Narduzzi discusses COVID concerns, Jaylen Twyman opt-out, and Joey Yellen waiver at latest presser

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Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi called the NCAA “nonexistent” in his Zoom press conference Monday

By Alex Lehmbeck, Sports Editor

Speaking to the media for the first time since Pitt cancelled a practice Thursday due to at least a half-dozen players displaying coronavirus symptoms, head football coach Pat Narduzzi confirmed Monday that those players had tested negative for COVID-19.

Narduzzi told reporters in attendance that the Pitt training facility is the safest place the players can be.

“We’ve got people cleaning door knobs, it’s incredible,” he said. “What I’d like to do is put them in the indoor [practice facility], line up mattresses around the place and just bunk them right there. Tape the doors shut, lock them up and not let them out — just keep them in our little paradise. But, again, UPMC doesn’t wanna do that either.”

Narduzzi took a couple not-so-subtle jabs at the NCAA, less than a week after they announced the postponement of all fall sports championships. He said the NCAA “just sets rules, maybe that’s all they do,” when discussing the role the organization would play in the protocol for players potentially opting out of the 2020 season.

“Who is the NCAA? I don’t even know who they are. They’re nonexistent. I don’t think the NCAA could fine me,” Narduzzi said. “The NCAA isn’t making these decisions, these kids are making these decisions.”

Narduzzi said he’d likely allow a player to come back to the team during the season if they changed their mind on opening out. All-American defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman became the first Pitt player to opt out of the 2020 season to prepare for the NFL draft earlier this month, leaving a prime opportunity for a player to step up in his place.

“We’ve got depth on the d-line,” Narduzzi said. “It’s just another one of those ‘Hey. I got an opportunity.’ Look what Deslin [Alexandre] did with his opportunity last year. Look what Patrick Jones did with his opportunity.”

He said that players’ decisions in the future will depend on their level of comfort amidst the pandemic, emphasizing that a player must trust themselves and what is best for them.

“I’m 54-years-old and I got no fear, I wanna coach,” Narduzzi said. “There’s someone on this [Zoom] view right now who’s scared… which is great. You got kids, you got grandparents, you got moms and dads and everyone’s got different situations that we’ve gotta make sure we’re cognizant of.”

Pitt defensive lineman Rashad Weaver echoed Narduzzi’s confidence, saying he’d make sure he helped hold other players accountable for maintaining safe practices off the field

“It’s the same exact rules, it’s just make sure you follow them when you get on campus and you see a lot of students on campus and they’re not doing that,” he said. “You just gotta keep the bigger goal in mind.”

Although he doesn’t like making predictions, Weaver said last year they wanted to be a top-ten defense in the country. This year they want to be the best.

Despite the Thursday practice scare, the team received some good news on Friday — Arizona State quarterback transfer Joey Yellen received an NCAA waiver for immediate eligibility. 

“There’s gonna be a quarterback battle,” Narduzzi added. “We’ve got three really good backup quarterbacks to Kenny [Pickett]. Kenny is our starter right now, but we’d love to have two guys ready to go that you feel like ‘man either one of those guys is good’. We’re in a COVID situation right now so who knows.”

Yellen, who passed for 292 yards and four touchdowns in his lone appearance at ASU, preserved his redshirt and will have three years of eligibility remaining.

“I knew that it was one of those things that wasn’t really in my hands, so I tried not to dwell on it too much,” Yellen said. “I just tried to get better by the day.”

Yellen mentioned the season’s unusual process as “insane,” but said he felt Pitt has handled it “really well.”

Two weeks after Narduzzi bragged about the team’s 22-day streak without any positive COVID tests, he said he isn’t allowed to talk about it anymore, but implied the successes have continued.

“It’s a really good streak, that’s all I’m gonna say,” he concluded. “UPMC, I’m fired up about them and they’ve done a heck of a job. Our kids have done a heck of a job and I’m happy with where they are. I’m concerned when school starts, that’s my concern.”

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