Pitt football has been locked in on the South Side for the last 25 days, living in a hotel close to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in order to lock in for camp, and Pat Narduzzi feels like the team is about ready for camp to end.
Thursday’s practice — the 20th of camp — marked the final true day of practice for Pitt, and Friday’s rehearsal scrimmage followed by a team luncheon will mark the official end of camp. It’s just about game week for Pitt football. And Narduzzi feels like the team is ready to hit other teams now.
“I think so,” Narduzzi said. “They’ve been having a lot of contact. I haven’t felt it like in other years because they’re still hitting each other, so they must enjoy it.
The first chance to hit other teams comes just a week from Thursday, with the renewal of the Backyard Brawl at Acrisure Stadium.
Building Toward Game Week
The last Backyard Brawl was 11 years ago, so even Narduzzi wasn’t around the last time Pitt and West Virginia squared off in 2011.
However, that doesn’t mean he isn’t acutely aware of the task at hand in educating, motivating and preparing for one of the most intense rivalries in college football. The educating has involved showing past games, bringing in former players who played in the Brawl and trying to hammer home the importance.
“I don’t know if they do, but we’ll certainly — we’ve been focused on us, but we’ll certainly educate them in the coming days as we get into game week mode,” Narduzzi said. “We’re still in camp mode right now, but I think they understand. The Backyard Brawl, they understand. There’s a name to it. They’ve heard about the dates and how many times we’ve played and all of that stuff. But I don’t think, until you play in some of these rivalries, you don’t really know. We can tell you what it’s all about, but we’ll get them into that mood.
The preparation will largely start Friday, with the rehearsal scrimmage, but as Pitt warmed up Thursday morning, John Denver’s Country Roads echoed across the Monongahela.
Who’s Quarterback 3?
Kedon Slovis is the starter, and Nick Patti’s number will be called if needed. There’s no doubt there.
But there is some doubt when it comes down to who will serve as that No. 3 quarterback on the roster. It was Davis Beville last season, and Joey Yellen pushed him for it. Now they’re both gone.
With Dartmouth transfer Derek Kyler arriving following a star-studded Ivy League career and former three-star recruit Nate Yarnell entering his second season, they’re competing for that spot, and it’s still a work in progress.
“Not as good as you’d like it to go, but it’s a work in progress,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve been worried about the one and the two, we’ve got two really good ones there, so that’s more important. I’m glad we’re not sitting there going, ‘One and two aren’t going good.'”
Narduzzi said that Kyler has looked good this summer, showcasing his experience in leading the huddle when needed, but he’s arrived to a new team, new offense, and it’s different. Yarnell, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to play all that much since arriving at Pitt. He didn’t play in the spring, and he’s just reintegrating this summer.
“(Yarnell’s) grown,” Narduzzi said. “Not as fast as you’d like. Again, he’s been out of it for a long time. No spring ball, halfway through the season he was out or earlier than that, so he’s had a lot of off time. It takes time to get back into it.”
If Pitt has to rely upon either this season, it’ll be a worst-case scenario, but depth is always needed.
Pitt’s Leadership Council — Eagles
Jared Wayne has been the leader in the wide receiver’s room all offseason, but he’s been supplemented by Konata Mumpfield as the latter has gotten more comfortable in the offense and the team. Mumpfield’s been such a presence that he’s actually been named to Pitt’s leadership council — the Eagles.
It’s uncommon for a new transfer to be named to Pitt’s leadership council, but it’s happened before. As Mumpfield has been with the team, he’s been able to use the proximity and performance of camp to really show that he’s already ready to step up as one of the team’s vocal leaders.
“I think 26 days, and you get a new roommate and you’re in the hotel with somebody different and people start to see who you are in camp,” Narduzzi said. “We’re here from 6 a.m. to — some of these kids get here 5:30 a.m., but most of them are here by 6 a.m., and they’re here until 9:00 p.m. every day, so they spend a lot of time, and they get to figure out who’s who. I think that’s important.”
The Eagles group is voted upon by the team. Two super-seniors, three seniors from the large pool, two juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen. Narduzzi said the team votes for who they feel has led vocally and on the field during camp.
Unlike Pitt’s first two scrimmages, Friday’s will not be a way to help determine positional battles and roster spots. It’s a way to prepare for the season. It will be a lot different than the first two.
“There will be no tackling,” Narduzzi said. “The defense may thud it up. The offense, we’re letting the running backs run. I’m not worried about anybody getting banged up tomorrow, I can promise you that. It’s a rehearsal scrimmage. It’s really going through the pregame, making sure everybody knows where to go. We haven’t done any of that yet.”
Narduzzi said it’s a pregame opportunity. The offense will run 30, 35 plays, the defense will run 35 plays and then the kicking game will get its reps — in that order. It’s a way to show the team how to cycle through offense to defense situations, defense to special teams, etc. seamlessly.
A New Quarterback
Kedon Slovis entered Thursday’s practice as Pitt’s new starter, fresh off the official announcement, but Narduzzi didn’t any difference in the team. No one jumping around in the locker room and sprinting out onto the field. It was business as usual.
“It’s a team, and it takes everybody,” Narduzzi said. “We’re going to need everybody that’s in that locker room, we’ll need everybody. So, I think they all understand that, and you have to go out there and you have a responsibility to make plays for us.