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March 15, 2017

Pitt Coach Pat Narduzzi Spring Football Preview Press Conference

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Pat Narduzzi Spring Preview Media Q&A

Q. The leadership, you have a sense of who might be some of those guys?
Pat Narduzzi: We have our leadership council, that as soon as we came back and started the second semester, we had guys vote on it. We'll vote on it again here, probably, halfway through spring ball or even earlier than that. But we have some leaders that have shone through.

But it's still early in the process. We don't need to find captains or anything until fall, and it's something we're developing. I mean, there are some guys, I'll mention Jeremiah Taleni. He's come so far, it's unbelievable. The kid has really become a leader. I'm watching him in one of the workouts coach up the young guys. That's when you start to see it.

I'm not saying he's a captain. We'll find out in August or September, but right now you kind of look at him like, what happened to you? He's made some major strides in that.

I always look at your quarterback and your middle linebacker as two guys that are leaders because they really talk on every play to your football team. Obviously with Nathan Peterman gone, you lost a major leader there. With Matt Galambos gone, he sat right there. We'll miss Matt. He was a major leader, whether he was a captain or a game captain, he was a guy that led our defense. So those are two major guys and voices that our players are used to here every day. So those are some voids that we're looking for.

Q. The redshirt freshmen, are you excited to see how far they've come since August?
Pat Narduzzi: I'm excited to see everybody. It's amazing. Those are the greenest players that you have. But I'm excited to see everybody. It's a whole new year. I've seen some guys that were voted as the worst scout team players ever, okay, that are playing in the NFL right now. Okay? It's all that attitude that you talk about up there. We laugh like we think he's pretty good. He's good for us. What do you guys do when he goes down to the other end? So the worst scout team player ever is going on his third year in the NFL, maybe fourth year, and that's okay.

So all those redshirt freshmen, we're going to find out. They come in, and they get put to scout, and they're going, and you don't really see what they have. So I'm looking forward to seeing what those guys have. But there's a lot of guys. I'm looking forward to see what the new Dane Jackson's going to be. I'm looking forward to seeing what MacVittie's going to do, DiNucci's going to do, all those guys, What's Moss going to do. What's Qadree Ollison going to do?

I mean, Qadree you watch him in the workouts, he's 100% different from what he was a year ago. He was feeling good after being rookie of the year. He goes into spring just okay, but he's a different dude out there right now. But he knows the door is open. He looks like he's ready to grab it. So there's all kinds of guys.

I could go on and on about guys that I'm excited to see. So there's a ton of guys that we're all excited to watch.

Q. How is Max Browne fitting in, just getting here early and now adjusting to the Pitt culture?
Pat Narduzzi: He lives on the south side. I think he walks to work in the morning right here. He's in grad school. He's doing well, he's an intelligent kid. You guys talk with him. He's fitting in great. To say he's a leader yet, it's so hard to come in as a transfer, because I did it. And be a guy that someone says, hey, he's a leader. But as a quarterback, he better be, and I'm not saying he's the guy. There is a lot of competition at the quarterback spot. I feel like we have four guys that are going to compete at quarterback. We didn't have that competition a year ago. And even if Nathan was back this year, there would still be competition.

We didn't have that one year ago. We had one guy, and just hoping he would stay healthy, and he didn't in that bowl game and we saw what happened.

So Coach Watson is developing those guys here in the off-season, they're in quarterback camp since Coach Watson has gotten here. And we're trying to develop and have ourselves a couple two or three. It would be nice to have two or three guys that we felt like, wow, we could win football games with.

We're excited about Max. He's fitting in well, the kids like him, he's a quiet leader. He's great in the weight room and works. He's not one of those guys that's already done it and earned it and thinks he deserves to be the guy. That's what I think is special about him.

Q. What do you do about competition at tight end?
Pat Narduzzi: We don't have a lot of bodies here. We have a lot of bodies coming in. Wish they were coming in mid year, but maybe we'll play with five wideouts; I don't know. When you talk about our offense, people always talk about where our offense was a year ago? Where is it now? Where was it two years ago? Your offensive philosophy develops based on who your people are, so I'm glad you asked that question. If you don't have a lot of tight ends and you build your offense around maybe a lot of tailbacks.

