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September 1, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Offensive line award keeps alive memory of former Pitt assistant Joe Moore

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When news broke Monday about the award named after Joe Moore, former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Aaron Taylor was so emotional, he barely could talk.
“I always get choked up when I talk about Joe Moore,” said Taylor, who played offensive line for Moore at Notre Dame.
Many others feel the same way about one of the most beloved offensive line coaches in college football history.
Which is why the Joe Moore Foundation For Teamwork — aptly named, I should add — has found a way to keep Moore’s name alive. The foundation announced that it will give the Joe Moore Award to the nation’s “most outstanding” offensive line this season. It will be the only college football award that will recognize an entire unit.
The award is the result of years of planning by Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who played for Moore at Upper St. Clair in the 1970s, and several of Moore’s former players and colleagues.
Moore coached at Pitt from 1977-1985, and his pupils there included Pro Football Hall of Famer Russ Grimm and All-Americans Bill Fralic, Mark May, Jimbo Covert and Mark Stepnoski. Think Moore knew a little something about teaching guys how to block?
All-Americans Taylor and Andy Heck played for Moore at Notre Dame, but officials there fired him in 1996. Moore won an age discrimination suit against the university before he died in 2003 at the age of 71.
Taylor said the panel of judges will include every FBS offensive line coach in the U.S. That’s 128 guys, plus players and coaches who served under and with Moore and select media members who played or coached the offensive line. Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and former Pitt coach Jackie Sherrill, who employed Moore on his staff, are also on the committee.
The units will be judged on toughness, effort, teamwork, physicality, tone setting and finishing, Taylor said.
A weekly honor roll will be released every Tuesday, starting Sept. 8. Semifinalists will be announced Nov. 16, with five finalists chosen Nov. 30 before the winner is selected at the end of the regular season. You can follow the process on social media — Instagram (@joemooreaward), Twitter (@joemooreaward) and Facebook (facebook.com/JoeMooreAward).
There also will be a trophy and organizers are boasting that it could be the largest awarded in college football history because it is the only one that honors an entire unit.
Just how beloved was Moore? Here is what Covert said about him: “When God decided to create a football coach he created Joe Moore, then broke the mold. I loved him and respected him and owe my entire career to him.”
Moore is famously credited with crafting these words that every offensive lineman lives by: “There is no greater joy in life than moving a man from Point A to Point B against his will.”

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August 27, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt falls short of Narduzzi’s “3 percent” of daily improvement

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Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi asked his players to get 3 percent better every day during training camp. It turned out that was asking too much.
Prior to the 19th of 21 scheduled practice sessions Thursday, Narduzzi did the math and said Pitt is not 57 percent better.
“Maybe 50 percent,” he said. “I don’t know if we got the whole 7 extra percentages there. We’ll find out as we go.
“You would like to get that 3 percent, but I don’t think you got it every day. I truly don’t. It’s tapered off. You have camp legs right now and I think guys are mentally and physically, `Is this almost over?’
“It happens everywhere I’ve ever been. We’ll find out if that’s really who they are.”
Narduzzi said the team will have a light rehearsal scrimmage Friday at Heinz Field and a “mini” practice Sunday. The players will have their first day off since Aug. 9 on Saturday.

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August 24, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt training camp notes: Week 3

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Here are a few training camp notes at the outset of the third and final week:
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said Monday morning he is not worried about the possibility of any of his key injured players missing the opener Sept. 5 against Youngstown State.
“Nobody, really,” he said in answer to the question.
But – in my opinion — some starters’ participation will be limited, depending on how the game goes.

Another name surfaced in the quest to find complementary wide receivers: Redshirt sophomore Jester Weah.
“He had another good scrimmage (Saturday) and has really stepped up and made some nice plays,” Narduzzi said. “He has made some major improvements.”

Same goes with redshirt sophomore defensive end Zach Poker, who was mentioned Monday by Narduzzi as someone who has had “great camp.” Shakir Soto and Ejuan Price look to have the inside track to starting positions at end for the opener when Rori Blair , who led the team in sacks last season, will serve a one-game suspension.

There’s still an interesting fight at the weakside outside linebacker position. Mike Caprara has been, is and will be competing with Bam Bradley, and coaches just can’t seem to justify keeping either one of them off the field.
Caprara could turn out to be the first backup at all three linebacker positions, even if he wins a starting job. Coaches feel comfortable putting at least four linebackers on the field, including Matt Galambos, the solid, experienced guy in the middle, and senior Nicholas Grigsby on the strongside. This morning, Narduzzi put the word “great” in the same sentence with Grigsby.

