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Pat’s Points: Earning Your Place, Jurkovec’s Leadership and Pitt Football



Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.

PITTSBURGH — It’s a Pitt game week for the first time since late December, and I know the warmer August weather isn’t any indication, but there is a crispness in the air down at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Pitt doesn’t open on a Thursday night against bitter foe West Virginia this season, that’s reserved for Week 3 in Morgantown, W.Va., but a Saturday mid-afternoon kickoff against Shawn Watson and Wofford offers the same stakes. Pitt cannot afford to lose.

“It’s game time,” Pat Narduzzi said at his season-opening presser Monday. “I think it’s fun to get into game week. I think our guys are excited about playing somebody else, game planning, really working situations. I think that’s part of the game.

“I think they’re sick of hitting each other. I think it’s a great opportunity to find out where we are.”

Narduzzi touched upon a number of topics Monday, including position battles, leadership across the roster and the desire to finally play another team, and we’re gonna dive right into it.

Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi November 19, 2022 David Hague/PSN

Ready to Get Started

We’re at the point of the summer where nothing could convince Narduzzi that his squad would be better off with another week or two of preparation.

“Yeah, if you said, ‘Hey, you’ve got another week of camp, what else do you want to see?’ I’m ready to play. I think our kids are ready to play. I don’t think there’s anything else if we strung this week of camp out a little bit longer to see — they’ve had enough. They’re ready to play somebody else. They’re ready to game plan and perfect the game plan towards the game.”

It’s safe to say that Narduzzi has seen everything he’s needed to see this summer, and he’s content with where Pitt stands entering Week 1 against Wofford. It’s all about starting the season off against Wofford with a win. That’s all you can ask for at the end of the day. Just keep winning, no matter the opponent.

“I say this all the time, we can feel good as we stand out there, and you had a good day yesterday, and this guy looked good, that guy looked good, but it all comes down to what you do on Saturdays and nobody cares what you did the last two years,” Narduzzi said. “20 wins are never going to get you a win this year.

“Our goal is to go out and look sharp on Saturday and beat Wofford. That’s a good football team. It’s got 14 returning starters, seven on defense and five on offense and two specialists they got back.”

Pitt defensive tackle Deandre Jules.

Earning Your Place 

If the summer did one thing for Pitt football, it allowed Pat Narduzzi and the coaching staff to see what they’re working with this season. It was a time of evaluation, seeing who made strides, who still has a ways to go, and most importantly, who is ready to help this season.

A few major position battles were decided across the roster over the course of the offseason, with summer camp serving as the final tune up for all of the players on the fringe of the Pitt two-deep depth chart.

Defensive End 

Dayon Hayes and Nate Temple. Both were hit by the injury bug last season, but Hayes returned to the lineup — flashing that explosive ability that is just under the surface, ready to be unlocked this season.

Temple has been around for a while now, entering his fifth year in the Pitt system, and the best thing he did this summer was stay healthy.

“I give him a lot of credit now,” Narduzzi said. “I didn’t know if he could make it through a camp, a spring ball and stay healthy, but he did. We’re excited he did.

“That’s the first win of the year, Nate Temple stayed healthy. We know Nate is a good football player, again, when he’s on the team, so no one has really seen Nate Temple. We changed his number from 16 to 6 because he stayed healthy and took that 1 off his Jersey, and we’re looking forward to seeing Nate Temple make plays. We’re going to find out.

Hayes and Temple form a veteran defensive end duo, with Nahki Johnson, Bam Brima and Samuel Okunlola also featuring in the rotation.

Wide Receiver 

This one isn’t too much of a surprise, but Daejon Reynolds is officially the No. 3 wide receiver on the roster. He’s a grown man, according to Tiquan Underwood, and his speed and strength should be a great complement to Konata Mumpfield and Bub Means, inside or outside.

Like most of the position battles across the roster, it came down to Reynolds’ consistency.

“Daejon has been pretty consistent through camp, and those young guys are right on his tail,” Narduzzi said. “I can tell you that. They’re nipping at his butt right now, but he’s been consistent. He’s really smart football-wise, for a guy that came in, and he learned the offense quickly, so I think we’ll know he’s going to do the right thing. That’s the first thing. You can have some guy that can run real fast, but he’s done the right thing. He knows what to do. He’s shown it out on the field.”

Those young guys are Kenny Johnson and Zion Fowler-El, who each cracked the two-deep depth chart, and they’re going to play this season. Jake McConnachie, Pitt’s newest scholarship wide receiver, also cracked the two-deep. And Narduzzi wants to find out what the unit has on game days.

“We’ll find out when game day hits,” Narduzzi said. “That’s what I’m excited about, is finding out what we have because you don’t know playing against each other. We’re going to find out with new competition and find out how mature we are and where we are overall.”

Defensive Tackle 

The Pitt depth chart listed David Green, Devin Danielson, Deandre Jules and Tyler Bentley as starters entering Week 1 against Wofford. And it’s a battle in the trenches.

“Yeah, there’s a constant battle,” Narduzzi said. “All four of those guys are starters in my opinion, and that’s why this depth chart is — you guys talk about the ‘OR’s and this. You’ve got a bunch of ‘OR’s because you really can’t say they’re not starters, some of these guys.”

