Pitt had its annual Fall Camp Media Day today and it was fun, and pretty relaxing actually considering you could take a three hour nap between the Photo Ops practice window that ended at 10:30 am and the Narduzzi press conference that began at 1:30 (video below).
Both Camp and Watts are pretty big boys for just out of HS. Camp is 6’4″ and 275 (more) and Watts weights in at 270 on a 6’3″ frame. They look bigger in some ways then they look smaller at others… when I stand next to them they look short next to my 6’6″, then over with the RBs and LBs they look huge.
There was one drill where two tackling dummies were placed at the same width two opposite OL would line up. Then a DL would come off the snap, hard block the right dummy and hand push-off the left dummy while a LB followed through, trailing close behind him for a clearer shot at the RB/QB.
Watts really impressed in that drill and is very quick off the snap. In conversations I had I firmly think we’ll see a lot more of both kids play this year… more so than I had before. The DL is that thin – and publicly stated as such by Narduzzi in his presser. The consensus is that we’ll be rotating the DL a lot this season and more on that later.
I went over to watch some LB drills and have to say that Zeise looks too thin to be out there at this stage in his career but he impresses with his smarts and his speed. I think he’s a legit 6’2″ but his listed weight of 225 may be a stretch.
Really, that was about it as far as the kids running and jumping. After that long break we gathered in the player’s meeting room for HCPN’s presser.
Narduzzi started off by mentioning that the program has a “Unity Council” whose seniors in membership (five of them) are called “Eagles”. There was a bit of confusion as to who was exactly on it… but it was great, dammit! Interesting point was that the Council is voted in and everyone but the true FR gets two votes while they get one because they don’t know anyone yet.
Peterman, Galambos, Bisnowaty, Mitchell and Price were all voted in. No one really explained what the “Unity Council” actually does, but later on when I was interviewing individual players one was pretty honest with me and I said I was going to tell the Unity Council what he just said and he went “Wait!…”
Just kidding him of course… but we really didn’t get a great definition of the group’s purpose.
Narduzzi was asked if the players tended to drop in and talk to him much during the offseason and he said it was mostly for number changes, which I thought was fun… conversations and to just to hang out.
But here is a great thing I learned from WR Zach Challingsworth (more on him later) and one I am proud Narduzzi instituted. There is a prominent sign in a common player’s area (not sure just where) that lists the how many days since a player arrest. Right now it is at 424 days and counting.
What a great thing to emphasize. Challingsworth mentioned it to me when we were discussing the history of problems Pitt had in 2009-10 before he reported aboard. He was very adamant that the teammates looked out for each other – and that this staff has a zero tolerance toward indiscretions. Music to my ears.
Back to the presser – Narduzzi made it a point to mention that the defense was more familiar and comfortable with the defensive schemes Conklin has instituted. He pointed to a large “KNOWLEDGE” sign in the back of the room and made a point to single out both Garner and Damar Hamlin making ‘calls’ that a true FR shouldn’t really know how to make yet.
Someone asked him how involved he would be with this season’s offense – which raised a few eyebrows, Narduzzi’s included. You would have though the question would have been phrased in a defense reference. Anyway, he said that aside from the normal HC calls, like a conversion on 4th down, he leaves it up to the coordinators.
Speaking of coordinators, he made a point to say that we had a OC who he was more knowledgeable of this year (Canada). Last year he had said that he didn’t know Jim Chaney all that well before he hired him. Although he did say that the offensive philosophies were similar…?? Whaaa? I hope not.
Another strange question, sort of, was ‘if everyone says it takes three or four years for a new HC to be successful (mainly having his own players) why does Narduzzi think he can do it in two’.
Narduzzi was taken aback a bit and said “Why not two years…?“. You knew he wasn’t about to say anything different there. He said we were six points away from the championships last year so why not capitalize now. I think the questioner meant something different and phrased it incorrectly.
For motivation last year the catch phrase was “Earn the Jersey” and now it is “Pursuit” and is on all the kid’s t-shirts.
At the 11:40 point in the presser video below I asked my first question. It was the best of the afternoon. Yes, everyone said so, so it’s true. I asked him “Just who do you think you are with your top-secret practices? I happen to still hold clearances that would make your head spin”
Wait, I forgot to ask that one.
Instead I followed up a point he made the last week in that he said the team was tired at the end of last season thus it helped contributed to the two season ending losses. So I asked what could he do this season to make sure that didn’t happen – change practices, sit players more, less weight room, etc.
His answer was short and simple – and it was that there was no depth last season at any position save RB so there was no real rotation of positions. He referenced the fact that we had the same five OL out there all year since Jones-Smith was hurt there was no one else good enough to rotate in. Looking back I see that also.
He also mentioned the depth at DL being an issue last season, especially at DE, and that Hendrix and Folston will help that now. As mentioned above the DL will be in the conversation and is a big concern this camp. He made a very good point in the balancing of keeping players rested – “fresh” was the word he used and keeping them sharp and ready to play but that the best thing was to have more depth to rotate – which we do have this season.
