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Narduzzi’s Notes: A Practice Fight, New Spring Game Format and Defensive Backs Emerging



The 2023 Blue-Gold Spring Game is under a week away now, with just one Thursday practice in the way, and it’s probably a good thing that it’s on the horizon now.

There will be a ton of recruits in attendance, fans scattered throughout Acrisure Stadium and some live football being played for the first time since the Sun Bowl win to end December.

Of course, it’s just a spring game. Pat Narduzzi isn’t going to reveal his hand so soon, but it’s also a chance to see some of the progress made this spring. So, after Tuesday’s — final padded — practice, he broke down the session, the spring game and some general notes to keep in mind.

Passion Boiling Over 

A scuffle here and there in practice isn’t a bad thing. It would kind of be weird if there wasn’t any passion bubbling up.

Football is an emotional game, with a lot of passion and pride amongst all of those wearing Pitt helmets and if all that emotion boils over in a one-on-one scrap, Narduzzi is okay with it.

But when a fight broke out Tuesday, with players jumping onto the pile and turning a one-on-one into a full-blown fight, he had to rein it in.

“We got a little fight out there today, had to run ’em,” Narduzzi said. “It’s been a while since we’ve had that, so they’re still on edge, which is good.”

Narduzzi will have to go back and watch the tape to see who exactly jumped in and what caused all the commotion, but he doesn’t want that scale of fighting.

Playing with an edge is one thing. Getting into fights and costing your team is another. Narduzzi wants to see that edge, but he also wants to see it reined in and use in the right way.

Pitt has been going up against itself for just about a month now, multiple times a week for the last four weeks, and it’s probably a good thing that Saturday’s spring game is coming up.

It’s a chance to blow off some steam — in a constructive way, of course.

The Spring Game Format is Still Up in the Air

Narduzzi still hasn’t told the team what the spring game will be like this Saturday. In fact, he still isn’t entirely sure himself — or he isn’t ready to say that he is.

There will not be a draft on the South Side tomorrow to determine Saturday’s rosters, for the first time since Narduzzi arrived as the head coach eight years ago, and it’s largely because he wants to ensure two balanced sides.

“I love the draft, it’s fun to get them in here and do it, I’ve done it for years and years and years, but sometimes there’s some mismatches you don’t want to see,” Narduzzi said. “I’d rather it be a cleaner scrimmage but stay safe at the same time. The draft keeps them safer, but I think our guys are smart enough to do it the right way.”

Narduzzi encouraged everybody to come out to Saturday’s game, saying that the fans will be a lot more excited about this season’s edition of the spring than past editions. It will be a different deal. What does that mean?

Those better matchups will be more prevalent.

I honestly don’t know exactly how those matchups will be determined, or what those matchups will be, but I assume the roster will be split more evenly down the middle.

Maybe, say, Phil Jurkovec throwing to Konata Mumpfield with Marquis Williams in coverage? Christian Veilleux throwing to Bub Means with M.J. Devonshire in coverage?

Whatever the case, the spring game will hold some weight this season.

“In the past, didn’t care about the spring game matchups,” Narduzzi said. “But now I think we’re gonna do a little bit of that — just change it up and see how it goes. So, the matchups will be important in the spring game.”

It will be base offense vs base defense, and Narduzzi confirmed that Cignetti will be calling plays as he has all spring — with an emphasis on installation and evaluating plays against different sets.

“It will be — keep it a little bit vanilla, but you know, there’s times where we go out and do an inside drill and I tell the defense, ‘Hey, you can’t blitz.’ So, that’s nothing unusual,” Narduzzi said.

It will also be everything that Pitt installed offensively and defensively last season. Everything Pitt has added this spring will not be on display.

And while there will not be much special teams work, the punters will certainly be in action. Narduzzi said Pitt will be very good at punting in 2023.

Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Noah Biglow (28) September 24, 2022 David Hague/PSN

Defensive Backs Emerging Everywhere 

Noah Biglow had four ‘takeaway’ stickers on his helmet during Tuesday’s practice, and Tamarion Crumpley had one. Five turnovers forced this spring? Not bad at all.

Biglow and Crumpley were sort of passed up by Ryland Gandy on the depth chart last season, and Narduzzi wanted to see more from the two young corners. It’s safe to say they’ve risen to the occasion this spring.

“Noah’s had a good spring and so has Tamarion Crumpley as well,” Narduzzi said. “Those two guys have grown up a little bit, and I’m excited about where they are. They’ve had a good spring. It was time for them to step up, and they have.”

There is a veteran core of Marquis Williams, M.J. Devonshire and A.J. Woods in place, but all three will very likely be gone come next spring. Gandy, Biglow and Crumpley form the next wave of Pitt defensive backs, and their time will arrive sooner than later.

And Cory Sanders is currently guiding the safeties through what the cornerbacks will likely experience next season. Brandon Hill and Erick Hallett are gone, but there are four safeties that have emerged in the backend.

Javon McIntyre, P.J. O’Brien and Steph Hall are all returners, with varying levels of experience, and Narduzzi is confident in their ability to cross-train, to play both the boundary and the field positions.

Donovan McMillon is the newcomer, but he’s seeing a lot of time at the boundary spot right now — really adapting to the defense.

“Coach Sanders does a great job coaching them up, and they know what they’re doing,” Narduzzi said. “It’s just consistency and doing it the right way all the time. One day you’ve got that down, you’ve got that fixed and then the next, there’s new formations and new motions to adjust to.”

Every day is a learning curve, with new conceptions, formations and motions to learn. It was a new run motion during Tuesday’s practice, in fact.

The defensive backs will be in action Saturday, of course, and I’ll certainly be watching to see who lines up where, with who alongside them and when.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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