Pitt Football Training Camp Notebook: Aug. 11

Pitt News File Photo

Even without pads and full-speed tackling, storylines are emerging from Pitt’s football camp as coaches look for players to stand out among the pack.

On the second day of camp on Tuesday at Pitt’s South Side facility, chemistry was the focus. From the weight room to the practice field, new positions and new friends helped build cohesion for a new season.


Position Changes

After Pitt’s coaches assessed the weaknesses on their roster during spring practices and summer workouts, they found the offensive tackle and defensive end spots to be the most in-need of depth.

In response, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi made the decision to move redshirt freshmen Brian O’Neill and James Folston to different positions.

O’Neill’s move from tight end came following redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith’s season-ending knee injury during summer workouts. Knowing that the team needed someone to provide depth at the position, O’Neill was happy to make the move.

“I knew that a void needed to be filled and our team needed someone to step up,” O’Neill said. “They asked me to be that guy and I was all for it.”

To prepare himself for the switch, O’Neill has upped his weight from 260 to 291 pounds to better handle defensive linemen. Narduzzi said the rapid weight change surprised him, as O’Neill avoided making his body “sloppy and fat.”

Narduzzi was especially shocked when Dave Andrews, Pitt’s head strength and conditioning coach, showed him a before and after picture of O’Neill.

“I thought Coach Andrews did some photoshopping. He looked unbelievable,” Narduzzi said.

Despite having not played the position in high school, O’Neill is confident in his ability to adapt, in part because of Pitt’s previous coaching staff, led by head coach Paul Chryst.

“Our tight ends were asked to do a lot with the previous staff, so that’s something that’s benefitted me a lot,” O’Neill said. “There were many blocks that were considered very difficult for tight ends.”

O’Neill did concede that he’s still thinking too much when playing the position, which can slow him down. Once he masters the position technically and mentally, he’s confident that he can play up to speed.

Compared to O’Neill, Folston’s move from linebacker to defensive end was not as drastic. Folston played the position in high school, so he said he was comfortable in making the move.

As coaches have asked him to work more in the trenches against offensive linemen, Folston has gained 18 pounds, and now weighs in at 240 pounds. Though he’s gained weight, Narduzzi still believes Folston has plenty of speed which can help provide pressure off the edge.

“He’s athletic enough to play middle linebacker. He’s explosive, he’s powerful,” Narduzzi said.


Developing Cohesiveness on the Offensive Line

With Jones-Smith’s injury, who was expected to start at tackle, Pitt has been forced to switch around its offensive line.

Though it’s early, Pitt has experimented with a line that has seen redshirt freshman Alex Bookser move from guard to right tackle, redshirt sophomore Alex Officer from center to right guard and redshirt senior Artie Rowell taking Officer’s place at center.

Officer has played guard in the past for Pitt, so he doesn’t think there will be much of a transition for him.

“I don’t really feel a difference. I feel comfortable at both positions,” Officer said.

Comfort and cohesiveness is especially important on the offensive line, Officer said, as the group must work together as unit.

“It’s most important on the offensive line because it’s five guys working to do one complete job. If one is out of sync, it can ruin the whole thing,” Officer said.

Building the necessary chemistry is a process, which only playing together can expedite, Officer said. Though the combination of players Pitt is working with isn’t one they’ve used in the past, Officer said the unit has plenty of cohesiveness.

“We still have a lot of chemistry. The offensive line, we’ve been together for a while, we’ve been bonding,” Officer said.

Though still a work in progress, Officer said the offensive line can perhaps top the lofty heights it reached last year.

“This offensive line has a lot of talent. We can definitely reach the same level, if not higher than we reached last year,” Officer said.


Team Chemistry Continues To Build

Narduzzi has number of goals for training camp, though chief among them is building team chemistry.

“The number one goal coming to camp is to have our football team become a lot closer than they have been,” Narduzzi said.

Previous to past years, when the players and coaches stayed at separate lodgings, Narduzzi is requiring that everybody stay at Sutherland Hall in hopes of tightening the group.

That effort to get his players and coaches closer and more comfortable with each other began when he arrived at Pitt.

In an effort to build chemistry, the team has mixed things up in the weight room. Instead of working in their respective position groups, players are being separated into random sections.

“Coach Andrews continually mixed them up in the weight room,” Narduzzi said. “We had them work out with a different guy that might they not normally work out with. I don’t care if you have to switch the weight of the bench or the squat rack.”

Rowell added that the work in the weight room is paying dividends in regard to the team’s bonding.

“One of the top reasons that we’re much closer now is our strength staff and our strength and conditioning program. It’s phenomenal,” Rowell said. “I really like some of the strength coaches we’ve had in the past, but these guys are by far the best.”

As a result, Rowell is closer to his teammates than he’s ever been before in his Pitt career.

“I feel as though I have more personal relationships with more people, more so than any other year, so that in itself means the chemistry is better,” Rowell said.

Redshirt junior offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty added similar sentiments, noting that several players have emerged as leaders from the weight room.

“There’s more leaders than ever before. Before, a lot of guys just looked up to one or two guys. Now, we have so many leaders, I couldn’t even name them all,” Bisnowaty said.

With strong relationships between his players, Narduzzi is confident in his team’s ability to be successful.

“If we don’t know each other, we can’t play hard for each other,” Narduzzi said.