Pat Narduzzi announced Friday the dismissal of senior defensive end Rori Blair and suspensions of redshirt junior offensive lineman Alex Bookser, senior linebacker Quintin Wirginis and junior safety Jordan Whitehead Friday afternoon.
With two of its first three games coming against some of the best teams in the nation in Penn State and Oklahoma State, the Pitt football team’s nonconference schedule was already seen as a daunting slate, and it just got tougher with Narduzzi’s announcement.
“Our program’s foundation will always be built on discipline and personal responsibility,” Narduzzi said. “These are highly disappointing situations but I am hopeful that each of these young men will be better, stronger and wiser after taking accountability for their actions.”
The loss of Whitehead, who will miss the first three games along with Wirginis, is the biggest of the suspensions. The second-team All-ACC star was by far the best player in Pitt’s secondary last season, totaling 65 tackles, one fumble recovery and one interception.
Pitt’s pass defense needs to improve this year in order for the team to move forward, but that’s less likely to occur in the first three games without Whitehead.
In addition, the Panthers run defense — one of the best in the country under Narduzzi — will take a hit with Wirginis sitting out. While he was recently listed second on the team’s preseason depth chart, he was expected to contribute behind sophomore Saleem Brightwell.
Blair, a native of Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, was previously disciplined in 2015 after being arrested on DUI charges, among others. He was suspended for the opening game of the season against Youngstown State before appearing in each of the other 12 games. This year he was expected to step into a bigger role and help make up for the loss of All-ACC defensive end Ejuan Price.
Bookser, arrested in May on DUI charges, received a lesser suspension and will miss only one game — the Sept. 2 opener against Youngstown State. A number of people could step into the role in week one, but he will be available to play against Penn State on Sept. 9.
Overall, the losses hurt and the team can expect to be heavy underdogs against both Penn State and Oklahoma State. Luckily for the program though, everyone except Blair will return for the start of ACC play, giving the Panthers a good chance to compete in the Coastal division and earn a spot in their first ACC Championship game.