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Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi looks for running game improvement

September 8, 2018
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi looks for running game improvement

Pitt running back Darrin Hall goes through drills during practice Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

While he approaches the final days of training camp, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi must answer a difficult question:

Are the running game problems he mentioned in regards to Saturday’s scrimmage linked to an improved defensive line or deficiencies on the other side of the ball?

He called the scrimmage “productive,” pointing out that the team “tackled well, threw the ball pretty good.

“I wish we had run it a little better, but our defense is pretty stout.”

Before the 16th practice of the summer Tuesday morning, Narduzzi related a recent conversation with assistant head coach Charlie Partridge, who’s been coaching defensive linemen most of this century.

“He said, ‘I have never had this many guys up front who can play,’ ” Narduzzi said. “That’s a good thing for Pitt football. He was at Wisconsin for a long time (2008-2012) and had some good players up there. Our depth is good.”

The starting ends appear to be senior Dewayne Hendrix and sophomore Rashad Weaver.

The five starters also are set on the offensive line, but Narduzzi wants to see more production in the running game.

“Are we where we want to be?” Narduzzi said. “No. Every day, it’s a battle.”

He said he’s comfortable with the five starting linemen, but he added, “I want to run the ball better. I think they are doing a great job of protecting Kenny Pickett. That was probably my first fear.”

Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison are set as the main running backs, and Narduzzi plans to give each senior an equal opportunity to impress him.

“Those guys are both starters,” he said.

Behind them, sophomore A.J. Davis “is crawling up the depth chart.”

“We have to give A.J. some looks, too, because he does things differently than the other two guys do.”

Handing out playing time will depend on a simple case of who’s having the better day, he said.

“It’s who has the hot hand. Who’s feeling good. Who had the better week of practice. Who’s making the plays. Who’s playing like their tails are on fire.

“That’s what we want our tailbacks to do: to run through the smoke and not care what’s there. The guy running with a chip on his shoulder is the guy I want to carry the rock.”

On other depth chart matters:

• Senior middle linebacker Quintin Wirginis has locked down a starting job, but freshman Wendell Davis will play in some capacity.

Davis’ dad, Wendell Davis Sr., played at Temple and in the NFL and CFL, and Narduzzi said the younger Davis looks like someone who grew up around the game.

“He’s a guy who pays attention to the details. His dad must have gotten after him when he was younger. He understands the game of football, which is always beautiful when you have someone who grew up in the game. He’s pretty locked in.”

• Narduzzi isn’t ready to name a starter at the cornerback spot opposite Dane Jackson, but he said senior Phillipie Motley has looked good.

“To win a championship, your seniors have to play the best football they ever have, and No. 32 is doing that right now.”

Motley said his group has heard the criticism of the secondary in recent seasons, and he said, “We’re kind of tired of hearing that.”

“People have said we’re a weak link. We’ve really pushed ourselves to step up and dominate every day.

“I definitley feel I’ve been improving daily. Not just me, there are a lot of guys in the secondary improving every single day.”

Narduzzi added younger cornerbacks Paris Ford, Damarri Mathis and Jason Pinnock are pushing for time.

“You only get to play two. We’re not in Canada.”

• Asked how transfer wide receiver Taysir Mack is doing since he was declared eligible Friday, Narduzzi gave a cryptic response.

“OK. Next question.”

Asked about a possible injury, he added, “No, he did not get injured this weekend. I can tell you that.”

• Kicker Alex Kessman is “whacking the heck out of (the football).” Narduzzi said Kessman has made 82 percent of his field-goal attempts and is comfortable beyond 50 yards.

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