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Pat’s Points: Getting on the Same Page, Pitt Leadership and More



Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.

Pitt has completed 12 of 15 spring practices, and it’s been a defensive sweep so far. Of course, a new offensive scheme is steadily being installed, but it’s been an impressive display from the defense.

There are just two more practices left this week, Tuesday and Thursday, before the Blue-Gold Spring Game at Acrisure Stadium on Saturday.

Pat Narduzzi is happy with what he’s seeing from his team this spring, and while he hasn’t had a chance to debrief the latest scrimmage (which was attended by a select number of Alliance 412 donors), he’s seen good competition offensively, defensively and on special teams.

“Our guys are swinging and competing, going back and forth, and you see a lot of good things,” Narduzzi said after practice Tuesday. “You see improvement, especially on the offense, just with the newness of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. You see big plays being made every day.”

So, let’s take a look at some of the storylines from Narduzzi speaking last week.

Getting Kade Bell and Nate Yarnell on the same page 

Kade Bell said last month that none of his quarterbacks truly know what he wants yet, and Nate Yarnell said that he’s happy that Bell asks so much from his quarterbacks.

The offensive coordinator-quarterback duo isn’t quite where it needs to be, but the 2024 season is still just about five months away. The spring may be winding down, but the summer is still coming into view on the horizon and fall camp will be a long month of preparation and decision making.

Yarnell is the furthest along when it comes to understanding exactly what Bell wants from his quarterbacks, and by all accounts, he’s done a good job stepping up as a leader so far this spring. Narduzzi feels like he’s seeing Yarnell continue to pick up on what Bell wants him to do to be successful in the new offense.

“I think so; that takes time, too. If Nate can think just like Kade, Nate will be our offensive coordinator here in a couple of years,” Narduzzi said. “But I think the more time they spend together, the more you get that. There are a lot of things flying around out there for the guy sitting under the center compared to the guy standing on the sidelines trying to think alike. It’s always better to have the marker last and be able to blow the whistle and say, ‘Hey, you should have done this. Why were you thinking that way? I was thinking this way.’ Again there’s a lot of learning experiences out there, and the only way you can learn is by successes and failures.”

I think we’re far enough along now that it’s safe to say Yarnell and Eli Holstein are the preferred options at quarterback. Christian Veilleux is still in the mix.

It’s going to be about seeing which of the Pitt quarterbacks can compete on the field but also truly understand what Bell wants to do offensively.

Pitt defensive line coach Tim Daoust.

Nahki Johnson is a full-time defensive tackle now. 

Nahki Johnson started to make the transition from defensive end to defensive tackle at the end of last season, getting a handful of snaps inside against Duke, and it’s where he’s going to finish his college career.

Johnson is bulked up these days, standing at 6-foot-2, 280 pounds, and according to Narduzzi, he’s moving a lot like a former difference-maker on the defensive line. It’s certainly lofty praise.

“He’s permanently there,” Narduzzi said. “He’ll never move back to defensive end. He’s doing a nice job. He’s got that (Calijah) Kancey ability to be twitchy at the three-technique, and he’s got a chance to be pretty good in there. We like what we see a lot, and he’s just going to keep getting better. If we can get him to keep his thigh boards in, he goes out to practice without his thigh boards — not good. Get a thigh bruise and you’ll be sitting on the bench.”

Kancey was a unanimous All-American and first round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. He’s one of the best Pitt defenders of all time. It’s a very lofty comparison, but Johnson has always been a twitchy defender off the edge. That should translate inside against bigger, slow offensive linemen.

Pitt severely missed that quick twitch and explosive get-off last season. The veteran unit lacked any sort of playmaking last season.

There is some potential this season. Johnson, Sean FitzSimmons, Elliot Donald, Nick James and some freshmen are on the rise.

Branson Taylor is leading the charge on the offensive line. 

You could point your finger at just about every Pitt offensive unit last season. It was an awful performance all around, and the offensive line wasn’t good. It was a problem that contributed to the overall failure.

The unit is a year older, and despite the losses of a couple of long-time veterans, it’s a unit that should be better. But that’s only on paper. It’s about the results on the field at this point. Narduzzi likes what he’s seen so far.

“I think they look pretty good,” Narduzzi said. “We gave a little pressure off the edge, which I haven’t seen the last few days, just getting some pressure in the red zone in a couple of periods. But I thought the offensive line improved as well. You think about some of the young guys we had a year ago, they’ve grown up and they’ve got another year under their belt. Coach Darveau has done a heckuva job, I think, of coaching the guys up.”

There isn’t a standout leader in the unit yet, someone to rally around a la Jimmy Morrissey or Carter Warren or Matt Goncalves, but there is a veteran member of the unit beginning to make his voice heard.

“I think (leadership is) a collective effort,” Narduzzi said. “They’ve all been in. But like I’ve said, I think Branson Taylor would be the guy leading the show right now. I think he’s still leading, but we’ll find out when the fall gets here.”

Leadership doesn’t always come from the middle, as it has in recent seasons, but there’s some good work on the inside. Terrence Moore, who slid into the starting spot last season, is once again in line to start. And Lyndon Cooper, who arrived this winter from North Carolina State, is working alongside him.

“Terrence Moore and Lyndon Cooper, obviously those guys, but all five of them upfront have to make those calls and they have to make it quick,” Narduzzi said. “We’re a little different on defense, as fast as they’re going, we’re going to give you different looks. … they’ve done a nice job so far.”

Pitt running back Desmond Reid.

Seeing what the running backs have to give.

It’s pretty clear that Rodney Hammond Jr. is the lead Pitt back, or at least, it should be. But until the Pitt coaching staff shows that it trusts Hammond to be the unquestioned starter, there’s going to be a rotation.

Daniel Carter is still around, but I don’t think he’ll receive more than the 28 carries he had last season. Juelz Goff and Montravius Lloyd are very talented young players, but it appears that it’s Desmond Reid and Derrick Davis Jr. who are in line to receive more snaps at this point in the offseason.

“You go back to Thursday’s practice, he popped a run, took it about 85 yards, as a matter of fact, in a coming out period,” Narduzzi said. “He took it like 80, and he jumped in the end zone, so it wasn’t really a touchdown because he jumped before he got to the goal line — it cost him 15 yards and no touchdown. But he’s explosive. He’s a guy that can take it to the house. If he can find a hole, he can go. He’s got different wheels than anybody back there.

“Derrick Davis had a nice Thursday; I’m assuming a nice Tuesday today. But I’ve seen some nice things out of him. I saw him step up and block an A-gap with Brandon George down his throat, and he anchored that thing down really well, so he’s been really good in pass protection for a guy that’s half the size of my podium.”

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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