With Pitt’s third week of summer camp kicking off Tuesday morning at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, it’s just past halfway over. Time flies in August, huh?
This week, next week (with the Pitt Football Kickoff Luncheon on Friday, Aug. 25) and then it’s Wofford week. College football is right around the corner. And Pitt is certainly still using this time to iron out some pivotal position battles on the roster.
As Pat Narduzzi likes to say, every position is in competition. But Phil Jurkovec is the starting quarterback, Jake Kradel is the starting center and no one is upending the duo of Marquis Williams and M.J. Devonshire at cornerback.
Let’s take a look at how a few major position battles have been progressing so far this summer.
Let’s take a look at how Pitt’s wide receiving corps operated last season.
Pitt’s wide receiving corps was thin last season. Jared Wayne, Mumpfield and Means dominated snap counts, and Jaden Bradley (205), Jaylon Barden (51) and Myles Alston (31) mopped up what was left over.
Bradley, Barden and Alston have all moved on, and that leaves the backend of the receiving corps wide open.
Wayne is fighting for an NFL roster spot, Konata Mumpfield and Bub Means recorded nearly 1,200 snaps between them and Daejon Reynolds has done what he’s needed to since arriving from Florida. It’s Mumpfield, Means and Reynolds starting right now.
Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to who will fill the No. 4 and 5 spots.
It’s gonna be one of the true freshmen, unless Che Nwabuko can show that he’s a wide receiver and not just a track star this season or Jake McConnachie continues his ascent toward a scholarship.
It was Zion Fowler and Kenny Johnson taking reps with the second team offense in practice, which is kinda surprising considering they’re a step behind Lamar Seymore and Izzy Polk chronologically. But Polk was a bit banged up over the last few practices, and Seymore has been very impressive through the spring and summer.
It’s a fluid situation. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the four see legitimate playing time in 2023. It continues to bear watching their growth this summer.
I think Ryan Baer is going to play his way into serious playing time this season.
The right side of the offensive line — from Kradel at center, Blake Zubovic at right guard and Matt Goncalves at right tackle — is secure. The left side, not so much.
Branson Taylor took over when Carter Warren suffered a torn meniscus early last season, and he entered the summer as the starting left tackle. Ryan Jacoby — an often-used extra lineman last season — seemingly led at left guard. And as a true freshman, Baer played very sparingly, preserving his redshirt.
Baer has taken a lot of first team reps throughout summer camp, he’s a monster at 6-foot-7, 330 pounds and even though he’s best suited for left tackle, Dave Borbely said that he will play his five best linemen this season — regardless of position. And he will certainly play more than just five linemen.
Injuries forced Pitt to roll out some unconventional, unexpected units last season, and it made this iteration of the offensive line surprisingly experienced. I think Baer — despite his own inexperience — could probably play guard or tackle right now. It’s just about where he fits in the puzzle now.
And Taylor and Jacoby will see the field quite a bit, too. Maybe someone like Jason Collier Jr. or Terrence Enos Jr., too.
I suppose it should be defensive end that is in competition because David Green and Devin Danielson are very secure inside. It’s the player who will line up on the opposite side of the defensive line from Dayon Hayes.
The losses on the defensive line cannot be understated, not when it accounts for Calijah Kancey, Deslin Alexandre, Haba Baldonado and John Morgan, but there are options — youthful and experienced alike.
Nahki Johnson has made strides since the Sun Bowl win in December, winning the Ed Conway Award for the most improved defensive player of the spring, and coming into summer camp with a legitimate chance to earn that starting role. But Charlie Partridge values his veterans, and that’s where Bam Brima and Nate Temple come into play.
Temple will likely spell Hayes next season as an 0ften-used backup, and I think Johnson and Bam Brima will continue to compete for that other starting spot.
Samuel Okunlola and Jimmy Scott are talented young players on the outside, and while they should have their moments this season, they’re still a bit too raw in their development to be considered threats to seriously contribute.
Tyler Bentley and Deandre Jules provide a veteran presence, guys that Partridge trusts, while Sean FitzSimmons and Elliot Donald will have the opportunity to work into the mix. A lot of people ask about Donald, and there isn’t all that much to say. He’s huge, carries 280 pounds well but doesn’t appear to be destined for a breakout season right now.
Shayne Simon and Bangally Kamara have earned the Mike and Star spots, respectively, in the defense, and I think Solomon DeShields is the leader when it comes to slotting into that Money spot.
Kamara and DeShields have cross-trained at both outside ‘backer spots, and their relationship and development should help with positional flexibility while they’re on the field together. They’re both huge, athletic specimens, too. And Simon has grown into more of a vocal leader as he’s slid inside. It’s a linebacking corps with potential.
There are questions when it comes to depth. Brandon George can play Mike or Money, and he’ll be the first guy off the bench. That hasn’t changed.
Braylan Lovelace was impressive in the spring — Narduzzi’s most impressive defensive early enrollee. He should factor in that Star battle behind Kamara, along with guys like Jordan Bass and Kyle Louis. Aydin Henningham and Nick Lapi should feature into the equation behind DeShields at Money.
The development of the young linebackers, kinda like the wide receivers offensively, will be important. It isn’t the deepest position group on the roster behind the presumed starters.
Aside from George (who has 412 career snaps under his belt), only Nick Lapi (three) has taken defensive snaps at Pitt. Henningham tore his ACL and missed all of last season, Louis didn’t see the field during his freshman season and Lovelace, Bass and Rasheem Biles are true freshmen. There is an opportunity for someone to really take a step forward and take playing time.
With Bass and Biles just arriving this summer, I’d expect they’ll start on special teams, but Bass is someone who could rapidly rise through the system to see some playing time.
The safety room belongs to Javon McIntyre right now. He’s the top safety in the room, and he’s even calling plays right now — with veterans like Marquis Williams and M.J. Devonshire looking to him.
He’s cross-trained both boundary and field safety, but I’d pencil him in as Brandon Hill’s replacement at boundary. He could do both, but he flashed against Miami and UCLA last season and has progressed immensely over the spring and summer. It’s about who will play alongside him right now.
Pitt has rotated its safeties throughout summer camp, putting guys at different spots in different combinations, but I haven’t seen anything that leads me to believe P.J. O’Brien Jr. has lost his lead at field safety.
Donovan McMillon behind McIntyre and Stephon Hall behind O’Brien, and that’s a safeties room that will need to grow on the fly but has a lot of potential. Buddy Mack has also been very good this summer, finally comfortable as a safety after dropping back from linebacker.
Cruce Brookins, who just arrived this summer from the high school level, has drawn a lot of praise. He’s still too young though to make an impact this season.
Randy Bates has preached a pair and a spare this offseason, and McIntyre and O’Brien with either McMillon or Hall (or both of them) appears to be what the coaching staff is looking for.
I thought that Caleb Junko took a small step past Jeff Yurk after spring ball, and I haven’t seen anything to change that through the first half of the summer.
Junko is booting balls, Yurk is, too, and I don’t think Pitt’s punting situation will be the black hole that it was last season. I mean, if it is, I’ll be disgustingly impressed.