Kedon Slovis feels like he has two jobs as a quarterback: execute the offense and get the guys following him to believe that he’s the guy to lead them to positions to win.
When he arrived in Pittsburgh from Los Angeles in January, he was always confident that the actual football aspect would work out. He was more so focused on stepping into a new room and making sure he gave every single player a chance to get to know him as a person. He was also fortunate to enter a room that made it easy.
There was never a moment where Slovis felt like he was an outsider in the room. It wasn’t as if he struggled to hang out with the guys or share information with the team. It was a nearly seamless fit, and that made it easier to get to know the room as a whole. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a challenge to integrate and earn respect.
“No, not necessarily, it’s not something you focus on, like, ‘Oh, I’ve gotta do this to prove it.’ You kinda just go through your process, at least that was my thought process,” Slovis said Wednesday. “Just go through your process, and if you’re doing the right things, (the trust) will come.”
While Slovis worked to build that chemistry with Pitt’s wide receivers and the first team offense, he worked equally hard in establishing legitimate bonds with every single player on the team. That was a challenge with 110 guys in the room, but it was a challenge he wanted to undertake. And it’s paid off, with Slovis being named Pitt’s starting quarterback this season.
“After long conversations with the staff, Kedon Slovis will be our starting quarterback here for that home opener next week and moving forward,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said Wednesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I just got a lot of confidence in what he’s done. I guess it really comes down to probably a little bit more consistency, very accurate with the football and he’s a really, really good passer. We think he can lead us. So, that’s the conclusion we came to after a long, long, long time.”
The quarterback competition between Slovis and Nick Patti began all the way back in January when Slovis arrived from USC, and it was a full-fledged competition. Slovis didn’t arrive and step into the starting spot. Patti pushed Slovis every step of the way and forced him to earn the starting spot.
It lasted through the spring and nearly through the summer, but Narduzzi felt like Slovis did enough to establish himself as the guy — earning those first team reps and stepping into the role earlier this week.
Narduzzi said the coaching staff has closely monitored every statistic imaginable, individual performance during practices and scrimmages and all the minute details that arise in every situation, to see who was best suited for the role. And the very difficult decision boiled down to consistency. Consistency and accuracy.
“I would say the separator was probably just accuracy,” Narduzzi said. “Just accuracy. And again, Kedon’s really, really good in the pocket. And Nick is too. I don’t want to slam him because he’s good in the pocket and he’s going to scramble and he’s gonna run. But I’d say just putting the ball where our receiver is going to catch it and get yards after the catch.”
Slovis threw for 7,576 yards and 58 touchdowns during three abbreviated seasons at USC, earning All-Conference honors and leading the Trojans to a Pac-12 championship game in the process, but it was his accuracy and touch that stood out all the while.
In a breakout true freshman season, he completed just under 72% of his passing attempts (for 3,502 yards and 30 touchdowns), and his 68.4 completion percentage is the highest in USC history. Narduzzi is confident in Slovis’s ability to stretch the field with his arm talent, and that’s been apparent even through camp this summer. But it’s the complete package.
“The accuracy of deep balls, intermediate throws, making good decisions,” Narduzzi said. “We talked about accuracy being one of the big reasons, also protecting the football. We want possession of the ball, and if we don’t have possession, we want to punt it away, and I think just the consistency there of protecting the football and making sure it’s in our possession and we’re not going to give it away is also probably one of the reasons.”
It’s the first time Narduzzi and the coaching staff have had to start a quarterback on opening day that’s not Kenny Pickett in what feels like decades, it’s only 2017, to be exact, but Narduzzi doesn’t want Slovis to compare himself to Pickett. He’s not Kenny Pickett, he’s Kedon Slovis, after all.
“I wouldn’t want anybody to have to fill those shoes,” Narduzzi said. “Kenny wears a size 18. Kenny is Kenny. Kedon is Kedon. And Kedon’s got to be Kedon. He’s not going to sit there and measure himself off of who Kenny Pickett was in a different offense. We just want him to play within himself and do his job and I think it comes down to that. I’m not going to compare myself to Mike Tomlin or Vince Lombardi. I’m just Pat Narduzzi. That’s who I’m going to be. And I think once you start to change or try to be somebody else, maybe things go off the rail.”
Slovis certainly isn’t Pickett, and it’s not even the same offensive scheme at Pitt that Slovis is entering either. Mark Whipple left even before Pickett, and new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti replaced him. The duo of Cignetti and Slovis has worked together closely during the offseason, and that professional relationship will be the key to success this season.
Cignetti has helped Slovis learn not only about the new Pitt offense but the game of football in general. Cignetti has been there and done that, and his experience at the college and NFL level, dating back decades, has helped Slovis’s general football knowledge grow on and off the field.
“He’ll bring up a play, ‘Oh, 1992, we ran this play to win the game. Pull up that YouTube video.’ He’s awesome, he’s got a ton of experience, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from just understanding defenses to understanding how this offense is supposed to work and the history of it and what it’s designed to do.
“He’s pretty self-aware, but he says it’s a time-proven offense. So, he’ll be like, ‘Hey, man, Joe Montana did the same thing.'”
Slovis approached the task of not only learning Pitt’s new offense but earning the starting spot with a quiet confidence. He said that Patti did too. It’s what you’ve gotta do in a position battle, but it wasn’t as if Slovis was hyper-fixated on what he had to do to win the job. Slovis wanted to go out every day and do his job. He wanted to show the coaching staff that he could execute the offense, he was coachable and could play his game. He knew if he could do what he set out to do, the rest would take care of itself.
So, when Narduzzi sat down with Slovis to tell him that he would be Pitt’s starting quarterback going forward, it wasn’t a huge shock or surprise. And it wasn’t a surprise for Narduzzi either, with the way Slovis showed the locker room it was his job.
“I think that’s always the case,” Narduzzi said. “I think that’s the case with every position. You could grab a guy in here and say, ‘Who’s the best at this?’ And they’ll be able to tell you. I haven’t gone around and asked a bunch of guys in camp, but I think it just became evident as time went on that that was what we had to do.”
It’s been evident that Slovis has wanted the job since he arrived, obviously, but he started putting the work in immediately. And it has been noticeable to the coaching staff and everyone in the room. Someone mentioned to Slovis that Joe Burrow threw 10,000 passes with his wide receivers ahead of the 2019 season, and it was something he wanted to replicate. Why not strive to be like that 2019 LSU squad?
“We just kinda mapped it out, like, hey, if we throw 200 balls, five times a week or something like that, I don’t even remember the numbers. It wasn’t like we were counting, like, okay, today we got 193. It was just more so if we throw X amount of times per week, we’ve got this many weeks in the year.
“There were no days where we were like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna take this day off.’ We hit pretty much every day that we wanted to, and if we didn’t, we definitely made it in on days we were supposed to have off.”
Narduzzi remembers leaving his office late at night and seeing Slovis throwing with the receivers under the lights at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. And if they can’t be outdoors, he’s seen Slovis throwing with the receivers at 10:00 PM indoors. There’s been a lot of work Slovis has put in this offseason, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“Kedon is the guy,” Narduzzi said, “and we have a lot of trust and faith that he’s going to be the guy.”