The competition also continues at strong safety among Jordan Whitehead, Patrick Amara and Jevonte Pitts. Whitehead, like Caprara, rarely gives coaches a good reason for keeping him off the field, and he worked his way onto the first team for a spell Monday.

Injuries have allowed former tight end Brian O’Neill to stake a claim at right offensive tackle.
He only may remain with the first team until injuries heal and the shuffling ends, but Narduzzi likes O’Neill’s athleticism and his willingness to make the switch that required a changeup in body type.
“He is a guy who is raw right now, who is going to continue to get better,”Narduzzi said.

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August 22, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pre-scrimmage notes on a sunny Saturday on the South Side

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Quick hits from Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi’s three-minute media briefing prior to the second and final live scrimmage of the summer Saturday morning:
— The team is conducting the scrimmage on a sunny day in front of several alumni and boosters and athletic director Scott Barnes. Reporters were escorted to safety after seeing a couple of kickoff and punt returns and an incomplete pass.
— Freshman wide receiver Quadree Henderson returned punts with the first team, and caught one on a bounce with a running start and returned it about 30 yards, displaying great speed. He makes offensive coordinator Jim Chaney smile almost every day.
— Freshman safety Jordan Whitehead returned punts with the second team and showed great balance on one impressive return.
— Narduzzi said the team will practice Tuesday at Heinz Field for the one and only time this summer. “I’d practice there every day if they let me,” he said. He will conduct a “tamed-down” rehearsal scrimmage Friday.
— He said he will have a “pretty good idea” of the freshmen who will play this season after watching and evaluating video of Saturday’s proceedings. Count on Henderson and Whitehead being among them. Running back Darrin Hall and wide receiver Tre Tipton have opened some eyes, too.
— The voluntary departure of redshirt freshman defensive end Hez Trahan opens up a scholarship, leaving Pitt four short of the NCAA-mandated 85 limit. Asked if any walk-ons will be rewarded next week, Narduzzi said, “Maybe.”

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August 21, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Narduzzi schedules light practice the day before Saturday’s scrimmage

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Pitt’s players caught a break Friday, taking off the heavy pads, wearing shorts and getting a lighter, shorter workout from coach Pat Narduzzi the day before Saturday’s scrimmage, the second of the summer.
“Trying to keep them off the ground and get after it (Saturday),” he said.
Couple notes:
— Redshirt freshman running back Qadree Ollison has returned to practice after missing a few days with a hand injury.
Coaches were careful to limit Ollison’s contact while he had stitches protecting his wound, but it may not have been necessary.
“At times, we put a yellow jersey on him; we’re not supposed to hit him,” Narduzzi said. “He’s trying to hit us. It’s a good thing. He’s not afraid of contact.”
Chris James is “a little bit dinged,” according to the coach, but the injury is not considered serious.
Meanwhile, Narduzzi said junior Rachid Ibrahim and freshman Darrin Hall have practiced well. Hall, in fact, has had “a great camp,” the coach said.
— What about center Artie Rowell, who hasn’t practiced all week?
“I don’t know,” Narduzzi said. “We’re going to be careful with everybody. Just be smart. I want him on game day.”
— Also on the injury front, Narduzzi said he has a sore back after staying in Sutherland Hall with his players the past two weeks. He also said he banged his elbow against a wall (no other details, sorry).
“I had to see the trainer,” he said. “I’m kind of limited, but you can’t tell.”
He seemed relieved that Friday will be his final night away from home as the student body starts to move onto campus.
“I have one more night in the dorm,” he said.

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August 20, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Narduzzi says most injuries are minor (even when Render’s arm is in a sling)

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Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has emphasized almost every day for the first two weeks of training camp that every injury – other than offensive tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith’s season-ending knee injury – is minor in scope and barely worth mentioning.
Such is the case, he said, with senior defensive tackle Darryl Render, who showed up Thursday morning with his left arm in a sling.
“It’s a day-to-day thing,” Narduzzi said. “Darryl will be fine.”
For the record, Narduzzi said he considers Render, Tyrique Jarrett and K.K. Mosley-Smith as “starters” at defensive tackle, even though only two will play at a time.
Running back Chris James was not wearing the boot he had on his left leg earlier this week and was dressed in full gear.
Narduzzi also talked about using practice time Thursday to prepare for the Youngstown State opener Sept. 5. Next week, coaches will devote some time to Georgia Tech’s option run game, even though that game is Oct. 17.
“We will start to introduce our Rocks (scout team) to offense and defense,” Narduzzi said.
He has some familiarity with YSU coach Bo Pelini, the former coach at Nebraska who also was a Narduzzi rival when both played high school football in Youngstown. Plus, Narduzzi coached with and against YSU offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery, who (apropos to nothing) tutored Ben Roethlisberger at Miami (Ohio).
“I kind of have an idea what he likes to do,” he said.
In other news, Pitt had five former players named to the Football Writers Association of America’s 75th anniversary All-America team: Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Larry Fitzgerald, Hugh Green and Bill Fralic.
Only Nebraska (six) has more. Ohio State also has five.

