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Pitt Training Camp: Pre and Post-Scrimmage Q and A

Pittsburgh conducted its first scrimmage of training camp Saturday as the Panthers prepare for the upcoming season. Take a look at what Pitt’s head coach Pat Narduzzi and others had to say before the scrimmage on Friday, and then after the scrimmage on Saturday.

Head Coach Pat Narduzzi

Opening Statement:

“The first day of pads, boys put their pants on this morning. We had to teach them this morning how to put their thigh pads in, their knee pads in, buckle up that belt and strap it on. They’re excited to get out here today and get a little contact.”

On if this is when the depth chart considerations begin:

“You can make and think of some depth chart changes even when the shoulder pads are on because there’s some physical play going on. It’s either you make the play or you don’t—especially when you say it’s a live period. Sometimes you give the kid the benefit of the doubt. We don’t want a defensive end to come down the line of scrimmage, reach out and dive for the guy to make a tackle and roll up somebody’s knee. You kind of give them the benefit of the doubt like, ‘Hey, that’s a good play, make sure you get your head across.’ Today, you actually go make those plays. You want to do it with safety in mind, but you’ve got to play the game.”

On Saturday’s scrimmage:

“Tomorrow is a game day. We coach it that way. That’s why we’re getting the opportunity to go over to Heinz Field [in the future] and do a couple as well because I think there’s nothing better than being in the arena. We’re trying to lock our guys into being at a game day. That’s why we call it a jersey scrimmage, they play for the jerseys. The defense is in blue right now and the offense in white. That may flip here as we get after the next scrimmage.”

On if they have practices planned at Heinz Field:

“Yes, we do. I don’t know what they are [dates] right off hand. They’re on my calendar, but we will definitely go down there.”

On if any position battles are standing out to him:

“I think at defensive end there’s a battle going on. I think at boundary safety there’s a battle going on. I think all the receivers are battling at that point. We’re trying to find out who those guys are. Those are the major ones I can think of. At what we call our Money backer, Mike [Caprara] and Bam [Bradley] are really fighting for that spot there as well. I think [Quintin] Wirginis is fighting at the Mike spot. Whether I say it’s a big one or not, if you’re a backup you’re competing.”

On new defensive end Allen Edwards and if he will be in the mix:

“You never know. I walked up and watched him practice at Dean College up in Franklin, Mass., and liked what I saw. I offered him earlier before I got here. You really do like what you see out of him. Today the pads will go on. He’s shown an ability to pass rush, which is what we need and is what we thought he was. We’re looking forward to seeing what he’s got today. He’s definitely got a chance.”

On graduate transfer defensive tackle Mark Scarpinato:

“You see him out there as a smart guy in the pre-snap read and a lot of things that he’s been taught. He’s a guy that’s got ability.”

On if Scarpinato has been instructing others:

“I haven’t seen [instruction] yet because he had a year off. I’m sure he has behind closed doors shown people what’s going on and what to do. He’s also had some busts where I’ve looked at him and said ‘[Scarpinato], what was that?’ He’s done a nice job so far and it will continue to be a work in progress.”

On how Scarpinato looks after a year off:

“He’s not as bad as I would have thought. I’ve seen a fifth-year senior take a year off and then come back for pro day and look awful. That’s what I remembered. That’s the only guy ever in my career I can think of taking a year off. So I was kind of thinking we might get that, but I’ve seen none of that.”

On full contact and who may be limited:

“There will be a couple guys, but I think we’re pretty healthy.”

On the backup running backs:

“Rachid [Ibrahim] has had a great camp so far. Chris James has had a good camp and Darrin Hall has had a good camp so far, so it will be interesting. Darrin Hall, as a rookie, he’s come in here and not backed down from anything. All four of those guys are going to get their shot to get in there. We’d like to travel with four tailbacks. We’ve got four right now that I can see being on that bus every week.”

Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator Andre Powell

On what he’s seen from the running backs so far:

“We’re getting better. We have a lot of volume in—I think they’re a little saturated—but we’re getting better every day. I’ve been very pleased.”

