Nick Patti, linebackers standout in Pitt Spring Game as special teams, Kedon Slovis struggle


Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

Redshirt sophomore defensive back Jehvonn Lewis (41), left, and wide receiver junior Jaylon Barden (10) at the Blue vs. Gold spring football game on Saturday.

By Dalton Coppola, Assistant Sports Editor

For the first time since 2016, when Kenny Pickett was a first-year, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi has a true quarterback controversy on his hands.

Rising senior quarterbacks Nick Patti and Kedon Slovis are both vying for the starting spot, and went head-to-head last Saturday in the Blue-Gold Game. Narduzzi usually keeps his cards close to his chest, and it was no different after the Spring Game.

“It’s hard to tell with mish-mosh receivers, not having the normal weapons for either one of them,” Narduzzi said. “We’ll go back and look at the tape.”

For anyone in attendance, it wasn’t hard to see which of the two looked more natural under center — and it didn’t take long either.

Patti, on the first play of the game, uncorked a pass to sophomore receiver Konata Mumpfield. Patti did his best Pickett impression and rolled out to his right, set his feet and fired a dart, hitting his target in stride on a post pattern. This was a play Pitt had a great deal of success running last year, and Patti executed it with ease.

While completing just four passes on nine attempts, Patti looked comfortable running the offense and showcased the ability to throw downfield. Slovis did not look as comfortable. While Slovis played behind a mixed and matched offensive line, and didn’t have much time to make his progressions, the southern California transfer averaged just more than three yards per attempt.

A lot of his passes fell short of the sticks and Pitt fans didn’t get to see his deep ball capabilities. Slovis did throw a couple of nice passes which receivers dropped, dampening his stat line. But overall, Patti stood out in a way Slovis failed to — the ability to produce explosive plays.

Narduzzi and both quarterbacks also noted that the offense held back a lot of its playbook, putting the defense at an inherent advantage. While fans watched Patti and Slovis battle it out on the field, both said they have a great relationship and welcome the competition.

“The more competition for me, the better,” Patti said. “I think it makes me better as a player and a person. When you get complacent and you don’t have someone pushing you, that’s when you don’t succeed as well.”

Slovis added that many football programs don’t foster a family culture the way Pitt does, and is grateful to have the relationship he does with the rest of the quarterbacks.

“In terms of the relationship, I think that’s the most impressive thing out here,” Slovis said. “All of the guys have been so great … it feels like we’re a bunch of friends playing football … it’s really easy for football teams to get kind of cliquey. There’s a lot of guys on the team, it’s really easy to have certain groups here and there but this is a legit team and everyone feels like one big family.”

While the offense operated under a limited playbook, the defensive front-seven from both the Blue and Gold teams showcased its depth and dominance. It seemed rising senior defensive lineman John Morgan III didn’t care that the game was just a scrimmage. Morgan was consistently in Slovis’ face, and was a big reason why the Blue Team struggled to move the ball downfield. Morgan registered two sacks, five total tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

Morgan and the rest of the defensive line will return many of the same players from last year’s team. The linebackers — outside of senior SirVocea Dennis — will feature several new young and athletic players. Junior Bangally Kamara and senior Shayne Simon looked very comfortable on Saturday, and made a few impact plays each.

Simon jumped a pass from Slovis, intercepting the ball on an athletic, cerebral play. He also flew around the field, picking up five tackles on the day as well.

Kamara — who won defensive most improved player of the spring — seems to be penciled in as the second linebacker. Kamara’s performance has stuck out in the coaches’ eyes and showed versatility in the scrimmage — registering 1.5 sacks and two tackles. The junior said he feels having a better approach mentally is a big reason he’s seeing results this spring.

“Athletically I feel like I had it all, but mentally is really where I improved,” Kamara said. “The coaches, they’ve always been on me … they push me to be better mentally because athletically I had it. It was just mentally I needed to grow.”

Special teams, as a whole, struggled on Saturday. The place-kickers went one-for-four on field goal attempts and first-year punter Sam Vander Haar mishandled a punt and looked unsure regarding what to do with the ball once the play went awry. Narduzzi acknowledged the struggles from the special teams unit and said he would’ve liked to see more from this group, particularly from Vander Haar.

“He was okay,” Narduzzi said. “Not real happy on the one where he dropped [the snap] and didn’t know what to do with it … he’s had a great spring, but you come into Heinz Field, you have to punt the ball. That was not good.”

Narduzzi will continue to “watch the tape” and decline to name any official starters for the foreseeable future. But there are certainly winners and losers from the Spring Game. Patti, Kamara and Simon made strides towards assuming the starting roles. The offensive line’s lack of depth and Slovis’ struggles, on the other hand, did little to inspire hope.

Slovis, the offensive line and the special teams units will have an entire summer and training camp to win over Narduzzi before the Panthers officially take the field for the first time.

Pitt’s first game will be against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Thursday Night Football on Sept. 1. The game will be nationally televised and the first time the two teams have met since 2011.