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Pitt football getting acclimated to Narduzzi, staff at spring practices - The Pitt News

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Pitt football getting acclimated to Narduzzi, staff at spring practices

By Jeremy Tepper / Staff Writer

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Starting spring practice with a different head coach and staff isn’t anything new for the Pitt football team, as Pat Narduzzi marks Pitt’s third new coach in five years.

What’s different about this staff, though, is the energy and enthusiasm it boasts in a stark contrast to the more reserved demeanor of former head coach Paul Chryst’s staff. 

This excitement is rubbing off on the players, too, as they try to match the new staff’s attitudes in these spring practices at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex.

“If Coach [Narduzzi] wants high energy, that’s what we have to give off,” senior defensive tackle K.K. Mosley-Smith said. “I feel like we are doing a good job. We know what he wants, and we are here to give him what he wants. It’s definitely high energy. [There is] great enthusiasm, and the players are on board, and we are just ready to work.”

Here are a few of the main storylines emerging over the first four practices as the team looks to master this new playbook and become acclimated to the newly implemented offensive and defensive philosophies.

Development of the defense

With an offense that averaged 31.8 points per game, Pitt’s defense usually couldn’t keep up last season. Though Pitt’s position as the 59th-ranked defense in points per game last year isn’t awful, the performance goes beyond the numbers, as the team struggled to make big plays and get necessary key stops.

Enter Narduzzi, former defensive coordinator at Michigan State University — a school heralded for its stout defenses during his tenure there.

The simplicity of Narduzzi’s defense sticks out to the players and acts as a catalyst in the effectiveness of his strategy.

“Definitely, I think [the defense is] 100 percent simpler,” junior linebacker Matt Galambos said. “We are just playing football. Obviously we have our certain schemes and everything, but, at the same time, he wants us to be fast, play fast and just fill the gaps.”

Compared to the former coaching regime’s defenses, this one’s gameplan has been easier to execute and play without thinking much.

“At times [we were thinking too much]. It wasn’t all the time that we were thinking. But, definitely, it’s easier this year with the scheme we have,” Galambos added.

The fundamental difference in Narduzzi’s defense from past Pitt defenses is the lack of changing formations from play to play. Instead of letting the offense control what scheme the defense plays, Narduzzi wants his defense to have that same impact on the offense.

“We’re going to run what we run,” Galambos said. “It’s not like, if this formation comes out, we’re going to line up this way. It’s almost like we’re going to be almost the same every time. This is us, this is our defense, you got to stop us. We’re going to dictate the game.”

Secondary offensive playmakers

Junior quarterback Chad Voytik admits that the offense hasn’t yet learned much of the offensive playbook.

“We don’t have much installed. We have a fraction of what our offense consists of,” Voytik said.

Regardless of the offensive scheme, junior running back James Conner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd will continue to be relied on to wreak havoc in offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s gameplan.

The reliance on the two stars was apparent immediately in Pitt’s first scrimmage as Conner, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, ran the ball 65 yards the first play and Boyd made numerous big plays or, as Voytik put it, “Tyler [was] Tyler.”

On the two offensive dynamos, Narduzzi had plenty to say  about both of them. He referred to both as “ACC Players of the Year.” Beyond the star duo , it’s unclear who will emerge as Pitt’s offensive playmakers. At 1,261 receiving yards last year, Boyd had more than half of Pitt’s 2,417 receiving yards.

Currently, junior Dontez Ford looks to emerge as a playmaker beyond Boyd and Conner. Voytik lauded that Ford has taken ownership of the receiver spot opposite of Boyd. 

Ford has made numerous plays throughout spring practice, according to coaches and teammates. Saturday’s scrimmage was no exception, as Ford caught an important touchdown in the two-minute drill.

“We were down by seven, and we drove down and scored. I threw the pass to Dontez and he caught it, tip-toed in the back of the end zone,” Voytik said.

Scrimmages

Though they represent a small portion of spring practice, intersquad scrimmages are of special interest to fans and onlookers, as they provide a tangible system by which to measure the team.

In Pitt’s first of three scrimmages, the offense found itself victorious, 77-71 via Narduzzi’s point system. The game remained tied until redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jester Weah caught a touchdown to give the offense the lead and eventually the win.

As a head coach, instead of a defensive coordinator, such touchdowns put Narduzzi in a different situation which evokes a sense of ambivalence.

“There are big plays on offense, that’s great for the offense. But then you feel bad for the defense,” Narduzzi said.

Voytik was pleased with the effectiveness of the offensive unit.

“I feel like we scored, we moved the ball, we got first downs and, when we were in backed-up situations, we got away from our own end zone. I feel overall we did pretty well,” Voytik said.

Strictly looking at his players’ energy,, Narduzzi was content with his team’s output during the scrimmage.

“I think our coaches did a great job of getting our guys out there. [We] really prepared for a game. That’s what we tried to do and the kids came out with great emotion. [They] came out and played hard,” Narduzzi said.

As Pitt works toward its next scrimmage on March 28, the defense will look to outplay the offense, something Galambos said it’s been doing more often than not.

“Throughout the week, we’ve been really dominating the offense. We’ve been penetrating the line starting up front, then the linebackers and d-backs are filling [in the gaps] after that,” Galambos said.

If they’re able to continue dominating, they’ll earn the right to wear the blue jerseys for the week, which Narduzzi gives to the superior unit.

“[The offense is] in the blue jerseys this week, and, as a defense, we’re fighting to get back in the blue,” Mosley-Smith said.

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Pitt football getting acclimated to Narduzzi, staff at spring practices