Really, that is where the last year’s recruiting class, and this year’s to some extent also, come in. It was a good 2016 class and now they are our 2nd and 3rd string players who can contribute. Throw a starter in there with Hamlin maybe but I think that won’t be right away.
At LB Bradley has been moved over to compete with Ziese also, so it looks like Caprara is set on the other side of Galambos… unless a LB shoots skyward out of nowhere.
When Narduzzi was asked about not having a great record at home last season (3-3) he stated that his intent this season is to get the kids over to Heinz Field more often to practice on their “home turf”. They were at Heinz three times this spring and then won the spring game against themselves so who knows, maybe it does help?
I ‘m a skeptic… but he’s adamant.
I also asked what the differences were that he saw between the ACC offenses and the Big 10 offenses he was so accustom to now that he’s been here a full year and he said – in a nut shell – there were none. OK. That kind of makes sense and he mentioned that
When asked about Whitehead he said that Whitehead was bigger, stronger, faster and that “he needs to play more within the framework of the defense“. Meaning, I think, that Whitehead’s aggressiveness (mark of a good player) led to some big gains behind him.
He was asked about the slow starts in some of the losses we had – if you remember I posted Chris Peak’s podcast where he discussed just that issue. One thing that stuck out was that there is a ‘fire hose’ of info going into the different units at the half – the time is so short, 20 minutes, that it is very hectic.
So adjustments aren’t like what we think they are where a staff coach and the players sit down and actually discuss anything.
BTW – do you know why college halftimes are 20 minutes and the NFL is 15 minutes? Because in the past the college halftimes usually had bands from both schools out there playing their tunes.
Bradley has been moved over to the star LB and Nate Peterman has gained respect “the Right Way” and I have no idea what that means.
After the presser we had some time to kill before the offensive coaches came out for a 15 minute interview period. The media department did something new this year in that they took one of the bigger facility rooms and put about 9 or 10 round tables in it and had the coaches first, and then the players, sit there and we media types could just bounce from table to table asking questions at will.
I think it worked out really well for a few reasons, one is that it was less formal than having one guy at a time being asked tons of questions by a mob.
You guys know my style as a writer. I’m not one for formality or actual ‘ interviews’ but feel real conversations are much better, so that’s what I did and some of them were very interesting.
For instance, I shared a table with rsJR WR Zach Challingsworth and rsSR Dontez Ford for about 15 minutes with no other media around. Great kids and very honest. We discussed Boyd’s departure (some party line spouted there but not much) but also there was a real sense that they are relieved to have him gone so they can carry the load now.
Challingsworth is a trip and engages right into conversation. I had a long talk with him about the fans looking at him and thinking “White Receiver = Slow” (those are my words not his) and he laughed and agreed. His pride showed when I mentioned his 40 time and he said that he just posted a 4.5… again.
Here is what Challingsworth has done for us and remember as a rsJR we get him for the next two years and I think he’ll blossom into a very good receiver for us:
I also told him that I watched some of his old BB tapes (I played for years also) and particularly like his ‘spin no-look’ and he knew just what play I meant.
Ford and I talked about his fleeting up to the #1 WR spot – he didn’t disagree, but said that he hadn’t earned it 100% yet which was pretty humble considering he’s going to be there and everyone knows it. I told him the fans and I were impressed with his yards after the catch; then asked if the phrase “19.4” meant any I anything to him and his eyes lit up. That was his yards per catch average in 2015.
Here are Ford’s stats at Pitt:
Then we three talked about Boyd’s last season and I mentioned that I felt Boyd’s production was going to be eclipsed by those two along with the other WRs and TEs we’ll have catching passes. They agreed heartily and showed what I though was true confidence that our passing game was going to surprise. They also had good words to the underclass receivers already here mentioning rsFR Tre Tipton especially.
You’ll remember that Tipton played in the first four games last year as a true FR before being injured.
One point Ford made to me was that while they learned a lot from Boyd… “Boyd learned a lot from us also.” I won’t sit here and tell you that the players I talked with missed Boyd terribly because that wasn’t the sense I got at all – and it wasn’t shown in a catty or bitchy way either.
Here’s an example – at both table of receivers I talked with I mentioned ‘the elephant in the room‘ comparison to Boyd and his being gone and each one looked straight at me like that hit the nail exactly on the head and agreed.
Bottom line – after talking with Coach Sherman and those four receivers, and telling of my public beer bet to all that our passing game would beat the stats Palko put up in his ‘best’ year – which was his 2871 yards and 25 TDs, they all smiled and agreed that could easily happen. Except Sherman who said “That’s possible“.
I have a pretty good bullshit alarm and it wasn’t going off. I did ask Sherman about the mentions of a 60/40 split in playcalling and he said to the effect ‘Huh, they think we’re going to pass 60% of the time?’ It is obvious he wants the ball in the air.