“I think the game slows down for them. Once they get comfortable with all of the calls and all of the signals, it slows down. They’ll continue to get better.”

“All of them have progressed really well. Their overall knowledge is better. They have a little bit better of an understanding of what my expectations are. I’m just trying to get them all to be the best running back they can be.”

On if James Conner is handled differently in practice:

“No, it’s not like that. You just give him all that he needs. We know he’s a good player. He rushed for almost 1,800 yards last year, so we know he’s a good player. You just have to give him enough to get ready, and then you have to give all those other guys enough reps to get them developed.”

On how he’s helping Conner improve:

“We just talk about being a pro. We talk about pro players, but we just teach football. We go in there and we talk about who we’re reading, points of aims, tempos, securing the ball, pass protection and just overall football stuff.”

On if Conner should focus on ball security:

“He needs to. This whole team needs to focus on ball security. If we secure a few balls last year then we would’ve won a couple more ball games. [Ball security] is important for every football team.”

On expectations of players:

“We’re trying to eliminate role players. We’re trying to get our players to be complete players. Then once we start getting into the game plan, we’ll give guys roles. Right now, we just want everybody to learn everything we’re doing, understand the concepts and just play as hard as they can possibly play.”

On Chris James:

“I’ve been very pleased with Chris. Chris has probably, from the spring to now, made more improvements than anybody. He’s really locked in. He’s all in with what he’s doing and he’s running the ball hard.”

Running Back Chris James

On how the first week of camp has been:

“It’s been good. It’s been a lot of learning and putting things together as the season comes around. All the guys are catching on well.”

On how he has improved:

“I’m becoming more patient in the backfield and am starting to get it. I’m not a freshman anymore so it’s time to grow up.”

On passing his knowledge down to freshman Darrin Hall:

“I’m always throwing advice in his ear especially when he gets frustrated. I tell him the blocks may not be there, but you have to make things happen. Last year when I got here I didn’t start right with the ones, I had to work my way up. Every time I see him out there, I tell him I was in his position last year and for him to just keep it easy and understand the playbook.”

On the most important thing he learned from his freshman year:

“I think patience. At times when James [Conner] broke for a long play, I got in there and had a little bit of happy feet and was too all over the place. I had to tell myself to calm down, breathe a little bit, follow your steps, read and play ball. I’m glad I’m starting to understand just to be patient. Once you’re patient everything slows down and the holes are there.”

Defensive Lineman Mark Scarpinato

On the first week of practice:

“Always looking to get better. Still working on those double teams. [The offense] is great at double teams. They’ve been doing it for a long time. At that three position, you really have to get into that guard, so I’m still working on those double teams.

On the Pitt offense:

“I give the offense a ton of credit. They know how to run power, they know how to run ‘iso,’ and they run it really well.

“Every team is different. I just have to give the credit to the offense. They’re really running the ball well and we have to try to stop them. We have to get those pressures. We’ll be stopping them a little more, though.”

On taking reps on the defensive line:

“Nothing at [defensive] end. Tackle and nose, yeah. But I know the defense, so if something happens to them then I can go play end. I’ll play wherever they need me so we can win an ACC championship.”

SATURDAY AUGUST 15 — SCRIMMAGE

Head Coach Pat Narduzzi (Pre-Practice Brief)

On what he looks for during scrimmages:

“It’s game day, it’s a game day atmosphere for our kids. At practice guys are looking to get better every day and everybody’s got to play for a scrimmage. You expect our kids to mentally lock in and get ready for a game. This is our only chance to do that. These are graded harder than a regular scrimmage. You grind every day in a regular scrimmage and this is the game. We expect our guys to go out today just like we prepared them in spring for the scrimmages. It’s show time. It’s time for our guys to go out there and show what they do on game day. We expect to see that when the season starts September 5.”

