Pitt Training Camp: Day One Q and A

Pittsburgh began its first football season under new head coach Pat Narduzzi Monday in the Steel City. Following the workout, Narduzzi and other Panther coaches, as well as some players, spoke about the start of another Pitt football season (all quotes courtesy of Pittsburgh Media Relations)

Head Coach Pat Narduzzi

Opening Statement:

“Well, number one is in the books. I was anxious to get out here, the kids were anxious to get out and get it started. I think it was a solid first day. They came out and had good recall offensively and defensively. You look at what they’ve done, what you’re really trying to do on that first day is break the habits of what they did all summer. They came out [on their own during the summer], they were the coaches; we know how that goes. They were out there, probably, two hours a week running their own drills, running their own offenses and defenses and probably doing it their way, not our way—that’s why they call us ‘Coach.’ Really, the first few days you’re trying to get them back to what we want them to do and the little things right. Overall, a solid practice. Had some nice heat out here today. It’s good to get some heat on them, so, overall, number one is pretty good.”

On if everybody is back from the spring:

“Everybody is back, oh yeah. We have 105 that reported yesterday and everybody was on time.”

On the timetable for safety Pat Amara:

“I expect him to be out there tomorrow. I was expecting him to be out there today, but he had a doctor’s appointment. When the doctors call, they’ve got to go. We just want to make sure he’s 100 percent. Health, and us taking care of those kids is primary. So we wanted to get one more check on him just to make sure he’s right. We thought it was going to be later in the week and our trainer got a call saying, ‘Hey, can we get him in now?’ which is good we’re getting it done quicker. He was back out there the last hour of today’s practice.”

On breaking bad habits and how to do that on the first day:

“It’s just going back to the fundamentals. It’s a game of fundamentals. Whether it’s a DB or receiver, they do their thing during the summer. They’re not running the ball like you like, being a little bit lazy on different techniques, which is easy, they’re doing the drill. They think they’re running that offensive play or that defensive scheme, but they’re not running it as detailed as you want to run it, so we’ve just got to get them back into what we want them to do and not what they like to do, which everywhere I’ve ever been that’s what happens during the summer. We try to break those habits, but its better they’re out there running around.”

On how the newcomers handled the first day:

“I saw some good things there. I’m not going to mention any of them until we have a chance to watch that tape because I’ll miss somebody, but we finished the two-minute with Anthony McKee having a little pick. It was freshman on freshman and I thought [Ben] DiNucci had a nice fade that he completed in the two-minute drill, and I saw Anthony McKee get a nice interception, I think DiNucci threw it. DiNucci had a nice fade and threw it up there and then he came back there and threw a pick six in the two minute. I saw a lot of good things. We’ll check the tape out. You never know until you see the tape.”

On Tyler Boyd and Rori Blair:

“All along, we know on the inside, in our own house here, what we’re going to do. We don’t always tell everybody what’s going on in the family.

“My philosophy as a coach is we’re going to immediately discipline. Well, you can’t immediately say, ‘You’re going to miss the opener’ because it’s not for another three months. So immediately they’re going to get some type of punishment. To me, what really hurts is game time. You only get 12 opportunities and every one of them are precious. So to miss a game, that’s all we need to talk about that. We’re on to the season.”

On special teams:

“We’re going to emphasize every area of special teams. We take it day by day, usually two facets of it a day. Today we worked on punt and kickoff, two different—I want to say defensive plays—because it’s a kickoff and a punt team that involves tackling and covering, so it’s really defense and special teams. So we focus on two of those, which are probably two of the most important plays in football.”

On moving Alex Bookser to right tackle:

“As coaches you’re trying to get your five best players. ‘What’s it going to be today? I don’t know.’ After we all watch practice today, it might change. That’s just where it’s a starting point. We’re going to just move them around a little bit and just try, and tomorrow it could be someone else going out there with that first group, but we’re just trying to find the right chemistry on the offensive line.”

On improving upon an already accomplished offensive unit:

“Everybody can always get better. We can just be more consistent. I think that goes across the board. You can’t have a good play then a bad play, just know what they’re doing and being perfect in everything they do. The attention to detail, it’s a game of inches. It’s the game of football. Everybody can get better. I mean, you can be an All-American and still get a lot better.”