My interview with Nate Peterman was very stifled though. He is somewhat robotic when talking with someone he’s not familiar with. I didn’t stay with him too long but mentioned that I had written extensively that he wasn’t brought in to be the back-up as almost all fans though last summer and he said ‘I know, I read that a lot’, his meaning the media reports of his transfer in at the time.
I mentioned my Palko/beer bet with him also and his reaction was kind of funny in that he smiled and said “Wow“. Wow – like someone would make a bet like, that not that he couldn’t do it. Here is his stat line from last season:
He’s a confident young man also (I think). Hard to get an actual conversation going with him unlike the others I spoke with.
Speaking of 40 yard dash the team just ran – two best times on the RBs side were Moss and Ollison. When they talk about Ollison changing his body type they mean losing the pudge and replacing it with muscle and you can see right away he’s done that. I learned that talking with Andre Powell the RBs coach.
Powell’s a funny guy and makes you smile even while he’s talking in circles. He’s the type that talks with you and never really gets to any real revelation point. Not bad though, just if you were in a bar and overheard him talking about the running backs you might want to walk up behind him, slap the back of his head and tell him “Get to the point will you!” In a nice way that is – he’d a pretty big guy.
When asked about the published two-deep he said he hadn’t seen it yet and that “My two-deep may not be their two-deep” and after looking at it said… “that’s interesting“.
But he made an excellent point in talking about that unit’s depth and about how last season we started with a full house in Conner, Ibrahim, James, Ollison and Hall. Then due to circumstances we ended up with Ollison being the lead runner with Hall as a back-up for all intents and purposes. James got a few carries there at the end but not many.
I think that was part of Powell’s mentioning of Moss so often – that the emphasis will be on RB depth and some rotations.
This year we’ll start out with the same cast of characters, (-) James, (+) Moss, and who knows what we’ll see as the season progresses. He did mention a few times that Moss was very impressive, so I think we’ll see the kid out there and returning kicks also. Other kick returners will be Henderson, Maddox and then he threw in Conner’s name which makes my point above – you can’t tell if he’s joking or not.
Speaking of Conner, I didn’t talk with him because everything I wanted to know really wasn’t football related and quite honestly I’m more interested in the players we don’t know everything about.
When I walked away from Coach Powell’s table I got the feeling that Ollison had some sort of shallow hole to get out of to become one of the featured backs again. That might have been just a sense I have but in the spring when Narduzzi was asked about the RBs he did state that” I’m guessing he (Ibrahim) probably would have been the starting tailback and we wouldn’t have even known who Qadree Ollison is if he hadn’t gotten hurt.”
That was kind of strange to me but then again let me put that in context. Narduzzi was talking about how much Ibrahim had impressed the staff last season, enough to be the starting tailback apparently, before he was hurt and that through that series of injuries to him and Conner Ollison got his shot.
I also sat down with TE’s Scott Orndoff and Jaymar Parrish, both true SRs, and told Parrish that some fans wanted him back at FB last year, which I think made his day. He obviously loved running in front of Conner two years ago and he’s missing that position but says he’s looking forward to ’16 also.
Parrish is a really nice kid, honest about his time at Pitt and very personable. I hope that he can get the ball sometime this season. He had one reception last year but touched the ball more previously as you can see here:
I discussed with Orndoff the fact that he was used as a receiver a lot last year – 13 catches for 244 yards and 5 TDs… at a 18.8 ypc clip. He’s proud of that and I asked if we’d see him split out more now that the receiving corps is different and he was pretty excited about it and that it will happen.
I asked about his being drafted after this season and as I suspected he didn’t really say much but I pointed out that at 6’5″ and 265 he has the size for it. He’s done well moving the ball forward when he gets the chance:
Every kid I talked to was a pleasure to be with as I said. They discussed academics and, like Challingsworth pointed out, that the team was together in taking care of each other.
I also didn’t get any sense that they were told what to say or not say which I also appreciated. I’m not sharing every details of the conversations because that’s what they were – conversations vice interviews – so there is a semblance of privacy owed to them in my mind.
It was a good afternoon and I think the Pitt Media Dept. did a great job with the coaches players availability and with that new format. The players were all JRs and SRs on offense I believe… except for rsSO OL Brian O’Neill – I told him he was looking too thin and to get his ass into the weight room… which he doesn’t need at all. He is one big player and our next ‘star’ lineman IMO.
I didn’t stick around for the defensive coaches and players as I had to go help a friend arrange a funeral – which was going from one great fun thing to the other extreme in about 30 minutes flat.
Here is Narduzzi’s full press conference:
Last Note: With all the renovations to the Southside facility there is only one set of restrooms and they are on the 2nd floor way in the back. Of course when you try to walk back there six people jump out of various offices asking you why you are there.
There used to be a restroom up front that had door to Pitt’s side and a door to the Steeler’s side but the NCAA determined it was a violation and made Pitt get rid of it. Funny huh?
I’ll try to get something up tomorrow but have those other obligations I just mentioned so it might not happen.