There is just one week of training camp left before Pitt is officially on the clock against West Virginia on Sept. 1.
With a scrimmage at Acrisure Stadium Saturday, it caps the third week of Pitt camp, but also concludes the final scrimmage of camp. So, what did head coach Pat Narduzzi talk about before Friday’s practice in spider pads?
Taking Stock of the Newcomers
There are a handful of transfers who will have a big impact on Pitt this season, with guys like Kedon Slovis, Konata Mumpfield, Bub Means, Ryan Jacoby and Shayne Simon coming to mind, and there have been a few more summer additions who have also impressed Narduzzi.
“Anytime you have a newcomer that just comes in, a guy that comes in and you don’t know anything about. Like, Karter Johnson, impressive, Tylar Wiltz, impressive,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve really just done a great job evaluating those guys, and they come in and you’re like, ‘Wow, they’re what we thought they were.'”
Johnson, from Butler (Kan.) Community College, and Wiltz, from Missouri State, are both expected to play heavily a tight end and linebacker, respectively, following strong training camps. Another transfer who arrived late is former Notre Dame running back C’Bo Flemister, and after a slow start, he’s finally got his feet under him.
“C’Bo, I mean, he started off slow,” Narduzzi said. “I have to be honest with you, he started off a little slower, but C’Bo has come on the last few days, and he’s finally got his legs back. You think about a guy who was graduating from Notre Dame, his focus was on getting his degree and graduating, he knew he was coming here, but it’s hard to work out on your own.
“It’s hard when Coach (Stacchiotti) not on your tail every day about running and lifting. So, for him, it was a slow process. But he is impressive. He’s been physical, he’s tough, he’s smart. It just took him longer than you’d like, just getting his legs where they need to be.”
Flemister joined a very crowded, competitive running backs room, but he’s already the toughest guy in the room, according to Andre Powell. And he provides that veteran leadership.
Training camp progress hasn’t just been limited to the transfers either. A few true freshmen — who could contribute this season — have also impressed this summer.
“Some of the true freshmen that have hung in there — Ryan Baer and (Ryland) Gandy are guys that look to be able to play for you this year as freshmen. There’s probably one more freshman that you kind of go, ‘he’s got a chance to do something for us.'”
Baer is running as the top left tackle reserve behind Carter Warren, and Gandy is pushing for increased playing time as a true freshman cornerback. Baer has been a breakout performer all throughout camp, and in learning Pitt’s defensive scheme, Gandy has turned heads too.
“Ryland is just one of those steady guys,” Narduzzi said. “He doesn’t have a down day at all, and he’s able to pick and understand the installs. Coming from Buford High School, his area down there, the guy’s just been really, really shocking. Shockingly good.”
Running Backs Progressing
Speaking of running backs, Flemister joined a room that already featured Israel Abanikanda, Rodney Hammond Jr., Vincent Davis and Daniel Carter, and while others may have been scared off by the depth, Flemister joined back because of it.
Abanikanda has seemingly taken the first step toward carving out even more of a role this season, but it’s clear that there’s a plan for all five guys in the room.
“They’ve done a good job,” Narduzzi said. “Really, what we’ve seen in the past. They’re able to catch balls out of the backfield, they line up in empty, being able to do that. They’re able to obviously run the football. They can be used on every down. So they’re every down guys that can do everything. That’s what we recruit. We’re not recruiting guys who just run the ball and can’t pass protect or vice-versa. Those guys have to be complete guys, and really, we’ve got a few that are complete guys right now. And then we’ll find out what happens on game day.”
Even with an emphasis to establish more of a run game this season, there will be opportunities to continue to catch the ball out of the backfield, and the route tree is the same as it was last season.
Scrimmage No. 2 Importance for QBs
Pitt hit the field at Acrisure Stadium for the first time this summer, and the first time since the name Heinz Field was given a Viking funeral in the Monongahela, for scrimmage No. 2 on Saturday.
It’s a big day, big opportunity considering it’s the last real scrimmage before the Backyard Brawl on Sept. 1, but Narduzzi said there would be a collection of players on a rep limit. The first teamers likely took a back seat at times, but it was still an opportunity when it comes to roster battles and the fight for playtime. Including the quarterbacks.
While both scrimmages obviously have a level of importance, it’s not the end all, be all of the competition. Everything both quarterbacks have done since January has been measured. Scrimmages have weight, practices have weight, etc.
“But you measure the scrimmage days, the game days and this one is at Acrisure Stadium, so it weighs a little bit more,” Narduzzi said. “It’s kind of like it’s one of your final exams. Everybody’s class is a little bit different, but each one of those homework assignments, they don’t count. You have to turn that in. You can’t just get an A on the test and avoid all the homework during the semester. Every day counts, every pass and every run check matters.”
Narduzzi said earlier this week that doesn’t think it’ll take until Sept. 1 to make that announcement as to who has won the competition, but he doesn’t have a date in mind either.
And that formula, relating every day of practice, scrimmages, etc. to a school schedule isn’t exclusive to the quarterback competition. It can be used to measure each position group on the field. The depth chart is changing at a nearly constant rate, and the coaching staff talks about and evaluates the personnel every evening.
“We talk about the practice, everything we watch,” Narduzzi said. “You see what we do out here: we practice and then we go in and we watch it, try to get lunch and eat on the run, then we meet with our players, then we go right into our staff meeting to talk about what we saw, then we just into another team meeting. … The depth chart changes daily and we go over the personnel and who played well and who didn’t and what we have to fix.”
West Virginia Prep Week?
There’s still one week of camp left before it’s officially game week, but Narduzzi said that the prep work and everything it entails will begin as early as next week.
“We’ll start slowly getting them into it,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t want to get into it so long they get bored with it. Coaches never get bored with game plans. Kids can start to go, ‘Okay, I got it, I got it, I got it.’ Then they start to slip on it. So, it’s kind of like bowl practice. Sometimes you don’t want to get into — if you have too many days of bowl practice, it becomes boring. So, we’ll get into it soon enough, and our guys will be ready.”