When Pitt broke down the huddle to start practice Friday morning, it wasn’t a senior leader like Carter Warren or Deslin Alexandre whose voice rang out. It was true freshman Ryan Baer.
Baer only arrived in January, as fresh-faced as a 6-foot-7, 335-pound teenager can be, but he’s already emerging as someone who can use his voice to make an impact. However, as a true freshman, his experience level is still way behind the level of the uber-experienced upperclassmen in the room. It’s one of the perks of being a veteran.
“When you have fifth-year, sixth-year seniors, it’s tremendous,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said Friday. “Young freshmen always want to play as freshmen, but it’s, ‘Are you gonna be better when you’re 18 or 22 or 23?’ And we all know the answer; we’re all smarter when we’re 23 as opposed to when we’re 18.”
Baer will see some valuable snaps this season, serving as Warren’s backup at left tackle, but with a veteran team, his time will come later. Let’s see how he can continue to grow in the lead-up to his very first college game against West Virginia on Sept. 1.
Pitt has a veteran core of leaders, especially with the four sixth-year seniors on the offensive line, but young players like Baer will certainly push the older guys in the room. Which is certainly how a team fosters a winning culture.
Goals for Saturday’s Scrimmage
Narduzzi has stressed the importance of Saturday’s scrimmage at length. It’s the first of camp, the first time out at Acrisure Stadium since the spring and the opportunity for some live reps in 11-on-11. What does he want to see?
“Number one thing, any time you go live, is you wanna come out of there healthy,” Narduzzi said. “Say my prayers on the way in from the hotel tomorrow morning. I just wanna see a crisp scrimmage. I don’t care who wins offensively or defensively, have some fun and play for the points and all those things.”
With competition at every position on the team, it’s going to be competitive. Narduzzi said he wants to see turnovers, but only if it’s the defense actually forcing those turnovers. He wants a crisp scrimmage free of unforced errors on both sides.
The quarterbacks will be wearing the red no-contact jerseys still, so obviously they won’t be touched, but it’s still the best chance either quarterback has this summer to show off continued improvement and the consistency that Narduzzi requires from his starting quarterback.
It’ll be interesting to hear the developments that emerge next week following Saturday’s scrimmage.
Tights End Depth Chart
Gavin Bartholomew, who won the team cornhole competition with Dylan Bennett Thursday, is the leader in the tight ends room and on the field. A couple of athletic, field-stretching options have stepped in and stepped up.
“Kyi Wright didn’t play in the spring, but he’s had a helluva camp so far,” Narduzzi said. “I’m excited, I know coach Cignetti is as well because he didn’t know. I kinda knew what we had, you can tell, ‘Hey, I think he’s pretty good,’ but you just don’t know as a coach. You have faith that he’s good, but now he knows.”
Wright, at 6-foot-3, 265 pounds, has taken major strides as both a pass catcher and pass blocker since recovering from his season-ending injury last October. He’ll be an option in the tight ends room this season.
Karter Johnson has also continued to impress since arriving at Pitt this summer. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound former TCU defensive lineman has made some impressive catches this summer. He’s expected to be used as a weapon across Pitt’s offense, more so a Swiss army knife.
Georgia Tech transfer Dylan Deveney is also an option, a “big son of a gun,” according to Narduzzi, but he’s still working his way back from a previous injury.
Sam Scarton served as Pitt’s placekicker last season, Ben Sauls handled kickoffs and Caleb Junko used his redshirt season. How confident is Narduzzi in his kickers?
“I would bet, I’d put my money on this, that we’ve got the three best kickers in the country,” Narduzzi said. “I really feel that way.”
Narduzzi said that Scarton has been doing a nice job, but it’s a real competition between all three kickers for the starting spot. It’s also a competition between Sam Vander Haar and Cam Guess in replacing Kirk Christodoulou as the starting punter. He said that both punters have looked good so far this summer.
Four Starters at Defensive End
The duo of Alexandre and Habakkuk Baldonado is well documented, and the duo of Dayon Hayes and John Morgan sometimes flies under the radar, but both guys are considered starters themselves.
“Dayon’s had a good camp,” Narduzzi said. “John Morgan has been outstanding. There’s four guys, and you need four.”
Hayes has been a breakout performer during camp this summer, playing at 6-foot-3, 265 pounds, and after a strong finish to his sophomore season, it’s not unlikely a breakout season will follow.