Following a scrimmage on Saturday, a closed practice on Sunday and a Monday off-day, Pitt was back at work Tuesday morning on the South Side.
These last three weeks of practice have taken on extra importance, especially for the defensive line, following the news last week that defensive end Rashad Weaver would miss the upcoming season with a knee injury.
Narduzzi and his defensive staff have to devise a new rotation on the line and get those players acclimated to their new role in time for the important season opener on August 31 vs. Virginia.
The good news is that someone that’s going to be counted on a lot now is someone that stood out to Narduzzi following Saturday’s team scrimmage.
“Deslin Alexandre was a guy that stuck out to me just as far as details and doing more than what I’ve seen from him,” said Narduzzi. “That’s what you expect when something like that happens. You expect for somebody to step up and take over, and he really did.”
While Alexandre is going to get a lot of the attention in terms of replacing Weaver, that’s unfair way to look at things. Narduzzi knows that it’s going to take a team effort and that everyone on the defensive line is going to need to lift individual play.
“I think some people go, ‘I’m not the guy. Weaver is the guy. Patrick Jones is really good. Everyone is talking about 91 and 17.” Then all of a sudden, you see a window open. You get a new breath of fresh air and go, ‘let me inhale this and let’s go.’ You expect to see it happen; it did happen. But not just him (Alexandre). John Morgan did some really good things as well. Habba (Baldonado) has gotten even healthier. It’s going to be a battle.”
When you’re looking for players to elevate their game and play with some more urgency, will the Pitt coaches need to coach the defensive end a tad bit harder?
“I sure hope not,” said Narduzzi. “I don’t think we changed our tune. You have to coach the way you coach. I don’t think we need to add any pressure to anybody’s plate there. We don’t coach them any different. I think maybe they have little bit more urgency because they go, ‘I could be the guy.’ I think it gives the guys a little more juice.”
“There are one or two guys that I said, ‘hey, let’s go. You need to get your tail going.’ I sat them down and said ‘you need to put more effort into it.” And I am not talking on the field. I am talking in the classroom, knowing what you’re doing. Once you know what you’re doing, the word knowledge allows you to play faster. If you’re out there playing slow because you’re not sure…There are so many different defenses to apply to the different fronts and formations on offense and different plays. There are a lot of things going on and a lot of moving parts. You play faster when you know what you’re doing. So that urgency has opened it up for some of those guys.”
Time is running out as we’re now down to 18 days until Pitt plays for real at Heinz Field.