PITTSBURGH — Pitt’s 2022 Blue-Gold Spring Game is officially under two weeks away now, with Tuesday’s practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex leaving just four to go before April 9.
The competition at quarterback, linebacker, defensive back and defensive tackle has worn on throughout the spring, and while quarterback and linebacker have dominated the discussion, there’s added clarity beginning to show on the defensive side of the ball.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi has pointed to Tyler Bentley, Devin Danielson and Calijah Kancey as his starters at defensive tackle, and A.J. Woods and M.J. Devonshire have impressed opposite of incumbent starter Marquis Williams, with Rashad Battle moving back to cornerback this season, so there’s a growing level of certainty across the defense.
However, the quarterback battle between Kedon Slovis and Nick Patti remains heavily under wraps — with both players playing well.
With Davis Beville having entered the transfer portal last week, it opened a hole at the No. 3 spot behind Slovis and Patti, and it appears that Joey Yellen — should he stay — will slot into that role.
Slovis and Patti both threw some nice deep balls on Tuesday’s session of drills available to the media, with Slovis dropping a few nicely lobbed balls into the arms of his receivers, but they’re still splitting first and second-team reps at the moment. With the stable of wide receivers lauding both quarterbacks’ throws at points this spring, it’s likely to continue through the end of practices.
Jaden Bradley, one of the younger wide receivers looking to make an impact behind the trio of Jordan Addison, Jared Wayne and Konata Mumpfield, has continued to look bigger and faster so far this spring.
The trio of Kancey, Danielson and Bentley at defensive tackle and the quartet of Deslin Alexandre, Habakkuk Baldonado, Dayon Hayes and John Morgan at defensive end give Pitt consistency on the defensive line, but the younger guys on the inside and outside have earned praise throughout the spring.
Bam Brima has been touted as a player who’s never looked better, one that’s ready for a rotational role on the inside and out. Early enrollees Sean FitzSimmons and Samuel Okunlola have also earned praise from teammates and coaches for how fast the pair has adapted to the college level — without hitting a wall yet.
The competition at linebacker has been taken by storm by Bangally Kamara and Solomon DeShields taking the next steps that many had hoped for entering the 2022 season. Kamara has earned increased opportunity on the boundary while DeShields — who has taken a step some may not have expected — has locked in and earned time in the field.
With the pair still working on the minute details of the position, there’s still work to be done, but it appears that both will play heavily in 2022.
SirVocea Dennis will man the middle linebacker slot at the heart of Pitt’s defense, with Brandon George likely backing him up, and it’ll be interesting to see how Notre Dame transfer Shayne Simon continues to adapt to a new defense. The Money linebacker has also impressed so far this spring and gives Pitt another ultra-athletic linebacker to work with.
Narduzzi worked through drills available to the media with the linebackers Tuesday, coaching up Simon specifically, so that progression is ongoing.
Pitt’s corps added Missouri State transfer Tylar Wiltz from the transfer portal Monday, so Dennis, Kamara, DeShields, Simon, Wiltz and Geroge gives Pitt some options when it comes to sets and rotational play.
Williams has locked down the boundary corner slot, and with Woods and Devonshire both playing well this spring, it’s the younger guys in the secondary that have turned heads.
With Pitt’s defense bringing in talented defensive backs every recruiting class, the athletes are funneled across the defensive secondary. Early enrollee Ryland Gandy has earned praise, and the safety duo of Javon McIntyre and P.J. O’Brien has turned heads behind the established duo of Erick Hallett and Brandon Hill.
Pitt’s secondary may have lost Damarri Mathis to the NFL, but it’s a young, talented group that will continue — and very much need to — grow over the spring and summer.