Cornerbacks Coach Renaldo Hill

On the first day of practice:

“It is the first day of camp so you are going to see some things that you don’t like, you are going to see some things that you need to improve, but the one thing that I did like was they went out there and competed hard. We can build on that.”

On the main focus of the initial session:

“I would say coming out here and competing. We didn’t put in a lot on the first day. We figured there would be some kind of recall so we were hoping that guys would go out and fly around today.”

On the players adapting from the spring to now:

“We put a lot of ownership on our seniors this summer on taking over leadership and showing the young guys the right way to do it. It showed today because the young guys went fast and when asked if they had any questions, no hands went up, and that is always a good sign. I thought they went out there and did well. I thought they did their job and we can see some things from film that we can go out here and correct and get those guys better as well.”

On freshman Jordan Whitehead:

“He’s a freshman but he has a lot of talent. You can definitely see that and our job as coaches is to enhance that talent, enhance his understanding of the defense. I’m happy with how the first day of practice went with him. I’m sure he feels encouraged and we can continue to build that confidence to get him playing at his top level.”

Offensive Line Coach John Peterson

On the first day of camp:

“Getting out on the field and running around, sweating and getting the guys where you can actually coach them all amounts to a good first day.”

On the injury to Jaryd Jones-Smith:

“Obviously, anytime you have an injury it causes change, and that’s the nature of what we’re doing. It allowed Alex [Officer] to move and Brian O’Neill to move and created some opportunities for some guys that we had no idea about yet.”

On Brian O’Neill moving from tight end:

“He was a guy that had a finger injury in the spring so we really didn’t know what we were going to get. He’s a committed football player. He’s really changed his body and is buying in to that ‘big-man’ mentality. He did a great job this summer. He committed to dieting and training. I think he’s gained 20-plus pounds.”

On moving Alex Officer to guard:

All of our guys want to cross-train. I think the guards have to know tackles, and tackles have to know the guard and tight end positions. You teach conceptually to where guys can be interchangeable. You want guys to be able to go right or left, guard or tackle, or center to guard.”

On Artie Rowell’s first day of practice since his season-ending injury:

“You can’t think about [the injury]. Just go out there and play the game like you know how to play it, and it looks like he did.”

Running Back James Conner

On whether the team picked up where they should have:

“We did some things right that carried over from the spring, but there are also some things we need to work on moving forward. All in all, it was a good first day.”

On differences between this year and last year:

“We are focusing on special teams a lot more than last year. We think we could have won a couple more games on special teams last year. Other than that, not really. We are a Division I college football team so it is always going to be high tempo, fast-paced and physical.”

On how the freshmen came out today:

“They looked good today. They had their own period and came up with a pick six. Coach [Narduzzi] is going to give them a fair opportunity to play and to show us what they’ve got.”

On screen passes for the tailback:

“Yeah, we are trying to incorporate them in the pass game. Coach [Jim] Chaney is always pulling me aside helping me and giving me advice. He believes in me so it was nice to catch a couple screens today to get my feet wet in the passing game.”

Quarterback Chad Voytik

On the difference with the new coaching staff:

“They both wanted high intensity, any coach would, but I think the difference is that all summer we were together as a team. We prepared for this moment just us players. The transition was a lot smoother, and this first day was a lot smoother because of it.”

On if he feels like Pitt is his team:

“Yeah, I do. I love leading these guys into the huddle, so I’m just enjoying it.”

On how the offense can improve:

“Just continue to grasp this offense. This offense is so great and there’s so much opportunity within it. If we can master it, get a hold of it and make it our own, then we can take off with it for sure.”

On relationships with his teammates:

“You already have that respect from them because you spent a whole year with them. We’re in a position now where it’s our team and it’s time to take it to the next level.”

On switching offensive systems:

“I think Coach [Jim] Chaney is really good about getting more perimeter passes on the roll, that kind of stuff, but also keeping it in the pocket. As far as the concepts go, it’s pretty similar. A lot of stuff carried over from our last offense to this one, except for some different terminology and a few different route combinations. It’s been good. I’ve learned a ton from Coach Chaney as far as how protections and the run game goes and schemes. So, all of that has really been beneficial to me.”

