Pitt hit the field at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex Saturday morning, unable to go to Acrisure Stadium because of the Steelers game later in the day, watched the Steelers game, went to Sandcastle Waterpark Sunday morning and then hit the field back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for a late night Sunday workout.
Not a bad weekend down on the South Side for Pitt football.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi was pleased with the scrimmage Saturday, a come-from-behind 56-54 victory for the defense, and he still got to watch Kenny Pickett lead a game-winning drive to win his NFL preseason debut later that day.
It was a good, busy weekend for Pitt, and it’s only going to get busier.
How’d the Scrimmage Go?
With a 10 a.m., 10:30, scrimmage time, it wasn’t exactly a true game day experience, but it was certainly treated like one.
“When they broke down after we were warming up, I was like, ‘These guys are kind of dead,’ or they’re just totally locked in,” Narduzzi said. “Because there wasn’t much messing around. It’s hard as a coach to feel a team: ‘Are they ready or not?’ I preached for a day and a half about being ready mentally, and they were locked in. There was no question about it. They were ready to go. And that was good to see.”
How much did Pitt scrimmage Saturday? There were 124 offensive and defensive snaps and 40 special teams snaps. Narduzzi had planned for a 50-50-20 split with the ones, twos and threes, but that didn’t end up being the case.
The twos got more reps than Narduzzi wanted, the ones less than he wanted, but the threes got the 20 reps he envisioned. He tried to swing it, but a timely three-and-out would throw things off balance, and it couldn’t quite be recovered from. It just didn’t work out that the ones got as many snaps as he wanted, but it was still a good scrimmage.
Narduzzi said he’s happy with where the team is coming out the scrimmage, and with a 56-54 win over the offense, he’s especially happy with the defense.
“The defense won 56 to 54,” Narduzzi said. “At first, I said the defense got beat, but I think the offense was ahead the entire scrimmage, and at the end, the defense won a four-minute situation, which was get the ball back, and then the defense won the two-minute and came back. So, the defense won late. And I thought the defense had gotten beat because the score was that much, and I told the team the opposite.”
It was a clean scrimmage, in terms of playing clean football, not committing too many unforced errors and battling back and forth, but Narduzzi pointed to a few players who earned that “star” status.
“If I had to say someone stood out, I thought Bangally had a heckuva pick. Shayne Simon had a heckuva pick — in some things that we’re working on. Those were two interceptions on the day. I won’t tell you which quarterback threw them. But there were two nice interceptions, I thought, were just like, ‘Wow, that was a big-time play.’ And actually, Rashad Battle had a nice play as well on an interception.”
With the scrimmage Saturday, it would be easy to credit scrimmage opportunities as golden tickets, but Narduzzi said he weighs every day. It’s not a majority of practice or a majority of scrimmage, it’s consistency. And one of those players is Erick Hallett.
“Erick Hallett got up and talked the other day about (how) his fundamental was consistency,” Narduzzi said. “It was like, wow. I don’t know if there’s anybody more consisent. Every day, Erick Hallett comes out and he’s like this — he’s never had that great day or that bad day. That’s what you want.”
However, those scrimmage days certainly have an impact on decisions. “If you’ve been average all week and all of the sudden you have a great game, it’s kind of like, ‘Hey, I’d rather have that than a guy that’s great in practice every day and then he gets out on game day and can’t play.'”
Saturday’s scrimmage was perhaps the most important day of the summer, and it was a day won by the defense — won by the linebackers. That’s certainly a positive heading into the season.
Kenny Pickett is Still Pretty Good
Kenny Pickett went 13-of-15 for 95 yards and two touchdowns, adding 16 yards with his legs, and he led the Steelers to a game-winning drive in his very first preseason start. It was a banner day for Pickett and Pitt football alike.
“Yeah, that was fun,” Narduzzi said. “Our team enjoyed going down there. That was special. I didn’t talk to Kenny prior to the game, I didn’t know when he was getting in, I’m not sure he did either. But that was a special day. I’m happy for coach Tomlin and coach Canada and Mr. Rooney.”
There was a heavy Pitt presence at the preseason game, with a section of Pitt players, and Narduzzi hhimself went down onto the sideline before the game, said hello to Pickett and headed back up to the stands.
I just said, ‘Hello, and how you doin’?’ ‘Good.’ ‘When are you getting in?’ ‘I’m not sure.’ ‘Hey, have a good one. See you later.’ Basically,” Narduzzi said.
Linebackers Still at the Forefront
It’s becoming more and more clear who has emerged as starters in Pitt’s linebacking corps. SirVocea Dennis was a lock at Mike linebacker, and Bangally Kamara and Shayne Simon have made strides through the summer. That aligned with Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Bangally is really playing at a high level,” Narduzzi said. “Shayne Simon is playing — and obviously SirVocea. Tylar Wiltz is playing really well. He’s what we thought he’d be. He’s not going to be a bust. You’ll be watching him on game days. Solomon DeShields has taken a step forward, he’s going to play a lot of football for us. So, we feel pretty good.”
However, when it comes to the linebacking corps, there’s an unfamiliar name who has risen in the recent weeks. He mentioned walk-on Nick Lapi earlier this month and once again Tuesday.
“Nick Lapi has had an outstanding camp,” Narduzzi said. “He’s strong, he’s physical, he’s twitchy, he runs around. Nick’s been impressive. I think he was going to help us on special teams to begin with, but he’s made some strides, and he’s become a really good football player for us.”
While Narduzzi said he felt like the linebackers unit was a plus eight months ago, it’s come to fruition now. It’s an inexperienced unit still, but there are options at all three linebackers spots.