Pitt entered its final week of spring ball Tuesday morning, and coach Pat Narduzzi took advantage of the weather and worked his players outside on the South Side fields.
There’s been some buzz about the increased depth and speed on defense, and defensive coordinator Josh Conklin got a chance to look at some of it.
Of particular interest, to me (at least), is how junior Phillipie Motley continues to hang on to one starting job at cornerback. Motley is older and more experienced than players such as Damar Hamlin and Therran Coleman. Sophomore Dane Jackson, though, started three games last season to Motley’s two and had double the pass breakups (4/2).
That’s the key stat — PBUs. Narduzzi said he has seen a lot of plays on the ball from Motley. He said Coleman and Jackson are pushing Motley, and two-way player Maurice Ffrench lingers in the defensive shadows. He has played more wide receiver recently, but he got some reps on defense in the scrimmage Saturday.
Cornerback is another example of what more bodies can mean to a defense. Injuries will happen and Pitt seems better equipped to handle them than in the past.
Ditto on the defensive line where ends Allen Edwards and James Folston are getting significant work, some of it with the first team. I believe Dewayne Hendrix and Rori Blair will be the starting ends, but I’m sure line coach Charlie Partridge will want to rotate several linemen, especially on the potentially warm September Saturdays when Pitt plays Penn State, Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech back-to-back-to-back.
Narduzzi said young tackles Keyshawn Camp and Amir Watts “are bouncing back and forth as far as who’s running with the (first team).” He said he considers both of them starters next to Jeremiah Taleni.
Redshirt freshman Chase Pine, a middle linebacker, has been moved into multiple spots on the defense where he might be able to help as a pass rusher. He could assume the third-down role held last year by Quintin Wirginis, now starting in the middle. Wirginis is flanked by outside linebackers Sean Idowu and Saleem Brightwell.
Coaches are pleased with the development of linebackers Pine, Anthony McKee and Elijah Zeise.
Said Narduzzi: “Elijah Zeise has had a really good spring. I mean really good.”
McKee was a highly regarded recruit who’s been on the sideline for two seasons, but Narduzzi said he’s getting better.
“He’s a sleeper. Obviously, you never give up on guys, but he’s a guy who’s come a long way. He’s going to play a lot of football for us.
“Some guys pick it up at different times. That’s part of the process. Coach (Mark) Dantonio (Michigan State) always said, `Don’t throw your trash out.’ ”
No matter how much happy talk is released this time of year, fans shouldn’t get too excited about spring ball. Maybe that’s just me being a cynic, but playing against your friend is different than playing against Penn State.
Plus, it’s more than three months to August and there is so much room and time for improvement — self-improvement, actually.
What happens Saturday at Heinz Field in the spring game will be important, but a good summer (when coaches aren’t around) matters just as much.
Although I couldn’t see much, the players seemed to enjoy the bull-in-the-ring session this morning. It’s a classic drill where the team forms a circle around two players who try to push each other into the crowd in a battle of wills as much as strength.
It drives the energy and competition (it’s usually offense vs. defense), which is why Narduzzi likes it.
Quick note: on the 134-play scrimmage last Saturday. It went into overtime — “Unplanned,” Narduzzi said — and was won by the offense on a touchdown pass from Ben DiNucci to walk-on tight end Drew Schifino, who is getting a lot of work due to graduations and injuries.
“Probably one of the best scrimmages I’ve been around,” Narduzzi said.