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August 19, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Chaney removes all current doubt (if there ever was any): Voytik is Pitt’s starting quarterback

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I guess a bit of news erupted from the post-practice media scrum at Pitt early Wednesday afternoon:
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said Chad Voytik is the starting quarterback. Huh? Didn’t everyone know that?
Apparently not, because backup Nathan Peterman has a history with Chaney at Tennessee, and you know how everyone loves a quarterback controversy. Plus, Peterman is having a good camp, and gives Pitt someone it hasn’t had in a long time — a backup quarterback coaches can actually trust.
But no controversy existed as of Wednesday, and I doubt one will develop at all this season, unless Voytik struggles after several games.
Here’s what Chaney said:
“Here’s the deal. Chad is the incumbent starting quarterback and remains the starting quarterback at Pitt. Right now, there are three other people (Peterman, Adam Bertke and Ben DiNucci) in my room who are fighting their butts off to take his job. And next year, there will be an incumbent starting quarterback and everybody will be trying to take his job.
“Nothing is going to change. There is competition in that room and we’ll continue on. As we sit here today, Chad is still the starting quarterback at Pitt. There you go.”
I’ll have more on the quarterback situation at Pitt in my story that will appear on Triblive.com Wednesday night or Thursday morning.
Before Chaney spoke, the most notable event at Pitt practice (Day No. 11) was not James Conner and Tyler Boyd and defensive ends Shakir Soto and Ejuan Price trading jerseys in an attempt to … well, I’m not sure what the intent was.
Before all the typical tackling, field-goal kicking and punt return drills that make up the bulk of the 30-minute open period, coach Pat Narduzzi was asked if any wide receivers were separating themselves in the competition to backup Boyd and Dontez Ford.
A bit surprisingly, he mentioned two freshmen.
“The one guy you constantly notice … Tre Tipton, him and Quadree Henderson, both, have got a chance,” Narduzzi said. “They haven’t hit the wall after 10 practices so far … which is really impressive at this point.
“They’ve done a nice job and they’ve shown that they have a chance to play for us this year.”
What does that mean?
Narduzzi’s remarks are significant because camp has hit the halfway mark, and Tipton and Henderson have shown they can handle the playbook installations and physicality. That doesn’t mean they are immune to struggles later this week or next, but it also indicates a stiff competition is developing.
Chaney said Pitt probably will dress seven or eight wide receivers on game day. But how many of those will be actual targets? I’m guessing no more than five or six. (Don’t forget about the tight ends and Pitt’s intended use of Conner in the passing game). If Tipton and Henderson continue to progress, that only leaves one or two significant spots for the older wide receivers.
On the injury front, Narduzzi said he will continue to be cautious with center Artie Rowell (recovering from knee surgery) and backup running back Chris James (left leg).
“Artie, he’s a good football player and has great knowledge of the game, smart up front,” Narduzzi said. “So he knows what he’s doing. I’m not going to press him back.”

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August 18, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt enters 10th day of training camp a little “banged-up”

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Pitt entered its 10th day of summer training camp Tuesday morning — about 12 hours after concluding the first of the two-a-days Monday night — and there were several players wearing the orange jerseys that indicate injuries.
Coach Pat Narduzzi told reporters that none of the injuries are serious enough to extend into the regular season, which is only 18 days ahead.
“Par for the course,” he said. “You are always a little banged-up at this point. A lot of guys are working through it.”
Among the injured are senior center Artie Rowell, who is recovering from knee surgery that ended his 2014 season after two games. Backup running back Chris James also wore a boot on his left leg.
“Chris tweaked something (Monday) night,” Narduzzi said, declining to elaborate on any of the injuries.
Monday, offensive right tackle Alex Bookser and outside linebacker Nicholas Grigsby were limited.
Leave it to Narduzzi to find some hope in the situation, pointing to the opportunity Grigsby’s injury handed to walk-on linebacker Matt Steinbeck, a North Allegheny graduate who transferred from Bucknell. He had a pick six in the scrimmage Saturday.
“(Grigsby) was practicing good,” Narduzzi said. “He tweaked something. I’ve seen enough for a couple days. Let’s not let it get worse.
“You hold (Grigsby) out a little bit, you get to see more of what the other guys do.”
Same goes for converted tight end Brian O’Neill at tackle, freshman Darrin Hall at running back and guards Carson Baker and Mike Herndon. Right guard Alex Officer presumably will fill in for Rowell at center, although reporters are typically not permitted to watch 11-on-11 drills.

