Here are a few quick notes from Pitt's first spring practice under new coach Pat Narduzzi, which took place Sunday evening at the team's indoor facility on the South Side. First off, here's Narduzzi's post-practice interview session:
- Here's a link to my story from today's Post-Gazette on this spring representing a fresh start for the Panthers under Narduzzi.
- There wasn't much to be gleaned from the practice itself. First of all, the team was only in shorts and helmets today, and won't go in full pads until Thursday. Second, the media access to spring practice is more limited than it was under the previous staff. Rather than being able to watch the whole thing, we were restricted to the first 30 minutes. It ended up being closer to 45 minutes, but still meant that we didn't get to see any 11-on-11 or offense vs. defense drills, which are, obviously, the most revealing parts of practice.
- That said, there were a couple of pieces to pick up. It looks like Alex Bookser is the leading candidate to start at right guard as of now (keeping in mind it's absurdly early to start really thinking about such things). Center Artie Rowell was limited as he recovers from ACL surgery, and when he wasn't out there, the starting offensive line was Adam Bisnowaty (LT), Dorian Johnson (LG), Alex Officer (C), Bookser (RG) and Jaryd Jones-Smith (RT).
- Along the defensive line, it looks like Ejuan Price and Rori Blair got the first cracks at defensive end, with K.K. Mosley-Smith and Darryl Render in the middle. Defensive end will be interesting to watch as spring progresses, because I expect it will be those two guys, plus sophomore Shakir Soto rotating through.
- Speaking of Price, we spoke to him after practice as he hopes to get back on the field this year after losing most of the last two seasons due to injury. He has flashed plenty of talent when he's on the field, but just hasn't been able to stay healthy. This is his last year of eligibility, so it's now or never for Price.
"I've definitely got some cobwebs on there, though," he said. "Once I get them kinks worked out, I feel like I'll be back to my regular self and be good."
Price said his weight got up to around 270 pounds during his time off, but he's now back down to 255 lbs. His normal playing weight in previous years was around 245 lbs, but he said he thought he could play at 250 this year, too.
- Narduzzi himself bounced around the practice a lot. He didn't spend too much time with any one position group and I often found myself asking "OK, where is he now?" and scanning the field before I found him. His description of time management during practice was "Just plug up holes, see if I can make myself useful."
- Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the biggest thing that stuck out to him on day one was the team's competitiveness: "They want to go out and be successful. You try and temper that by doing your installations. You're trying to teach them an offense and install plays. We're not necessarily trying to go defeat our defense right now on day one. That's what we've got to temper that with, with them just being focused on becoming better football players and learning our system."
- Chaney was also asked about how different his offensive system and philosophy would be from Chryst's, and the answer is, ideally, not too much. The plan will still be to get James Conner and Tyler Boyd the ball in their hands as much as possible.
"You've got a super talented tailback and a really good wideout, they're going to demand the ball 'x' amount of times," Chaney said. "I don't know that a hell of a lot of philosophical differences are going to take place. They might get it different ways than maybe Paul [Chryst] would've given it to them, but at the end of the day, those kids demand what they demand and they're good football players. You've got to give them the ball."
- Cornerback Lafayette Pitts spoke afterwards about the importance of cornerbacks in Narduzzi's system. The corners will play a lot of press coverage, which was something they did a lot in 2012 under former defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, but less so over the last two years under Matt House (though Pitts said there were some games under House when they pressed a lot).
"The corners are the biggest position for him because we're out there on a island while you've got the other guys inside the box stopping the run," Pitts said. "If we can control what we're doing out there, it makes it easier for the guys on the inside. And if they do their job, it makes it easier for us to do our job on the receivers."