On if there is more urgency in a fall scrimmage compared to spring:

“For some of the players, I’d say yes and for some of the players, I’d say no. For the coaches, I’d say every practice is important. There are some guys who maybe think they got a spot already in the spring when it’s not as critical and I think that’s the top end guys who think they are starters. Everybody should still be worried about their job, I hope. There’s some guys—I think we all know who they are, maybe starters—who want to get through the spring and stay healthy. I think now guys are saying, ‘I want to make sure I show up on game day and am ready to go and make the university proud.’”

On the wide receivers and their urgency:

“I think (they are sensing the urgency). It’s the same thing, you can catch them in practice, but if you don’t catch them in the game, what does it matter? I’ve seen some good things out of our receivers. I don’t know if it’s a melting pot, but I’ve seen some really good things and we’ll find out what we’ve got today. Every day we get to reevaluate and look. I think we’ve seen what we’ve wanted to see and we’ll continue to evaluate those guys.”

On the game day atmosphere and how he is planning for it:

“Unfortunately, there’s nothing like a real game. I think I’ve tried to do that as you go through the seasons as a defensive coordinator and say, ‘Hey, is it time to call a timeout?’ I’d be calling timeouts in the box as well. Unfortunately, the practices are really scripted for our kids. We don’t script them for our coaches. We’ve got a great format today, we’ll play it from first down and see what they do. The defense has to get the ball back from the offense because we need to score on the offensive side of the ball. We’ve got to get it back. Our offense wants to keep getting a couple first downs and eat the clock up and we can teach that. We’ve got a coming out [from near the end zone] situation today where we’re teaching our kids offensively that we want to get two first downs and get out of it, we don’t want to be punting from our own end zone. Defensively, we want to keep them down there so we can give the ball to our offense on a short field across the 50. Hopefully, you’ll have a lot better of a chance as far as field position goes.”

On if there will be a winner and a loser:

“There’s no question about it. We’re playing for jerseys today. The defense is wearing the blue down there and the offense is wearing white and they’re playing for jerseys. Last night we talked about it and they’re fired up to play for those jerseys. There’s competition for those jerseys.

“They like it, I think. I was in the training room this morning just walking around with the guys and Tyler Boyd says, ‘Coach, you might as well give us the blue jerseys for the rest of camp.’ I mean, they’re talking. You’ve got to play for something and there will be something besides that, as well.”

Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney

On the offense winning today’s scrimmage and the jersey:

“Evidently we did. I’m not sure how [Coach Narduzzi] scores everything. I’m happy that we won. It was an interesting day, I was beginning to wonder at one point if we were ever going to get a first down out there. We started out tough, the defense was having their way with us until about halftime. And then we can came around and made some plays and played with a lot of confidence. What I was most pleased about was the resiliency. When things weren’t going their way they didn’t panic on the sidelines, they came over, we talked and they kept going and kept grinding and eventually good things started to come our way. That was the thing I was most proud of, not necessarily winning the jersey, but how they handled everything and their demeanor.”

On quarterback Chad Voytik:

“He is still learning what I want him to do. I am asking a lot out of that position right now. They are checking the wide receivers as they are learning new things. If they don’t line up where we need them it is his responsibility to get them where we need them. It is a lot of on the quarterbacks.”

On quarterback Nate Peterman:

“I think Nathan did some good things too. They continue to come out and impress me.”

On the run game:

“I don’t think we are close to where we need to be in the run game. We can run on the perimeter okay, and we are doing that adequately enough. Our interior run game is not where it needs to be. We have work to do.”

On the offense handling the workload:

“Everything is going good. These kids are really focused and getting along good. I haven’t had any management issues. It has been fun.”

Defensive Coordinator Josh Conklin

On if the defense won the jerseys (given to the scrimmage winner):

“We did not win the jerseys, but it was a good day. I feel like we came out and executed really well early on. You can definitely tell a difference just as far as how we’re moving around. I think we’re moving fast. Our ‘ones and a halves’ are playing pretty solid going against really good competition. Obviously playing against Tyler Boyd and James Conner puts pressure on you all the time, so I’m pleased with where we’re at. We have a long way to go, but the good news is we have about 21 days until Youngstown State. We’ll keep putting the pieces of the puzzle together here.”

