PITTSBURGH — In Pat Narduzzi’s first media availability after officially being extended through the 2030 season by Pitt, he spoke to the benefits that come from coaching stability and winning.
With an ACC championship-winning coach around for the next decade and a team he’s built extended to contend for a second straight title, the recruits were out in full force for Pitt’s 11th spring practice Thursday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Pitt has had some top recruits in town over the past couple of weeks, and a handful of top 2023 and 2024 three- and four-star recruits were inside on the South Side Thursday, and the Pitt defense — fresh off putting on a show at Saturday’s scrimmage — was able to show off in the blue practice jerseys.
The defensive positional battles are continuing throughout the spring, but there is an added level of clarity as practices continue.
Calijah Kancey is one of Pitt’s top players, and Narduzzi has said he’ll be joined by Tyler Bentley and Devin Danielson as defensive line starters. However, David Green is likely going to be deep in the rotation, and Bam Brima has been touted as a player who will play inside and outside this season. It could also be the year that Elliot Donald makes a Dayon Hayes type of leap and showcases what’s made Pitt fans so excited.
On the outside, Habakkuk Baldonado and Deslin Alexandre form a strong pair that had success last season, and Dayon Hayes (primed for a true breakthrough season) and John Morgan (one of the team’s veteran leaders) provide a strong rotation.
Whether or not Nahki Johnson and/or Samuel Okunlola can make enough noise to find a spot in the rotation remains to be seen, but the young duo has played well throughout the spring.
The strides made by Bangally Kamara and Solomon DeShields this spring have led to some increased optimism around the linebacking corps entering the 2022 season. Kamara, DeShields and Shayne Simon have earned praise this season, and it’s looking like Kamara at Money and DeShields at Star are both playing well enough to flank SirVocea Dennis at Mike.
But that doesn’t mean that Simon will not — or cannot — earn increased playing time in 2022. With Dennis and Brandon George at Mike, DeShields, Buddy Mack III and newcomer Tylar Wiltz at Star and Kamara and George at Money, it’s a very athletic group that will need to continue to develop over the course of the season.
In watching Kamara especially, it’s clear his energy and excitement at competing for the vacated linebacker spots is infectious in the room.
A.J. Woods has stood out so far for Pitt this spring, likely having done enough already to be the early leader to fill Damarri Mathis’s void at boundary cornerback. However, he’s far from alone in having a strong spring on the back end for Pitt.
Woods and M.J. Devonshire have earned praise from the coaching staff this spring, while younger players like Rashad Battle and Ryland Gandy have also impressed. A top four of Marquis Williams, Woods, Devonshire and Battle would be a unit that features a lot of speed and an added injection of size from Battle.
Erick Hallett and Brandon Hill are also playing well, taking on additional roles as the verbal and lead-by-example types of players, but P.J. O’Brien, Khalil Anderson and Stephon Hall have all impressed the coaching staff and their peers. O’Brien, who’s been tabbed as Pitt’s worst “thud” player, is going to play a lot in 2022, and Anderson and Hall are developing well as younger players.