It was kind of cold this morning as Pitt hit the outdoor field at the UMPC Rooney Sports Complex, and seeing as Pitt has been held inside a lot this spring because of late-season snowing, it made sense as the pads popped down on the Monongahela River.
After the final padded practice before the Blue-Gold Spring Game on April 9, head coach Pat Narduzzi was once again asked about the brewing quarterback competition between Kedon Slovis and Nick Patti. And Narduzzi once again shot down any chance of even inching closer to naming Kenny Pickett’s replacement.
Narduzzi did, however, highlight how new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. has been implementing his new-look offense, and how the offense is adapting to perhaps the biggest offense Narduzzi’s seen while at Pitt, and how the defense has been giving the offense a real-life test at every practice.
With the spring game just days away now, Narduzzi said the guys are excited to get out on the field and compete in the highest-stake scrimmage before the 2022 season rolls around in September. Coming off a scrimmage at Heinz Field on Saturday, there are still areas to be touched up.
“We had a good scrimmage Saturday, a lot of good things, a lot of things we need to clean up before Saturday,” Narduzzi said. “We had too many unforced errors, illegal procedures, that kinda stuff, jumping offsides. … But besides that, really crisp.”
Frank Cignetti Jr.’s Big, New Offense
Defense has reigned supreme so far this spring, holding the blue practice jerseys after gaining the upper hand in each of the last two spring practices, but Narduzzi isn’t worried about it. Not with the task at hand for Cignetti in implementing his new offense.
“Defense came out on top, but it’s a little skewed. I think there were three turnovers in the scrimmage, that’s how you get beat,” Narduzzi said. “The offense should never lose if you don’t turn the ball over, but they had three turnovers — some good plays by the defense. But I will say coach Cignetti is just getting the offense installed, and I say that, he’s not trying to win the scrimmage. Which, in the fall camp, I’m gonna tell him you have to win the scrimmage or try to win.”
Cignetti is working on just calling plays, getting some work at certain areas of the offense and finding his feel for the offense as a whole. Narduzzi said he completely understands Cignetti’s approach, which is something both offensive and defensive guys can relate with.
“I think we probably have twice the offense we had in a year ago,” Narduzzi said. “I look around and we have a lot of different stuff in — we’ve got a lot of same stuff. But we’ve just got a ton of offense in right now, we haven’t had this volume of offense in years. I think that’s a good thing.”
With Slovis and Patti adapting to the offense at the most important position, Narduzzi said the offense as a whole is doing well in learning on the fly and executing Cignetti’s offense. With a pro-style offense that features elements from Pitt’s previous offense under Mark Whipple, Cignetti’s new touches will focus more on implementing a rushing attack to open up the passing game.
The Quarterback Competition Won’t Have a Winner for a While
“I don’t know,” Narduzzi said. “You can see, maybe. I don’t know, we haven’t even talked about it … You could, but then still, what happens in the fall? You could be the starting Mike at the end of spring ball, but are you starting at the end of fall camp? So, it comes down to that.”
What does that sound like? Slovis and Patti’s performances have been lauded by nearly every coach and player on the roster this spring, with some variant of, “both are competing, and it’ll be exciting to see how it plays out,” coming as the usual response. That’s to be expected.
While the scrimmages so far this spring haven’t been open to the media, Saturday’s Spring Game will be the first chance to see both quarterbacks in action with true first-team caliber reps on the home field. As of now, Narduzzi has said both quarterbacks have looked good.
“They’re doing good,” Narduzzi said. “They’re both picking up the offense well and they didn’t just offside not one time. They’re doing a good job operating the offense, and like I said, there’s a lot of offense in.”
However, if anything, the spring quarterback competition is underwinding exactly how he foresaw it entering spring practices at the end of February.
“No question about it,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t even know if it’s unfolding, we’ll see soon enough. We want it to be a battle. We want it to be a battle at the kicker position, we want it to be a battle at the outside linebacker position, at the right tackle position. Competition is great.”
Transfers Being Welcomed into Pitt
With Slovis, Shayne Simon and Konata Mumpfield all arriving from either Power Five, or Group of Five in Mumpfield’s case, programs, it can sometimes be hard for guys to integrate into new locker rooms.
Narduzzi said he’s seen Simon and Slovis smiling a lot, just having fun at practice, and that’s a good sign that the guys are having fun.
“I think good, but I’m not up on campus,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t see that, but I think everyone gets along on the field. The quarterback room is great. Nick has done an unbelievable job and Kedon has as well. I think the chemistry is good. I think everyone wants someone who can help them win football games and our kids have always done a great job bringing guys in.”
Slovis, Simon and Mumpfield will play big roles in Pitt’s 2022 season, and if all three are already comfortable, that will only help team chemistry.
Sam Vander Haar Adapting to American Football
Kirk Christodoulou started as Pitt’s punter since the 2018 season, and with him leaving the program at the end of the 2021 season, a compatriot has taken his spot — and done well adapting to football in the United States.
Sam Vander Haar, a 2022 early enrollee from Pro Kick Australia, is already taking Pitt’s first team reps at punter, and he’ll continue to grow as the spring winds down and he’ll have the opportunity to work on his craft throughout the summer.
“(Sam’s) really good,” Narduzzi said. “Obviously we’re running the same punt team as we did last year, and he’s done a nice job. He can punt it in the pocket and he can run you to the right, so he does a little bit of both.”