PITTSBURGH — Mark Dantonio made an appearance at Pitt’s Tuesday morning practice on the South Side, making the trip out to Pittsburgh to catch up with his long-time defensive coordinator at Cincinnati and Michigan State.
Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi spent a decade together, capping their time together with a win in the 2015 Cotton Bowl. After the negative Michigan State buzz last month, it was a positive reunion of former Spartans. It was also Pitt’s first open practice since Saturday’s big scrimmage.
A defensive win in the scrimmage, 56-54 over the offense, meant that the defense wore the blue practice jerseys Tuesday. With just under two weeks of training camp left and just over two weeks until the Backyard Brawl on Sept. 1, camp battles are starting to reach a breaking point all across the roster.
It’s starting to become clearer who is emerging at every position on the roster.
The battle between Kedon Slovis and Nick Patti is still the biggest storyline on the roster, and while it likely won’t be confirmed by Narduzzi until perhaps half an hour before kickoff on Sept. 1. Slovis is still the most consistent quarterback at practice.
While neither quarterback has done anything to lose the job, Slovis has the touch and accuracy that fit Pitt’s offense and its playmakers well. But it’s the consistency that’s stood out throughout the summer.
The wide receiving corps is in a good place, replacing lost depth and production well this offseason and seeing those new faces excel. Konata Mumpfield is consistently performing at a high-level during drills, and Bub Means is bigger, stronger and faster than many expected entering the program. Returners like Jaden Bradley and Jaylon Barden have also taken steps this summer.
But a name that’s performed well very under the radar is walk-on Gavin Thomson. He’s not going to play much, if at all, this season, but he’s consistently performed well during drills available to the media this summer.
Nick Lapi earned a shoutout from Narduzzi before practice, and the 6-foot-2, 220-pound walk-on is making some noise in the linebacker’s room. Narduzzi mentioned him last week, but he popped up again before Tuesday’s practice. He didn’t play at all last season, but he’s big and runs well.
With the versatility among the linebacking corps, players like SirVocea Dennis, Bangally Kamara, Solomon DeShields and Aydin Henningham are able to play multiple if not all three linebacker spots, Lapi’s own versatility will continue to be watched.
When it comes to consistency this summer, Erick Hallett has been very steady — not too high or too low. And Brandon Hill, a full performer during Tuesday’s practice, made a very nice catch during an interception drill, leaping into the air and high pointing the football before careening back to the turf. That’s a consistent duo.
Making big plays, especially turnovers, has been an emphasis this summer. With five interceptions and three forced fumbles between the Hallett-Hill duo in 2021, the expectation in 2022 is forcing a lot more.