There was an error with Pitt’s recent two-deep depth chart, according to Pat Narduzzi.
While the depth chart listed Sam Vander Haar, Cam Guess and Caleb Junko as Pitt’s starting punters, yes, all three of them, it was missing a name. An older guy with a right knee that’s still fit enough to go out and hit some booming punts.
“(E.J. Borghetti) said, any updates? I wrote on there, I said, those three, and I put another,” Narduzzi said Monday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “I said “Pat Narduzzi” because I think I might be able to go out there and hit it pretty good — if you go back and check those records at Ursuline back in the day as a backup punter — so maybe I messed him all up.”
Okay, so maybe Narduzzi won’t be booting any footballs against Virginia this week, but he also isn’t 100% sure what the future of the position holds — against Virginia and beyond.
“Like I said the other day, Sam came in, did a nice job on that last sky punt,” Narduzzi said. “Not where we want it to be as far as the direction but did a nice job putting one at the 1. We’d like the other one to be inside the 10. That’s his role right now. We’ll see how those other guys do with that this week. We’ll see.
“Then when you look at Cam and you look at Junko, both of them have legs. We’re going to find out what they do this week, so it’s an “or” right now. Maybe Sam Vander Haar goes out there and kills it this week, but it’s an “or,” and there’s a battle going on there, as I think we all see.”
It was originally Vander Haar’s job after he won an offseason competition against Cam Guess to replace Kirk Christodoulou. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment for the Australian true freshman, and he was eventually benched after the bye week.
Vander Haar has had two punts blocked this season, and his net average and punting efficiency ranked among the worst in the ACC. His performance became an area of detriment, and Guess was given the opportunity to step into the role.
Guess was given the opportunity, without the presence of Vander Haar after he didn’t make the trip to Louisville following the bye week, but he wasn’t able to make the sort of impact Narduzzi wanted either. So, Vander Haar punted the ball first for Pitt against Syracuse, and it led to a rotation in which all three punters took at least two attempts.
Guess’s disastrous two-yard punt in the fourth quarter against Syracuse, with Byron Floyd’s high snap forcing Guess to jump for the football, might’ve been the nail in the coffin.
“Again, it’s not all the punter’s fault,” Narduzzi said. “The high snap and Cam has got to jump for it, then punts it two yards. That was ugly. That punt team has not been a pretty sight this year, and obviously, when you lose your starter that’s been starting for whatever it was, four years for Kirk, it’s something that we’ve got to work through, and it’s not good enough right now.”
Vander Haar and Guess’s battle evolved to include Junko, who punted once against North Carolina and twice against Syracuse — to a level of success.
|Total punt attempts
|Sam Vander Haar
Regardless of who performs the strongest this week during practice, and who eventually takes the majority of punt attempts against Virginia this weekend, it’s an area of special teams unit — which as a whole has been problematic — where Narduzzi isn’t happy. But it’s an area he’s still confident will be figured out.
“By the end of the year, we’ll have our guy for next year, I can guarantee you that, but it’s taking a while, and it’s not easy sitting back there,” Narduzzi said. “Not only is it a new punter, it’s a new snapper as well.”
As Pitt’s only scholarship punter, in his first year of American football, Vander Haar should be expected to still grow into the position.
While the punter spot may not be looked upon as a vital aspect of the team, it’s an area where Pitt has lagged all season. And it’s been detrimental to team success. Both of Vander Haar’s blocked punts resulted in opponent points, and Guess’s blocked punt didn’t result in points only because of a defensive stand and missed field goal.
The field position battle has consistently been against Pitt this season, either because of turnovers or shoddy punting, but the punting battle should result in a unit that doesn’t hinder team success.