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Pitt Football

Pat’s Points: Thoughts on Emerging Youngsters, the Linebackers and More

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It’s been a back and forth battle between Pitt’s offense and defense throughout spring practice, and that’s been what head coach Pat Narduzzi has liked to see almost halfway through spring practices.

Tuesday’s outdoor practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side was about “60 percent” defense, Narduzzi said, as the pass rush caused fits for the offensive linemen. And it wasn’t just the defensive linemen that wreaked havoc either but some young linebackers working at securing starting spots.

Practice last Tuesday was an offensive clinic, practice last Thursday was a redemption day for the defense and Saturday’s practice at Heinz Field was more of a draw. With eight practices left, including the Blue-Gold Spring Game on April 9, positions are beginning to take shape and players are emerging as potential contributors at areas of need.

With 85 scholarship players currently on the roster, that number could fluctuate a bit if Narduzzi wants to use the transfer portal to fill any needs still thought to be a problem after spring practices end, but the core of the roster is in place.

Solomon DeShields and Bangally Kamara Coming Into Their Own

Solomon DeShields and Bangally Kamara look like NFL linebackers. They’re big, tall guys who have clearly embraced the weight room this offseason. And Narduzzi is starting to see them put the pieces together.

“Solomon DeShields and really Bangally (Kamara) and (Shayne) Simon, those guys all looked good. … You’re starting to see it,” Narduzzi said. “DeShields had a sack off the edge, where he kinda faked the long arm and he dipped and ripped and got about that low off the ground and came around the corner. I was like, ‘Oof,’ haven’t really seen anyone do that, so he’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic.”

With both standing at 6-foot-2, Kamara weighing 225 and DeShields weighing 230, the young linebackers have been playing at outside linebacker this spring, in the hopes of flanking SirVocea Dennis. DeShields has played to the field while Kamara has played to the boundary, but Narduzzi said both could play in either spot.

However, while both have made strides this offseason, there are still areas to work on as the spring practices shift into summer workouts.

“(DeShield has) been more consistent, there’s still little, little tiny details with both of them that still need cleaned up, believe me,” Narduzzi said. “Just alignments, and I’m talking perfect alignments. They get in the area, they think being in a spot is good enough, so there’s still a bunch more details to go, but just what they’ve done as far as when the ball’s snapped.”

The Future is Bright on Pitt’s Defense

While Pitt’s highly-touted defensive line depth gets a lot of hype in providing the foundation for future Pitt defenses, Narduzzi has been impressed with some of the talented defensive backs entering the fold over the last couple of seasons.

“I’ve been impressed with Khalil Anderson,” Narduzzi said. “Young guy out of Georgia, he’s wearing No. 3. At times out there, he looked like old No. 3 — Damar Hamlin. Just a really good football sense at safety.”

Anderson, who entered the program as a three-star cornerback out of Georgia in 2021, but he’s been working with safeties so far this spring after redshirting last season. At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, he’s a bit smaller than Hamlin — who now stars for the Buffalo Bills in the NFL — but Narduzzi likes what sees in Anderson’s game.

In bringing in cornerbacks every season, Narduzzi said the lack of depth behind Erick Hallett and Brandon Hill allowed Anderson to move into the position group as either option.

“Just a lack of depth at the safety position going into the spring,” Narduzzi said. “We’re always going to recruit a bunch of corners and slowly move them in there. We did that last year with Rashad (Battle), we’ll Rashad back to corner.”

But in looking at cornerbacks, an early enrollee is already starting to make an early impact out wide.

“Noah Biglow doesn’t look as good as I want him to,” Narduzzi said. “Ryland Gandy is a guy that I’ve noticed a lot of. Another young corner that’s physical, he’s tough and he’s really smart right now. He’s making some moves.”

Gandy, a 6-foot-0, 170-pound three-star cornerback out of Georgia, would be a rarity if he were to see the field as a true freshman cornerback in Pitt’s system, but Narduzzi said guys like Biglow and Tamarion Crumpley should be looking over their shoulders.

Another guy that Narduzzi pointed to was Javon McIntyre. The 6-foot-0, 195-pound redshirt freshman played in Pitt’s final three games in 2021, in a special teams capacity, but he’s impressed defensively this spring.

Lucas Krull’s Replacement in the Offense?

Gavin Bartholomew is primed for a breakout sophomore season, if his true freshman campaign didn’t already count as a breakout, but he was technically Lucas Krull’s backup in 2021, and Pitt’s offense likes to employ two tight ends for a lot of sets.

Narduzzi said Jake Renda has begun to emerge as the leader of the pack in fighting for increased playing time in 2022.

“Jake Renda is kinda moving around a bit,” Narduzzi said. “He can run. He’s turning some heads there.” 

Renda, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound redshirt freshman out of IMG Academy in Florida, did not play in any games last season, but this is his second spring at Pitt after enrolling early in 2021.

No Update on the Quarterbacks

The quarterback battle between Kedon Slovis and Nick Patti still has no updates to report.

Well, besides that both have looked good and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. is rotating the two between reps with the No. 1 and No. 2s. Whoever is drafted first for the spring game in April could be the leader in the clubhouse.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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Mtgj
Mtgj
8 months ago

Hearing that the 2 young linebackers are impressing people excited me. If the linebackers can be good then the defense should be good and the team can be really good.

Dukes

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