‘Detail and discipline’: Panthers put historic 2021 season in rearview, preparing for 2022 with spring practices


Image courtesy of Roger Sepich, Pitt Athletics

Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi at spring practice in 2021.

By Dalton Coppola, Assistant Sports Editor

The confetti has settled at the Bank of America Stadium following the ACC Championship, the 2021 conference championship trophy sits in the Pitt football facility hallway, and quarterback Kenny Pickett departed for the NFL Draft.

But head coach Pat Narduzzi isn’t one to dwell on the past. The Panthers started their spring practices on Monday, and Narduzzi said the goal remains the same heading into the 2022 season.

“What happened last year?” Narduzzi said sarcastically. “This is 2022. It’s a different team. We’re going to prepare the same way and go out and have fun.”

Senior defensive lineman Deslin Alexandre agreed with his coach and said while the 2021 season was a special one, he and his teammates are ready to move on and prepare for what’s next.

“Those are great times, but that’s behind us,” Alexandre said. “Now we’re up to a new season, so we’re just trying to fine tune the little details, things that got us there, and continue to do those same things to get there again this year.”

Pitt fans’ expectations are higher than they’ve been in quite some time. Narduzzi set the bar high last year, winning 11 games and the ACC. Pitt fans haven’t experienced this type of success in more than four decades. Alexandre said in order to exceed expectations once again, he and his teammates will need to remain vigilant in their training regiments.

“Detail and discipline,” Alexandre said. “Being attentive to detail in everything we do.”

While there are intangibles and mindsets the team will look to carry over, the team will not be bringing back a couple of key pieces on the defense, specifically at linebacker. The Panthers bid farewell to linebackers John Petrishen and Phil Campbell when the two declared for the NFL Draft. Cam Bright, who scored a defensive touchdown in the Peach Bowl, also transferred to Washington.

This leaves Narduzzi looking for players to step up into new roles this season. The head coach brought in Shayne Simon, a senior linebacker transfer from Notre Dame, to potentially play alongside senior linebacker SirVocea Dennis. Narduzzi also has senior Brandon George and junior Bangally Kamara waiting in the wings.

Narduzzi also confirmed that junior defensive back Buddy Mack is getting some work at the outside-linebacker position. The group is young, but luckily for Narduzzi, he has, in his mind, the smartest player on his defense to lead the younger guys.

“SirVocea is maybe one of the smartest guys on the defense, if not the smartest guy on the defense,” Narduzzi said. “Obviously, he’s going to be huge in coaching the rest of the guys up and he’s taken them for the last two months really … he’s a coach on the field.”

Dennis, once the young linebacker alongside Petrishen and Campbell, is now the veteran of the group. He said that while the group may be young, he thinks the younger linebackers are making strides.

“It’s different and weird because when they were in the room I was considered the young guy,” Dennis said. “Now I’m the oldest guy in the room … those guys have been in the room and they’re my brothers and they’re coming along, so I’m happy.”

While the defense searches for Dennis’ counterparts in the front seven, newly hired offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti is working on installing his new offense. The Panthers are returning plenty of key starters on this side of the ball, namely the entire offensive line, but Pitt will have to replace Heisman finalist quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Narduzzi lured Southern California senior quarterback transfer Kedon Slovis to the program, presumably to take over for Pickett. But Cignetti maintained that the job isn’t his until he earns it, and senior quarterback Nick Patti, who has spent a few seasons as a backup with Pitt, will have a chance to win the starting job. Regardless of who Pitt has under center, Narduzzi said the transition to Cignetti’s offense has been relatively smooth.

“The offense worked on some new things and some old things that we’ve done in the past,” Narduzzi said. “It’s a work in progress. I feel good with where we are. The kids are picking it up well.”

Junior receiver and 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison said Cignetti is very meticulous with the way he constructs his offense. Addison added he has enjoyed learning from the former NFL coach so far this spring.

“He has a lot of knowledge and he knows the game really well,” Addison said. “Everything is pretty laid out. He’s a really detailed guy — I feel like it has to be that way.”

Pitt also hired Tiquan Underwood as its next wide receivers coach after Brennan Marion left for Texas. Underwood, a former NFL player, inherits one of the most well-respected receiving corps in the nation. Underwood is the third person to hold the position in the past three years, with Marion’s recent departure and Chris Beatty leaving to coach in the NFL after the 2020 season.

On top of Addison, the Panthers are bringing back senior Jared Wayne and added Akron sophomore transfer Konata Mumpfield to the receivers room. Addison said Underwood’s transition to position coach has gone well, particularly because of Underwood’s experience at the position.

“The relationships we’ve all been building with him in the wide receiver room with him have been pretty good,” Addison said. “He’s a players’ person. He understands us, he played the position.”

Narduzzi said the main goal of spring practices is to find out which combination of players will have the most success. When it comes to success, Addison isn’t satisfied with just a conference championship — he wants to be better than last year.

“Working together and being better than last season, that’s really the main goal,” Addison said. “Be better than you were yesterday.”

While Addison may not have specified exactly what the next step in terms of success may be, senior offensive tackle Carter Warren had no problem being specific.

“The goal for us is national champions,” Warren said. “We’re working hard coming in every day, putting in that extra film, extra time just to get there. I feel like this year the goal is the national championship.”

Pitt’s annual Blue-Gold Spring Game will kickoff at 1 p.m. on April 8 at Heinz Field.