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September 16, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Busy week at Pitt, and we’re not just talking about the quarterbacks

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There was so much going on at Pitt this week — with the changing shape of the quarterback position, the adjustment at running back caused by James Conner’s injury and ensuing rehab and the first Power 5 game of coach Pat Narduzzi’s tenure upcoming Saturday at Iowa — few noticed an equally important issue.
Narduzzi still isn’t sure about his offensive line.
It looks like junior Adam Bisnowaty, who’s had a slow start to his season due to injury, is healthy enough to return to his accustomed position at left tackle. That’s a big help.
But Narduzzi continues to tinker with the rest of the line. Apparently, he likes former right tackle Alex Bookser better as a guard, and he still has high hopes for former tight end Brian O’Neill as a tackle.
So, there’s been a bit of experimenting, with coaches moving Bookser to right guard, replacing Alex Officer, and O’Neill replacing Bookser at right tackle. Bookser and O’Neill are both redshirt freshmen, but that doesn’t seem to bother Narduzzi.
Will that be how things look Saturday at Iowa? Only Narduzzi and line coach John Peterson know for sure.
But the best bit of news is the presence of veterans Bisnowaty, left guard Dorian Johnson and center Artie Rowell. Three-fifths of the line is solid and experienced; Narduzzi will keep trying to find the right combination for the other two-fifths.
Meanwhile, for more on the state of the Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia programs, feel free to listen to the Wednesday, Sept. 16, edition of the College Football Locker Room on Trib Live Radio.

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September 10, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Narduzzi confident Bisnowaty, James will play against Akron

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Pitt loose ends as we head into the end of the week and the second game of the season:
Coach Pat Narduzzi seems confident — at least he did Wednesday — that offensive right tackle Adam Bisnowaty and backup running back Chris James will be ready to go. Both are hobbled by injuries and did not play the entire game Saturday.
In fact, he said on the ACC coaches conference call: “Bis will be ready to go.”
Of James, he said, “James will go. I can tell you that right now.”
Still, Narduzzi wanted a bit more insurance at running back so he moved senior Jameel Poteat from linebacker to help back up Qadree Ollison, James and freshman Darrin Hall. Poteat, who missed most of training camp with an undisclosed injury, is a transfer from Stony Brook (N.Y.) where he played running back.
Narduzzi also said he will give Nathan Peterman more work Saturday as starting quarterback Chad Voytik’s backup.
Asked if that throws off his rhythm, Voytik did not dispute the suggestion. “It hard to say. But I respect his decision. I just want to make the most of my time. If Nate coming in is best for the team, so be it. I’m all for it.
“I’m not sure what their plan is. I’m not in that discussion.”

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September 9, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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The loss of Conner is only one of Pitt’s problems

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I’ve waited a few days to weigh in on the latest drama involving the Pitt football program because I wasn’t sure — and still am not sure — how the loss of running back James Conner will play out.
First and foremost, you feel bad for Conner, one of the hardest workers on the team, a fine gentleman and a good example for young people. He prepared for this season as hard as any athlete I’ve seen in my 16 years of beat work (11 with the Steelers) to the point that he didn’t even have a piece of cake on his birthday.
But, for Pitt, it could be worse.
Pitt has other running backs who look like they will be productive. No one knows if it’s realistic to expect Qadree Ollison to do the same thing to Virginia Tech that he did to Youngstown State, but at least he now has a resume. Chris James played well as a freshman, and looks to be recovered from whatever injury pushed him to the sideline Saturday.
Pitt could have other serious problems, including the potential loss of free safety Reggie Mitchell, who missed the entire second half against YSU with an undisclosed injury. With his athletic ability and sharp mind, Mitchell is nearly as important to the defense as Conner is to the offense.
Narduzzi said Mitchell’s availability against Akron on Saturday night will be a game-time decision. To me, that sounds like a no, but I have an open mind on the subject.
The other problem that cropped up — and Bob Cohn, John Harris and I talked about them all from 1-2 p.m. Wednesday on the College Locker Room show on Trib Live Radio — is the lack of complements at wide receiver.
I’ve written plenty of words — probably too many — on the inexperienced backups behind All-ACC wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who returns this week from a one-game suspension. Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik completed only nine passes for 72 yards. That’s 8 yards per catch — not enough for Pitt to defeat a real team.
No one caught more than two passes.
You would think Voytik would have one of his best games against an FCS opponent. Instead, he threw for only 72 against YSU — a career low.
Voytik’s biggest problem was Boyd’s absence, so it’s only fair to withhold judgment until after the Akron game. Voytik has the control to the video machine in his hands more than he does a football, so no need to worry about a lack of preparation on his part.
But if I was a Pitt fan, I’d be worried about my team. The defense and passing game need work and now there’s no Conner.
I’ll predict Pitt 31, Akron 20. Watch, but don’t bet on Pitt, an 18 1/2-point favorite.

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September 4, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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On eve of new Pitt season, Donald lines up in support of Narduzzi

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He was recruited and coached by Dave Wannstedt, teased by Michael Haywood and played for Todd Graham and Paul Chryst.
If anyone knows the recent history of Pitt and its football coaches, it’s former All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Now entering his second season with the St. Louis Rams, Donald keeps a close watch on what’s happening at Pitt. He was an honorary coach, along with Larry Fitzgerald, at this year’s spring game. Plus, he’s only a text message away for many current players looking to tap into some of his experience and knowledge.
Donald, who was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2014, was asked recently about Pitt’s opener Saturday against Youngstown State. He wasn’t quick to spout blind praise for his former teammates. But he does like what coach Pat Narduzzi has done in his first eight months on the job.
“Those first games are hard. So, I don’t know what to think,” Donald said.
“I can tell you this: I like that coach. I really like that coach. I really, really like what he’s been doing. We’ve talked a few times and I’ve talked to some people, and he definitely seems like the type of guy I would have loved to play for. So, no matter what, they’re going in a real good direction.”