Wide Receiver Tyler Boyd

On being an upperclassman:

“I’m a vet now. I know a lot more. I can coach more and help the younger guys try to excel in the position that I’m playing, so I can get other guys to help play their role. Everybody knows I’m not going to be there for the opener, so somebody will have to step up and fill in my shoes. It’s not all about me. I’m a team player, so I’ll do whatever I have to do to help everybody get better. I just want the whole team to become tighter as a unit and a family.

“I believe in everybody on this team. I don’t feel like they need me to win any games. I know I’m a huge help to the team, but we’ve got guys here. We have athletes with a core of new coaches, so I believe they’re going to put every person in a position to excel.”

On challenging younger receivers:

“It doesn’t matter who it is, but if a guy messes up then I’m going to get on him. I told them if they see me mess up then they should get on me, too. If you drop a ball, you do 10 push-ups, and the same goes for me. All the rules are the same. They know that I’m not trying to down talk them or anything, I’m just trying to make them better.”

On the receiving corps:

“We’re long and athletic. We have more slot players than we did last year, so I think I have a little bit more help inside that can help me move outside and get one-on-one match-ups. As a whole, I feel like the guys we have are more athletic than we had, and we have more guys that are prepared and ready to go.”

On areas he wants to improve:

“My decision making. Not just off the field, but on the field. Also, helping all the other guys, not just the receiving corps, but the whole team getting better daily. I don’t want anyone moping or having guys walk around with their heads down feeling like this is too much or that they can’t handle it. I just want to be there to help guide these guys. It’s a game out here, just have some fun.”

On what the offense is capable of in 2015:

“I feel like we’re going to be the top offense in the ACC. There’s a lot of talk going around saying ‘Clemson is this, Clemson is that.’ They’re high-powered, but so are we. We have me, James [Conner], and we have our three dynamic guys back, too.”

Offensive Lineman Alex Bookser

On playing with an experienced offensive line:

“We are just trying to find the best five guys we can. Coach told us this past week a lot of guys are playing different positions than they were in the summer. I was practicing guard in the summer and now they are asking me to play right tackle, which I played last year so luckily I am pretty comfortable with the switch. At the end of the day, we are looking for the best five guys to put on the field.”

On the difference between playing guard and tackle:

“It all comes down to toughness. When I had to go from tackle to inside, it was so much harder because of the increased physicality and you really have to use your whole body and strength to get your opponent off the line. At tackle, they are smaller guys and you can control them more easily. Going from guard to tackle is easier for me and I feel very comfortable with the transition.”

On blocking for Pitt’s skill players:

“We have three of the best in the country in Chad [Voytik], James [Conner] and Tyler [Boyd]. As long as we do what we are supposed to do, we know they are going to do everything they can to help us win games.”

Cornerback Lafayette Pitts

On his offseason preparation:

“I was putting in extra work—stepping up, trying to become a leader of the team, helping out where I can in the weight room and when we are running. Even off the field, trying to talk to guys and keep them motivated. Letting the young guys know that I’ve been where they have been and where they are trying to play. They can always come to me for help.”

On camp goals for the secondary:

“Just improving, and coming together as a team, making plays. Having the confidence to go out there and just know if you make a mistake that this team has your back. You can always come back and make a play the next play.”

On this year’s defense compared to last year:

“This defense is more of an attitude of us getting on each other and trying to help each other improve. It is us helping each other and pushing each other.”

On playing corner and the responsibility that comes with the position:

“Yes, there is a lot of pressure on us because we play a lot of man. Coach Narduzzi is loading the box up trying to stop the run, and it is a lot of pressure on us to stop the pass on the outside. There will be a lot of one-on-one matchups and it will be fun and challenging, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m a physical corner…getting up and challenging the receiver just athlete against athlete. I really enjoy that and so do the rest of the guys.”

On the secondary as a whole:

“I feel like we are good. We’ve got some young guys but they are improving. We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of work to do but I think by the end of camp we are going to be where we need to be.”

On this being his senior season:

“I don’t want to say there is pressure on myself because it is a team game, so I’m just excited. It is my last year and I’m going to enjoy every moment and I’m going to put in all of my effort to help the guys get better.”