Monday marked the first of Pitt’s four two-a-day sessions. The number of those are dwindling at programs around the country, with increased concern about injuries. In fact, Narduzzi remembers when teams held three-a-days.
“Sometimes, it’s just wearing the guys out,” he said, “but there’s a lot of teaching to do, too.”

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August 18, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Shady Side’s Havern notices a difference at Pitt

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I had an interesting conversation Monday with Shady Side Academy football coach and former Pitt quarterback Dave Havern, and I’m sorry to say I forgot to ask him about the Havern-to-Harry-Orzulak passing combination of 1968 or the Havern-to-Joel Klimek connection of 1971.
Maybe next time, but Havern did have some insights into the latest change in the Pitt coaching staff. For the record, Pat Narduzzi is the 12th new coach at Pitt since Johnny Majors in 1973 (counting Majors twice).
Havern has two of his former players at Pitt (safety Reggie Mitchell and nickel back Dennis Briggs), and he is a frequent visitor to practice. So, his voice resonates with some authority.
“No knock on coach (Paul Chryst), but these guys are serious dudes,” Havern said. “I like what I’ve seen so far.”
That said, Havern credits Chryst for leaving the program in good shape.
“Coach Chryst did a good job of stabilizing the program,” he said. “I think Pat found it a little more stocked than Paul did.”
But Havern said there is a difference with Narduzzi.
“There is a little more intensity.”
By the way, Havern had a few choice comments for my story on Briggs and Pitt’s defensive backfield. And for your viewing pleasure (I hope) …

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August 14, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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What would training camp be without a few position battles?

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Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is no different than any coach in how he views training camp position battles:
No job is safe.
“If you are a backup, you are competing,” he said.
But when asked about specific and significant battles Friday morning before the first full-padded practice of the summer, he pointed to defensive end, boundary (strong) safety and wide receiver.
At end, Narduzzi needs at least a one-game replacement for Rori Blair (suspended for the opener), and Shakir Soto and senior Ejuan Price look like the early favorites at the bookend spots. Don’t count out JC transfer Allen Edwards, who hasn’t disappointed Narduzzi as a pass rusher. Redshirt freshman James Folston, who moved from middle linebacker, is also learning the position.
Strong safeties Jevonte Pitts and Patrick Amara are competing neck-and-neck, with freshman Jordan Whitehead not far behind. I’d give Pitts the early edge, but Amara has plenty of time to catch up after missing most of the spring with an injury. And I believe coaches will find some role for Whitehead in the secondary — even if it’s only as a key backup.
Wide receiver is also unsettled, but I keep thinking Elijah Zeise and Zach Challingsworth have a good chance to garner playing time, either opposite starter Dontez Ford or behind him. Junior college transfer Rafael Araujo-Lopes has been temporarily set back by an injury.
Meanwhile, Narduzzi — for the second time this week — made sure he mentioned Mike Caprara when he referenced outside linebackers. Caprara is in a fight with Bam Bradley, but coaches will find a way to use Caprara, whether he’s a starter or not. The junior from Woodland Hills is always around the ball.
Sophomore middle linebacker Quintin Wirginis is in a similar situation — behind a veteran (Matt Galambos), but too good to leave off the field for an extended period.
By the way, freshman outside linebackers Anthony McKee and Saleem Brightwell are opening some eyes among coaches. Enough for them to play a little this season? That will be determined in the next two weeks of camp.
When asked about the running backs behind James Conner, Narduzzi mentioned Rachid Ibrahim, Chris James and freshman Darrin Hall.
“We like to travel with four tailbacks,” he said. “We have four right now I could see being on that bus every week.”
Of Hall, he said, “He hasn’t backed down a bit.”
After practice, running backs coach Andre Powell said of Hall: “Yesterday, he looked like he might be a guy who can play a lot for us this year. Today, he looked like, I don’t know.”
Powell added that Hall’s work ethic and willingness to learn will serve him well.

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