PITTSBURGH — It didn’t get done without a hiccup, but unlike a year ago, Pitt was able to push through all 15 practices, providing crucial development time for a large group of Panthers players.
Pitt’s 2020 spring was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic after just two sessions, and the ongoing impact of the coronavirus threatened the 2021 spring, as well, as Pitt was forced to shut things down for a week after a positive test within the program.
But the Panthers pushed the date of the Blue-Gold game back to April 24 and soldiered on, wrapping things up on Saturday at Heinz Field.
“Fifteen down,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said to begin his press conference after Gold routed Blue, 30-0 in the game.
“Just awesome that we were able to get 15 practices, in the atmosphere that we’re in. Kids did a great job since the pause, and we got a lot of work done. The development this spring was more than we’ve seen really the last six springs. Obviously a lot more than last year.”
Part of the reason for the increase in productivity was the increase in number of bodies available to Pitt. Even with 14 players missing Saturday’s game with injuries or other issues, the Panthers were able to put two representative squads on the field and play close to a normal game, thanks to some seniors taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility allowed following the pandemic-impacted 2020 season and a bumper crop of early enrollee freshmen.
“With the super seniors, we had the extra players there, and then the 12 incoming freshmen just made it possible to go out and get a lot of reps in their scrimmages,” Narduzzi said. “The guys laughed, today was the shortest scrimmage of the year. I don’t know how many (plays) we got. But you know, I think overall, we had a great spring and and it’s a launch point for our summer conditioning program and getting it cranked up for the ’21 season.”
The quarters were 10 minutes, the fourth quarter featured a running clock and there were no live tackles on kickoffs or punt returns, but it was mostly a normal game environment, something crucial for the development of Pitt’s less-experienced players.
“Spring ball is such a huge developmental phase for each season,” senior linebacker Phil Campbell III said. “So being able to have all 15 practices, we’re going to go right into fall camp. We’re all going to know what we’re doing. Offensively, they got a lot better and defensively, we got a lot better as a group. So spring ball, I think is essential for a team development. So, I’m happy. I’m happy to know we’re here. I’m happy that we got through the whole thing.”