Jordan Bass walked out onto the practice field at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex Tuesday just thankful that he was finally able to hit someone.
It had been a long, long time since he had last padded up and hit the field.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Bass said after Tuesday’s practice. “I haven’t touched pads since December in the state championship game, so it was really just a lot of emotions going through my body, but at the same time, I was prepared.
“I just came at him with my normal — I was just eager to hit somebody. It didn’t really hit me as differently as people would think it would.”
It didn’t feel any different hitting one of his new Pitt teammates than it did laying hits against Heritage High School in the VHSL Class-3 state championship in December.
Bass certainly utilized that 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame to lay out out Pioneers, but he made his biggest impact as a playmaker. He scored three times against the Pioneers, all of which were at least 75-yard strikes. He caught touchdown passes of 75 and 82 yards and returned an interception 83 yards for another score.
It was a very good day at Liberty’s Williams Stadium in December, and it wasn’t a bad day at the Rooney Complex Tuesday, but Bass is focused on getting better right now.
“It might’ve been that I had a good day, but it’s just the first day, and I can only get better,” Bass said. “Looking forward to getting back to the film room, looking forward to coach Manalac’s critiquing so I can make it better the next day.”
Bass doesn’t have the advantage that someone like Braylan Lovelace does. He doesn’t have spring ball under his belt, but as he’s immersing himself in the playbook and growing more comfortable when he finds himself in actual situations on the practice field, his play isn’t going unnoticed.
“You can tell he’s very tall,” Solomon DeShields said after Thursday’s practice. “I feel like he’s gonna turn into an (Arizona Cardinals’) Isaiah Simmons type of linebacker. So, he’s trying to get the playbook down. He’s doing very good with the playbook; he’s moving fast on the field. I like what I’m seeing.”
Pat Narduzzi said before practice Tuesday that the young linebackers, which includes Lovelace and Rasheem Biles, too, are still learning. But he’s watched Bass’ burst, the way he’s able to move. “And you’re like, ‘Holy cow, he’s going to be really good,’” Narduzzi said. That’s high praise for someone like Narduzzi.
It’s been just over a week for Jordan Bass, seven practices at Pitt, but he feels like he’s established that he’s an aggressive player first and foremost. But also that he picks up things quickly — and he’s actually able to show that he’s learning with the way he produces once he’s on the field.
It’s certainly a steppingstone going from high school to college, playbooks are much more detailed and assignments are more complex, but Bass has seen how taking the time to sit down, memorize the playbook and really lock in on the field pays off. It takes time and effort, yes, but it’s time well spent.
It’s a bit more difficult for Bass than other newcomers simply because he’s learning all three linebacker spots right off the rip, as opposed to Pitt’s tendency to slide new linebackers in at Star and work from that starting point, but Bass welcomes it. He likes the sort of trial-by-fire approach.
“I’m trying to be one of the versatile guys that can just be on the field whenever you need me, whatever situation you need me in, I’m there — ready to play,” Bass said. “As a freshman, that’s a great thing to have, in my opinion.”
The Pitt linebacking corps is in an interesting position. With Shayne Simon at Mike and Bangally Kamara at Star, Pitt has some cornerstone pieces. Brandon George is a high-upside, two-deep kind of linebacker at Mike, and Solomon DeShields is one of Narduzzi’s starting guys to this point in camp. But after that? There are openings.
Lovelace was great in the spring, named Narduzzi’s top early enrollee defender. I’d say he has the early edge for that No. 2 Star linebacker right now simply because of his experience. Rasheem Biles and Kyle Louis are very inexperienced guys. Bass has a chance to push for legitimate playing time across the linebacking corps.
And if it takes some special teams work to get there, he’s ready for it. He just doesn’t know if he’s been impressing Andre Powell in his work as a gunner during camp.
“I’ve been trying my best (to impress Powell in special teams), but you know how coaches are,” Bass said.
I’d bet Bass is going to see the field one way or the other in 2023, most likely playing special teams initially and working his way into the linebacking rotation, and he’s being pushed every day right now by guys like George, Simon and Kamara. But also by Manalac himself.
In Bass’ time in the film room, sinking into his chair to watch practice film after each and every practice, Manalac hasn’t just told him what he wants to hear.
“It’s normally him critiquing me,” Bass said. “It’s always something I can get better at, and I appreciate that and I will always want him to critique me instead of just giving me praise. Always want to learn — I always want to know what I can get better at so I can be a better person as a player to get on this field.”
To this point of camp, Manalac has told Bass to really hone in the coordination of his length and speed. He’s big and fast. But it’s about controlling his speed and power, keeping his shoulders square through the point of contact and making sure he makes all of his fits positionally. Bass already looks like a college linebacker, now he just needs to learn to play like one.
And if I had to bet, I’d say it won’t take long before that’s the case. As Pitt’s highest-rated recruit in the class of 2023, there’s a reason why he’s been tabbed by many — including myself — as a difference maker.