So we're going to put our best person on the field and do what our personnel does. Will our offense look exactly like it did last year? I hope points-wise it does, but structurally, it will be different. Any time you bring in a new coordinator, we're going to try to get him to do some things that we did in the past, but there's going to be some terminology that changes, some structure that changes. I think I'd be handcuffing an offensive coordinator coming in and saying I want you to do exactly what you did in the past.

Q. (Question about sophomore tight end Chris Clark and his competition this spring)
Pat Narduzzi: Clark isn't getting a break. He needs as many reps as he can get. We've got DeAndre Schifino. There is some movement we could make. We have other things up our sleeves too. But we're going to find out. That's what you do spring ball for.

We'll have experiments for sure. If you guys look close enough when you come out there pre-practice and see some of the experiments going on, but that's what spring ball's for. We don't have to beat anybody on, I guess it was the 22nd was the spring game?

Q. The 15th.
Pat Narduzzi: That's right. We moved it a couple times. Sorry, the 15th. So April 15th, so we don't have to beat anybody on that day. So we'll have some movement, but it's definitely a concern. That's why we've got a class of guys that, if you take three, at least one of them's going to come into play, right? We can't count on all three of them. But we'll have some tight ends. One way or another, we're going to build some.

Q. How do you feel about the competition, and the depth on the offensive line?
Pat Narduzzi: I feel good, competition, whatever it is. I can't say we're going to be as deep as we were. Dorian Johnson, and Bisnowaty, you lose two very good football players there, and we've got to replace those guys. So I really feel good about what that first group will look like. We'll just continue to build depth. That's why they call us coach. It's our job to get those guys ready to go. We've got to get some young guys ready, and we're going to find out about that.

Q. Working with Alex (Officer) at center or do you put him at guard?
Pat Narduzzi: We'll do a little bit of both. We're going to find out who they are. But there will be some type of accommodation. We can do that. We did that last year. But you can see Alex moving to some guard, Dintino up. You can see Dintino to guard too and Alex staying at center. So it's really finding out where our best five guys are. That's the goal. As we talk in our staff meetings, finding the best five linemen, the best four DBs, the three best linebackers.

Doesn't matter if they're three Mikes or three moneys. We're going to find the three, four or five best people and put the best 11 on the field that we can. If it's not a tight end person, maybe we can be a no tight end. We can still do our same stuff that we like to do offensively without a tight end. Put a tackle out there.

Q. On the defensive line, you're going to replace three starters and you have a new position coach, is that kind of an opportunity for some of the guys that have been there a little bit to have fresh starts in the eyes of Coach Partridge this spring?
Pat Narduzzi: Yeah, I think it is. It's a good visual. It's a good visual to say Coach Partridge is coming in, and everybody gets a fresh start. But I would hope that you have that feeling in every room. I hope the linebackers are going, hey, it's a fresh start. It's a new year, because it is. You've got to start fresh. What you did last year doesn't matter. Just like what you did during the season, just like last week, in that game, it doesn't matter. It doesn't carry over. Nobody's giving you credit going into the next game that, oh, you made 15 tackles or you had ten pancake blocks.

It doesn't matter what you did the week before or last season. It's really open season in every room, you know? It's going to be open soon. I think it always is. You have to have that. If guys start to feel comfortable in a position thinking, Coach Harley's still a linebacker coach, so I'm good. Hmm, don't feel too good. Andre Powell was here a year ago, Qadree Ollison was feeling good a year ago. Coach Powell was back, guess what? We're going to play the best players at whatever position. I don't care if they're scholarship guys or walk-ons, we're going to play the best.

Q. You have Dewayne Hendrix back practicing this spring?
Pat Narduzzi: He is. He's part of that 95%. Is he 100% healthy, probably not. Our goal as coaches, and Coach Andrews and our strength staff does a great job of really just designing the strength program that we don't beat up our guys down there. He knows where the weaknesses are, and what Dewayne Hendrix does maybe Ejuan Price didn't do in the weight room, or a Rori Blair, whoever it may be. So everything's a little bit different.

So he's not a hundred percent. But he's good enough to go out there and practice, and take reps, but we don't want to throw him out there and think he's a hundred percent, and beat him up to the point where you guys walk out there the next day, and he's other got a pink jersey on. So we don't want to do that. So we've got to be careful with some of those guys. Most important is getting to September with all our guys.

