PITTSBURGH — With a week of practice and a week of spring break now in the books, it’s a stretch run to Pitt’s Blue and Gold Spring Game on April 9 at Heinz Field.
Pitt was back in action Tuesday morning at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side, and it was apparent early on that Pitt’s spring break was over. The pads were on, and the intensity indoors was ratcheted up as potential recruits watched from the sidelines. Even Kenny Pickett returned Tuesday, ahead of his March 21 Pro Day.
The battle to replace Pickett in 2022 is a competition between USC transfer Kedon Slovis and Peach Bowl starter Nick Patti in what continues to be the top storyline as spring practice wears on.
Slovis, the likely Week 1 starter against West Virginia on Sept. 1, and Patti have both looked sharp during the drills available to the media so far this spring and the coaching staff and teammates have praised both quarterbacks’ performances through the first three days of practice.
Not much looked different at Tuesday’s practice available to the media, but Patti has some real zip on his throws. Slovis’s throws aren’t always the darts that Patti throws, but the wide receivers have spoken to the catchability of his throws — and his dedication in repetition. A leader, at least one officially appointed by the coaching staff, should emerge in the coming days and weeks.
The other major position battles to follow come on the defensive side of the ball, primarily at both outside linebacker spots (Star and Money) and boundary cornerback, and some contenders have continued to emerge through the early days of spring practice.
With SirVocea Dennis locking down the Mike linebacker spot, marshaling the defense from middle linebacker, his flankers still need to be determined. Shayne Simon is likely the option at Money, but the Star position is up in the air still. Bangally Karama is the name that’s been touted as making a jump this season, and guys like Solomon DeShields and Brandon George have also been mentioned as guys who have stood out this spring. Converted safety Buddy Mack III is also getting reps at Star linebacker, so it’ll be interesting to follow his progression as a linebacker.
Kamara certainly looks the part of a major college linebacker, standing at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and looking even bigger, but the level of his impact will be determined as spring practices continue.
Marquis Williams has a boundary spot locked up, earning praise from Damarri Mathis at the NFL Combine earlier this month as a guy who can carry the torch in 2022, but his new partner is still to be determined.
M.J. Devonshire, A.J. Woods and Jahvante Royal — with Royal having earned praise from coaches so far this spring — figure to feature into the position battle. And guys like Ryland Gandy and Stephon Hall — who earned lofty praise from Pat Narduzzi — have the pedigree and potential to battle for playing time even as young players in a complex system.
Erick Hallett and Brandon Hill return and provide some needed veteran presence in the secondary, so it’s not likely that either guy is supplanted in 2022. But P.J. O’Brien and Rashad Battle have impressed coaches during the spring and should compete for increased playing time this season.