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September 3, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Final thoughts before opening day

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In his final media briefing before the opener Saturday at Heinz Field against Youngstown State, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi gave little solid insight into how he plans to handle his personnel. So, I guess I’ll just have to guess.
Actually, I think I know what he’s thinking.
Injuries (officially undisclosed) to senior center Artie Rowell and junior offensive left tackle Adam Bisnowaty , an All-ACC preseason pick, threaten to alter the configuration of the line, possibly putting two redshirt freshmen in the starting lineup.
Narduzzi said Brian O’Neill and Alex Bookser will be prepared, but without Rowell and Bisnowaty, Pitt will not field its best offensive line.
Narduzzi doesn’t like to talk about injuries. He has told me that opposing teams try to target a player’s injured body part, perhaps even stepping forcefully on somebody’s sore foot when the official isn’t looking. Todd Graham told me the same thing.
Narduzzi claims Bisnowaty and Rowell can play, if necessary, but he probably wants to see if he can get by without them. Let’s say Pitt jumps out to a big lead. What better opportunity to give his injured players, including defensive tackle Darryl Render, another week to rest?
On the other hand, what if YSU’s formidable (by FCS standards) defensive line is having its way with Pitt’s young linemen? It’s not a bad idea to keep Rowell and Bisnowaty in pads and helmets, just in case.
On defense, freshman safety Jordan Whitehead won’t be in the starting lineup, according to what Narduzzi told us Thursday, but he will play. He may be the first defensive back off the bench, replacing Patrick Amara in passing-down situations.
Whitehead will be one of four freshmen on the field, Narduzzi said. Wide receivers Quadree Henderson and Tre Tipton and running back Darrin Hall also won’t wear a redshirt this season.
Narduzzi said Hall’s ball-carrying opportunities may be limited. “No. 24’s pretty good,” he said. (If I have to identify No. 24, you just haven’t been paying attention.)
Also, junior Mike Caprara will start at money (weakside) linebacker after last year’s coaching staff largely ignored him. Caprara, 6-foot, 230 pounds, has worked exceptionally hard for this opportunity. Playing linebacker at his size can’t be easy, but he clearly has earned the coaches’ trust. Coaches, by the way, who didn’t recruit him. Good work, Mike.
That said, Bam Bradley also will play the money position. In fact, Narduzzi said he will use a lot of bodies on a day when temperatures will rise into the mid-80s.
Prediction: Pitt 31, Youngstown State 20

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September 3, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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Shafer may be on kiwi alert when Pitt visits Syracuse

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Clearly, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi and Syracuse’s Scott Shafer are good friends.
Only a solid friendship would withstand the following incident.
During the ACC coaches conference call Wednesday, Stephen Bailey, who covers the Orange for the Syracuse Post-Standard, asked Narduzzi for his best Shafer story.
Narduzzi had a good one.
Back in the mid-1990s, Narduzzi and Shaffer worked together at the University of Rhode Island. (Syracuse opens its season Friday against Rhode Island at the Carrier Dome.) Narduzzi was linebackers coach and Shafer coached the defensive backs.
One day, Donna Narduzzi packed her husband’s lunch, and included a kiwi for dessert.
Shafer saw it, and announced he was allergic to kiwis. Narduzzi didn’t believe him, so he waited until his friend left the room and took a kiwi peel and rubbed it on Shafer’s desk and telephone. (Like any good coach, Narduzzi wanted to see proof with his own eyes.)
When Narduzzi returned to the office after practice, he couldn’t believe what he saw: Shafer’s eyes were swollen shut.
“You’re the defensive backs coach, you would like to see your defensive backs,” Narduzzi said.
The story does have a happy ending. Shafer’s wife Missy was summoned with some Benadryl, but she wasn’t happy about it.
“His wife ripped my butt,” Narduzzi said. “That was the first time I ever got yelled at by the wife of a coach.”
Narduzzi ended the story with a warning for Bailey: “Don’t bring any kiwis into (Shafer’s) press conference.”

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September 2, 2015
by Jerry DiPaola


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College Football Locker Room makes its debut on TribLive Radio.

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I am the last person to talk about myself, but I’ll make an exception this one time:
If you click on this link, you will be greeted by the first College Football Locker Room show on TribLive Radio. I’m proud to say I had a small part in it.
The stars of the show are John Harris, the Trib’s West Virginia football and Pitt basketball beat writer, and Trib Penn State beat writer Bob Cohn.
They let me in for the final half hour to talk Pitt football. I was late for the first show because my duties after Pitt practice spilled over into the show’s start time. But you can count on Harris and Cohn being there from 1-2 p.m. every Wednesday, talking college football from a local and national perspective. They promised to save a seat for me every week.
All we need is a name for the three of us — other than Moe, Larry and Curly.
My pal Chris Peak, whose PantherLair show is heard from 2-3 p.m. Thursday on TribLive Radio, suggested the Triple Option. It’s a show about football. Get it?
I was partial to three-headed monster because we did create our own special brand of chaos on the first show.
Anyway, give it a listen. If you like it, tell your friends.

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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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