saturday, and specially named cornerback Marquis Williams as a player that will be suiting up.
“Quez is a guy that’s played pretty consistently. He’s a football player. You’ll see that Saturday. I expect him to play, as well.”
But he does want to make sure that, even with the new rule that allows freshmen to play four games without burning their redshirt, that if a player goes into the game, it’s worth it.
“Playing in four plays on Saturday as opposed to getting maybe 30 down the road, what’s better?” he posited. “I’d rather have 30 than four.”
Narduzzi also mentions wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis as another true freshman that he expects to same.
MESSAGE FROM A FORMER PANTHER
Narduzzi said he woke up Thursday to a text message from former Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt. Wannstedt, now a television analyst for Fox Sports, had a message to share with Narduzzi on the eve of his season.
“Some guys will freeze in the first or second game,” Wannstedt wrote to Narduzzi.
“Those are things you obviously get concerned about,” Narduzzi said. “Who is going to freeze and who isn’t. We can’t have anybody flinch at all.”
HOOPER IN PADS?
Albany tight end Greg Stire is a 6-foot-6 tight end that spent his first three collegiate seasons as a forward on Albany’s basketball team. Narduzzi said it’s not the first time he’s seen a basketball player try to make the transition to tight end.
“I told our guys, if it’s anything like Draymond Green’s football opportunities were, it wasn’t pretty,” Narduzzi said. “He couldn’t get off a press. He was a pretty elite athlete.”
Green, now a power forward with the Golden State Warriors, played tight end as a lark in Michigan State’s 2016 spring game.
The role of playing Stire on Pitt’s scout team fell to freshman Kaymar Mimes. Mimes is only 6-foot-5, but came the closest Pitt could muster to a basketball player on the gridiron.
“Kaymar Mimes is a good football player,” Narduzzi said. “We don’t talk much about him, but that guy is a serious-minded guy. He’s going to be a great football player here. We’re happy with him. He played 32 this week because he’s a big basketball player and he plays large.”