Pitt has two open scholarships as the Panthers push through training camp in advance of the 2020 season.
In a normal year, the usual speculation would be whether some of Pitt’s walk-on contributors would be able to earn they way onto the books with a strong camp performance.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver John Vardzel has already done that this offseason, earning a scholarship after making three catches for six yards in 2019.
Another candidate may be redshirt senior tight end Jake Zilinskas, who has drawn rave reviews from both head coach Pat Narduzzi and fellow tight end Lucas Krull for his performance so far.
But this is anything but a normal year. As Pitt closes in on its 2020 season, the Panthers are just one of 39 Power Five teams that are expected to play this fall. The Group of Five level has been similarly impacted, with the MAC and Mountain West Conferences looking at a spring season.
Suddenly, there are a whole bunch of talented football players that thought they’d be playing this fall, that want to be playing this fall, that have the ability to transfer if they want to.
Narduzzi said Friday that if the right player comes across the transfer portal, he’s not opposed to taking advantage of another team’s decision to help his squad.
“If we have a scholarship left and it’s the right player at the right position, there’s no question about it,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve always got our ears open. We’re not closing.”
But Narduzzi added that he hasn’t seen an exodus after the decisions by the Big Ten and Pac-12 to postpone their seasons a week and a half ago.
“I haven’t heard that there’s a lot of kids going in the portal, which is good,” he said. “I’m glad they’ve got faith in where they are. But this ruling [Friday] makes it a little bit easier for those kids to say ‘I’m not going in the portal.’”
The ruling he refers to is the NCAA’s blanket eligibility waiver, which means that the 2020 season won’t count against any player, whether they or their team plays or not. That’s given most players the ability to be patient and see what develops with a spring season without the fear of a downside.
The type of player that might be more motivated to transfer is someone that is dead-set on joining the NFL next spring and doesn’t want a spring season to clash with NFL Draft prep. Those are also the kind of players that might make the most impact.
“If a kid that goes in that we like that we know about, we’re open ears, open eyes,” Narduzzi said.
83 IS THE NUMBER
Pitt has two scholarships open after entering the summer at the 85-man limit, after Rashad Wheeler chose not to return to the team for his fifth year, Dontavius Butler-Jenkins was place on the injury exempt list and Jaylen Twyman elected to opt out for the 2020 season.
The three departures, balanced by Vardzel’s promotion, gives Pitt 83 on the rolls at the moment.
It was initially unclear whether or not Twyman would count against the Panthers after he opted out earlier this month, but Narduzzi clarified on Friday that because Twyman has gone home, he will not count.
“He will not be part of our 85,” Narduzzi said. “He’s left to go home. If he had stayed in school, and was going to be here to finish his degree, he would have counted in our 85. But since he left, he won’t be in the 85.”
If Pitt fills the scholarship with another player, that would also essentially preclude Twyman from changing his mind and re-joining the team. Though that possibility was never publicly touted as an option by either party, Narduzzi has said in the past he would have a hard time telling a player no that wanted to change their mind and come back.
“I’ll make a decision with the kid, with his parents, whatever it may be, and what’s best for them.,” Narduzzi said. “If a kid has got to take a leave for a couple of days, and he’s got to get his mind right and he’s got to think about somethings, then he’s got to go. If a kid says, ‘Hey, I want to opt out’ and then he wants to come back and play, how can I say no? I can’t say, ‘No, you can’t come back.’ We’re in times right now where nothing is final.”