On the term “ones and a halves”:

“Well, we started getting some guys rotating. Three safeties are rotating all the time with the ones. Today it was Jevonte [Pitts], Pat Amara and Reggie Mitchell. We’re doing that more just to get some depth, get some guys some more reps and try to take the workload off those guys. We’re tracking our DB’s right now with some GPS’s. Avonte Maddox and Lafayette Pitts are running a lot of yards every single day. If we keep doing that over the course of time we’ll get those guys banged up, so we have to find a way to alleviate some pressure off of them.”

On rotating players at the outside linebacker position:

“We are a little bit. I think we feel like we have a few more guys at that position that we feel pretty comfortable with, but everybody is getting some reps.”

On linebacker Mike Caprara:

“He’s been moving in and out. He’s been moving with the ones, he’s playing the Money and we’re taking a look at him at the Star. He’s a smart guy capable of doing both, so we’re just trying to find the best fit and the best match out there at each position. But we’re still tinkering with it a little bit.”

On Reggie Mitchell providing stability at safety:

“I think he really does. He’s head and shoulders above some guys right now. He’s done a really good job of taking what we did last spring and applying it to this fall camp. He’s made some plays. He’s going to tell you that he wouldn’t be pleased with today’s effort, but with who he’s facing at the slot position in Tyler Boyd—possibly a first round draft choice—it’s great work for him. We’ll continue to get him better as we move forward.”

Quarterback Chad Voytik

On if the offense won today:

“We did. It was a big win for us.”

On his most impressive play:

“We were kind of struggling a little bit to start, but then we had a huge play, a long touchdown pass to Scott Orndoff on the sideline that boosted our offense and got us going. That was the highlight. That was the turning point.”

On the running game:

“We’re running the ball well. The passing game is always the slower half of the offense to develop, so we’re working on that right now. The run game is getting really crisp and we’re working hard on that as well but it’s been good.”

On if the offense has progressed more than the defense:

“No, I wouldn’t say so. I just say that we made some plays when we needed to and that was really the story of today. The defense was in position, we just made the plays. So I wouldn’t say schematically that we’re ahead of them or anything like that. They’re playing really well and giving me great looks in practice, so they’ve been doing a great job.”

On if he found himself controlling the game:

“I’m trying to learn this offense so well that I can manage it and know when someone is supposed to be on the ball or if they’re in the wrong formation. I’m getting that worked out, so that’s my mission right now is to make sure everything pre-snap is perfect so there’s no penalties or anything like that after the ball is snapped.”

Defensive Back Reggie Mitchell

On knocking a pass away from Tyler Boyd during the scrimmage:

“Yeah, that’s always a good feeling. I’m practicing against one of the best every day. Every time you make a play you have to feel good about it.”

On competing with Boyd each day:

“We go back and forth every day in practice. He gets me, then I get him sometimes. I’m working on trying to get him more than he gets me. It’s a good battle.”

On the overall defensive effort in the scrimmage:

“We came out real strong. The offense wasn’t really getting anything in the beginning. We had a couple of mental errors and some bad eyes on the defense, so they ended up getting some big plays on us. The point system—we think it’s rigged—but at the end of the day Coach [Narduzzi] knows what’s best. We have to be able to finish.”

On Tyler Boyd telling Coach Narduzzi that the offense will own the jerseys for the rest of camp:

“Hey, they have them now. But we’re going to have them next week. Next time we scrimmage we’re going to get them back.”

On working with different safeties:

“Over the summer we all worked together. We knew we’d be switching positions. I was even playing boundary sometimes just so we could build some chemistry with everyone. Some of the older guys are even playing with the freshmen just so we could have one solid [secondary] group and we can just ball.”

On becoming a defensive leader:

“Last year, I was asking Ray [Vinopal] a lot of questions. Now, guys are asking me questions. I’m trying to step up as an older guy to answer some questions and make some plays so people can look up to me.”