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Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi still waiting for shutdown corner to emerge

September 25, 2018

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi during practice Aug. 2018 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Word around Pitt’s facility on the eve of coach Pat Narduzzi’s fourth season is the defense finally intercepted quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Pickett couldn’t remember the culprit(s), and he can’t say for sure how many times it happened.

“Two or three,” he said.

But after a long time this summer without throwing one, it finally happened.

“They got me. Tip my cap,” he said.

That’s nice, but the fact that Pickett doesn’t remember the identity of the defender speaks to what most bothers Narduzzi after four weeks of practice:

No one in the secondary -- OK, almost no one -- has stepped up and been noticed.

Asked about the secondary Thursday, Narduzzi said, “We’re good. I guess I’m looking for the guy who’s just going to be a beast.

“Usually, there are two guys who stand out. Now, there are four or five guys (at cornerback), and I don’t care which one is in.

“Just throw them out there. Who cares? Shake them up in your hat and throw them out. Which is a good thing because we have depth back there, but I just wish there was a totally dominant guy.

“I don’t know if that’s a problem. We’ll find out.”

Now, switch your focus to the wide receivers, where Pickett mentioned as many as eight pass catchers who could make an impact this season. In that case, it’s OK with Narduzzi because, ideally, more wide receivers than cornerbacks will get in the game.

“What I see out there I hope I see Saturday,” the coach said of his pass catchers. “We have some guys with elite speed. We have some guys who are making tough catches.

“I like our receiving corps as much as I’ve liked any receiving corps (in his time at Pitt). I like Tyler Boyd, and I like Jester Weah, but I like this receiving corps.”

Emphasis on the word corps.

“At receiver, you’re going to rotate those guys,” he said. “At corner, you’d like to have (two) guys out there and ‘let’s go.’ ”

Perhaps the situation at cornerback won’t be a problem Saturday against Albany, whose quarterback, Vincent Testaverde, hasn’t played in a game since 2014. Expect defensive coordinator Randy Bates to turn up the heat on an inexperienced quarterback, which might ease the pressure on the cornerbacks.

But that’s only Albany. Five of the next 11 games are against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25. Plus, ESPN Analytics identified 14 teams with a chance to win the national championship. Three -- Notre Dame, Penn State and Miami -- are on Pitt’s schedule.

Better get that beast out of his cage, Pat.

Narduzzi said senior Phillipie Motley has been the “most consistent” cornerback, and sophomore Damarri Mathis had a “good camp.”

“There’s a good chance those guys are the starters,” he said.

But some of their playing time could be usurped by redshirt freshman Paris Ford, sophomore Jason Pinnock and freshman Marquis Williams.

Narduzzi said Ford has been “banged up,” but he had a “great day” Thursday.

“I expect to see No. 12 ready to go Saturday,” he said.

Narduzzi said injuries have impeded the progress in the secondary. While admitting that, however, he also downplayed it.

“Just a little bit banged up. Nothing fatal. If there’s one position that’s a little bit more banged up than you’d like it to be, it would be that position.

“Just inconsistencies of (not) being out there enough to be really good. I can’t say that guy is for sure the best guy. I don’t know if that’s a problem. We’ll find out.”

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