Green and Danielson were my preseason picks to start Week 1, but they did rotate last season alongside Calijah Kancey each and every week, maybe there’s something to be said about that rotation continuing. And there isn’t another Kancey on the roster right now, but Narduzzi does see a guy who could legitimately be an NFL player down the line.

“If (Jules) has a great year, I could see that guy playing in the NFL,” Narduzzi said. “He’s big, he’s physical, he’s got a good pass rush. He’s playing at a high level right now.

“It’s going to be a big year for him to show the world really what he’s got inside, but he’s just a big man. He looks like you’re supposed to look.”

We’ve heard about Jules consistently this summer. I, personally, didn’t think anything of it until we started to hear about Jules from everyone. And I mean everyone. Narduzzi, Randy Bates, Charlie Partridge, Jules himself, Ryan Baer, his fellow linemen. Jules’ hype train has reached the station. And now he’s going to start Week 1.

But with four starting defensive tackles, Narduzzi is looking at a week-by-week basis when it comes to who officially starts.

“It’s which one is going to start this week, which one is going to start next week based on how they practice and how we feel the matchups are,” Narduzzi said. “But your question was about 0, and Deandre Jules we took his 9 off as well because he had a great camp. He’s big, he’s physical. That’s a guy that just keeps getting better.”

Look out for Jules this season, having switched from the 90 jersey to the 0 jersey, and look out for the depth of the defensive tackle position as a whole.

Defensive Back 

If not for Deandre Jules, Javon McIntyre may have been the defensive breakout star of the summer. He received a couple of starts to end last season, he took a step during the spring and really emerged as a leader in the summer.

It’s very safe to say McIntyre is the No. 1 safety on the roster — the leader on the backend of the defense.

The only question was whether P.J. O’Brien Jr. was going to put all the pieces together and carve out his role opposite McIntyre. He did that over the course of the summer.

“I think I told you earlier Javon has had a great spring and he had a good fall, as well,” Narduzzi said. “If P.J. had a great — I challenged him back after spring ball about being a better communicator and doing all the little things, and P.J. actually had a really good fall camp.”

However, the battle is not done. Narduzzi is going to use the first few games to truly determine who should be playing at safety. Donovan McMillon and Stephon Hall are still firmly in the mix for playing time — even if they don’t crack the starting lineup.

And it doesn’t hurt that Narduzzi sees three starters at cornerback either. Like the defensive linemen, Narduzzi loves the depth and multiple starters on the backend. He sees Marquis Williams, M.J. Devonshire and A.J. Woods as Pitt’s starting cornerbacks. He thinks all three are NFL-worthy.

“With A.J. being right in the middle, I’d say Marquis is more of a nifty player,” Narduzzi said. “He loves — you run a bubble to his side or something, he’s going to make a play. He’s physical. For a smaller guy, he is pound for pound one of the toughest guys on our football team. M.J. is kind of in between those two guys, so we’ve got a good blend of players there.


Phil Jurkovec is the starter, without question, but Christian Veilleux took a step forward this summer.

“Christian was right there with Nate, and I think just at the end he — but that doesn’t mean Nate can’t win a football game for us,” Narduzzi said. “As we know, he’s already done it. He’s a good football player, too. It just seemed like Christian got just a little bit more comfortable and didn’t make as many little mistakes as Nate did.

“That’s kind of where it is, but that could change next week. You go out and have a — all three of those quarterbacks are working with our offense. Nate won’t be on scout team like he was last year, so he’ll be right up there competing.”

If Jurkovec goes down, it will be Veilleux filling in. And there’s a solid chance, if Pitt does what it needs to against Wofford, Veilleux could see the field as early as Week 1.

Pitt football

Phil Leads, Goncalves Captains 

I’ll admit that I was surprised the Pitt players didn’t vote Phil Jurkovec a captain ahead of the 2023 season, but it isn’t a cause for concern.

The last first-season transfer captain didn’t exactly go too well. So, Jurkovec can be content to serve as a leader, perhaps the leader, offensively this season.

“I’ll say this: Phil Jurkovec is probably the leader of our offense,” Narduzzi said. “Anytime you’ve got your quarterback, he is the leader, and I think there’s — that’s a fact, so Phil really is the leader of the offense, and again, Matt Goncalves is the captain of the offense, but everything is going to go with Phil, and he will be the biggest leader on offense in my opinion. He’s just not a captain.”

I think the Pitt offense will have a lot of leaders outside of Matt Goncalves, who was unanimously voted a captain by his teammates, and Jurkovec is one of them. Bub Means is another. Jake Kradel is a veteran presence. Daniel Carter is another guy who isn’t afraid to use his voice. But Goncalves has earned that captain title.

“I think, number one, the guy that gets voted captain is a guy that’s proved it on the field that he can play, but I think he’s a guy that’s on the field and off the field the same guy,” Narduzzi said. “There’s not too much talk. He’s going to lead with his actions.

“But the words that do come out of his mouth are meaningful, and I think that’s probably an important thing about a leader. Matt is going to lead when he needs to. If something is wrong, he’s going to step up and say something in the huddle. I know that.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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