The Pitt defense won the second — and final — scrimmage of the summer, and it was an inspired showing from a group that took its first loss hard earlier this month.
Pat Narduzzi said that Pitt ran 109 offensive and defensive and 29 special teams plays at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex Saturday, unable to head down to Acrisure Stadium as the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Buffalo Bills in a preseason game there that evening.
It was a good day, a day that Narduzzi was happy with, and the defense will now finish the summer in the blue pinnies.
Narduzzi talked about early Wofford prep, how Phil Jurkovec has separated himself in the quarterbacks room and much more before Tuesday’s practice, so let’s dive into a few points.
Depth Showing in Early Wofford Prep
In the wake of Saturday’s scrimmage, the roster has begun to shape up a bit. Narduzzi doesn’t exactly want to say which players have separated across the roster, but there is certainly depth across every position that continues to emerge.
The injection of freshmen in the wide receivers and linebackers’ rooms has turned both units from question marks into potential strengths. Kenny Johnson, Zion Fowler-El, Izzy Polk and Lamar Seymore are all fighting for playing time, and Braylan Lovelace, Jordan Bass and Rasheem Biles have emerged as defensive and special teams’ contributors right off the bat.
Narduzzi feels really good about where Pitt’s depth stands just under two weeks out from Wofford.
“I think we’re deep, and yesterday we did a little — we call it ‘Rock period,’ a show period where we show a little bit of the Wofford defense,” Narduzzi said before Tuesday’s practice. “We got one period of it yesterday and just looking at the depth there. It’s like coach Cignetti said, ‘Wow, this is a great Rocks team here.’ You’re looking at the guys over there like, ‘Holy cow, those are some dudes that can make some plays.’ And they’re going to help us, as we know, the key is how hard we practice every week. You can’t go a lot of 1s on 1s or 2s on 2s, but we’re going to have a good scout look.”
The Rocks unit is basically the scout team. And while it’s comprised of underclassmen who may serve primarily as practice contributors, there’s always a first or second-year player that could emerge from the group.
It’s interesting that Wofford prep is beginning — slowly now with two weeks to go. A majority of work will be put in next week, but Pitt is slowly turning its attention to the 2023 season now.
Pitt football is almost back.
Jurkovec’s Accuracy Giving Him Another Edge
It sounds as if the quarterbacks as a unit weren’t super consistent Saturday, turning the ball over a few times, but it also sounds like it wasn’t Phil Jurkovec who was at fault much.
“I don’t want to get into it,” Narduzzi said. “Obviously, we threw a couple of interceptions, and we had one fumble. There’s some separation, but (Christian Veilleux and Nate Yarnell are) both doing well. We feel like we have three quarterbacks we can win with; I’ll tell you that.”
Veilleux and Yarnell are still in competition for that No. 2 spot, but I won’t be surprised when Veilleux is listed as the No. 2 quarterback on the opening two-deep depth chart next Monday. That’s no shade to Yarnell, but I think Veilleux is just finally showing his comfortability in Cignetti’s offense.
But as Narduzzi said, Jurkovec has separated himself from the pack.
“He’s completed 72% of team reps, which it’s good to complete 7-on-7 reps or pass skeleton, whatever you want to call it, but Phil has done a nice job. Those other two (Veilleux and Yarnell) will continue to compete.”
That’s 72% completion through all of the summer — live sessions, scrimmages, everything. A very encouraging sign. It’s just camp, but if Jurkovec can make the throws asked of him (which Cignetti has lauded since the spring), Pitt’s offense will be in good shape. He’s around a 60% career passer, but if he can get that up a few ticks, who knows?
The Pitt pass catching options seem to be increasing by the day anymore.
An Unfortunate (Undisclosed) Injury
Everyone knows that Narduzzi will only announce injuries if it’s a season-ending injury.
Well, he confirmed that there was a season-ending injury recently but isn’t ready to announce who it is quite yet.
“There is one, but I’ll note it later,” Narduzzi said. “I hate when guys ask me injuries. I had two coaches come up from the athletic department the other day and ask how injuries were going, and I was like, ‘Shhh, don’t talk about it, don’t talk about it.’ So, when other coaches come down to practice, I’ve been like, ‘We’re doing good right now, don’t jinx us.’ What do you know? A couple of periods later, we got jinxed.”
The Pitt coaching staff has often said how getting through the offseason injury-free is its biggest collective goal. But even with a top-of-the-line strength and conditioning program, injuries happen. It’s the sad reality of sports.
I’d expect Narduzzi to announce who is out for the season later this week at this point.
Derrick Davis Jr. Running Hard, RBs Running Too Much?
Derrick Davis Jr. has been in Pittsburgh, aside from a brief tenure as an LSU Tiger, for his entire life. He’s still new to playing running back full-time though.
It’s a big adjustment to Pitt’s offense, learning Cignetti’s expansive playbook and what’s expected of running backs in the system, but Davis has done well. He’s already progressing as a pass protector, but Narduzzi would like to see him take what he’s given sometimes, instead of looking for the home run. Easier said than done.
“He had a nice scrimmage the other day,” Narduzzi said. “He’s a big back, and he needs to hit it up in there. At times, he’s looking for that touchdown and trying to make big plays. Just get the three or four yards they’re giving you.”
Pitt’s running backs room is deep, and Davis firmly in the mix with C’Bo Flemister and Daniel Carter behind Rodney Hammond Jr. But the run game just wasn’t clicking Saturday.
“I talked about turnovers in the scrimmage, but it also came down to where the offense wanted to establish the run game,” Narduzzi said. “That’s hard to do against our defense. Our defense continued to say, ‘Don’t run it on us,’ and that’s another reason. I think if the offense would have thrown a little bit more, maybe they would have had a little bit more success. Their goal was not to throw it; they wanted to run.”
It’s not something I’d be worried about, running against Pitt’s notoriously stiff run defense is hard for anyone. If Pitt is able to click and run roughshod over this defense, that’s something worth noting.
It’s a process for Pitt’s running backs as the room moves away from Izzy Abanikanda.