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Sights and Sounds: Final Week of Spring Ball Kicks Off



PITTSBURGH — The spring started off with a cold, snowy day in the middle of March, but it’s shaping up to conclude with a 75-degree day on Saturday.

It wasn’t too bad out Tuesday either, with Pitt hitting the outdoor field at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex to kick off the last week of the 2023 spring session.

Pitt was in full pads Tuesday, will bring out the spider pads for the final practice on Thursday and will be in action Saturday at Acrisure Stadium for the 2023 Blue-Gold Spring Game.

A lot of work has gone into the last half-dozen practices, which obviously includes position battles across all three phases, and Saturday’s scrimmage will be the first chance to see that work in a live setting.

The defense has earned rave reviews all spring, although Pat Narduzzi admitted that Frank Cignetti Jr.’s goal in scrimmage isn’t always to come out on top, and it’s due in large part because of a number of turnovers forced.

There doesn’t appear to be many defensive backs — or defenders in general — without a takeaway sticker on their helmets these days. M.J. Devonshire has two, Marquis Williams and A.J. Woods have one. But Noah Biglow has four, Javon McIntyre has three, Tamarion Crumpley has two, Dante Caputo has two and Ryland Gandy has one.

I mean, even Samuel Okunlola has two of his own. That’s some serious impact there.

There’s an emphasis on forcing turnovers. It was apparent last season as Pitt recorded 14 interceptions (four for touchdowns) and eight fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown). But it’s clear that the coaching staff is preaching it once again.

And when the defensive backs are causing such havoc, it goes hand in hand with the defensive pressure up front. It’s a recipe for success, especially for racking up tackles for loss and sacks, and it’s worked out pretty well for the defense this spring.

The offense is still working, ahead of schedule even, especially compared to where it was last year as it installed Cignetti’s offense, and the leaders are emerging.

Jared Wayne is gone, and it’s Bub Means who has stepped into that leadership spot. He’s vocal, he’s the first to take reps in basically every drill and he has looked good — much more comfortable — this spring. The wide receiving corps’ struggles last season are well noted, but I’m expected a much smoother go of it in Year 2.

I’m expecting a lot from Konata Mumpfield, too, and guys like Daejon Reynolds and Myles Alston will be in the rotation. The question now is whether any of the young players will be able to step up alongside them.

A young player is who stepping up is Ryan Baer on the offensive line. He’s a natural tackle, but he’s also been working inside at guard during practice this spring. He should be able to do either.

And T.J. Harvison is learning quickly from a deep running backs room that features Rodney Hammond Jr., C’Bo Flemister and Derrick Davis as the new trio.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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