Q. Did you move Elijah Zeise from one outside linebacker spot to the other?
Pat Narduzzi: You know, he's 245 pounds, I think. Golly, his dad better watch out, he might whoop his butt, but he's getting big. He's a football player. I think a lot of people forget he started the season last year against Youngstown. He was a starter. He was in the top 11 guys. He's a football player. He's still got a long way to go. He doesn't have the game reps, but we're trying to put our best players in the game, and he's a guy right now with Galambos gone, and Caprara gone, Bam Bradley gone, you're talking about three D-linemen. But we lost three pretty good linebackers, too, that played a lot of football games here. So we're younger there, and it's wide open. It's going to be a fun spring.

Q. Have you seen Jay Stocker and Bricen Garner kind of step up, kind of the way Qadree did in the off-season?
Pat Narduzzi: They have. They have. We'll just -- it's all can you cover them? In fourth quarter workouts and in the weight room. But you really saw it in bowl season. Now they're bigger and hopefully stronger, faster, more confident. I think a lot of times you forget about those guys. They're in that room going, hey, I've got a shot. I sure hope they do. They see Reggie's gone and Webb's gone, so they've got to be thinking, hey, with T. Webb gone and Reggie gone, I've got a shot too. So they're feeling like it's open season.

Q. You said you have guys to be smart with and be careful about. Do you have any guys you know for sure are not in practice this spring?
Pat Narduzzi: Do I normally talk about that? I don't know. I'm going to stay consistent. The one guy I can tell you right now that we're going to be careful with, and he really looks good, and you'll see him walking around is Darrin Hall. That's the one I'll talk about, the guy that played in a bowl game. You know, he had an injury, and he's not back 100% yet. He might be back to 90%, but we're not doing that. So Darrin would be the one guy that's going to get a lot of learning in the classroom, but will not go out there and risk any injuries.

Q. Whitehead's practicing?
Pat Narduzzi: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. He's good.

Q. Anybody make big gains in the off-season, strength and conditioning-wise?
Pat Narduzzi: We haven't gotten those numbers yet. We usually do that in the fall to give you a lot of numbers. But we haven't really tested them. But they look good, and you watch them. It just seems that every year we get in that weight room and we look like a better football team when we walk out of there. Their arms, their shoulders, their necks, their legs. We've got some good looking guys. They look good.

Q. Being a defensive guy, how much do you personally want to work on defense this spring? How much is that an emphasis?
Pat Narduzzi: Everything's an emphasis. Scoring points is an emphasis, and keeping people off the scoreboard is an emphasis. As a defensive guy, I'd say there is a little more emphasis there. I want to get it right. I want our players to play at a high level. I think anytime there is one side of the ball, and the head coaches from that side, you look at that and want to get it fixed.

I think regardless of what happened, I go back, we played some pretty good quarterbacks. You look at the combine and some of the guys that ran at the combine, threw at the combine, we played some good players last year in the ACC conference, and really non-conference when you look at non-conference, the Rudolph kid out of Oklahoma State, he was a good football player. We played some legitimate guys. I can't believe he's coming back. I thought someone would talk him into saying he's a first rounder, make a lot of the money, a $20 million signing bonus. But they get to come to Heinz next year.

Q. How big of a deal is it for what's going on with the guys who you talked about graduating and the fact that there's a good chance you were going to have five, possibly six guys (drafted) and what that means for the program?
Pat Narduzzi: I think it's big for the program. It tells you that we've done a great job developing them in the classroom, developing them on the field. I think it's impressive when we have six guys at the combine.

Six guys at the combine is pretty strong. Now they've got to all get drafted, but they earned the right to be there. They were obviously productive on the field, they made plays. You have five on offense, and one on defense that I believe were at the combine. Players make plays, and those guys at the combine are guys that you look at how explosive our offense was when you've got five guys going to the draft. If it was three and three, maybe you feel better. But when it's five and one, you kind of go, okay, what is it?

Maybe a lack of players on one side of the ball that haven't developed like you need to. So that will happen. It comes with time, and you can't push it. You can't push an easy fix button.

But I think it's huge for the program that those guys represent us at the combine. There are some other guys. Matt Galambos wasn't there. I can't wait to watch him go in there and press. I've seen some other guys get drafted and be in the NFL for a year, and I've seen guys be free agents and walk into an NFL camp and be there for five, six, seven years.

Q. So you're not surprised that the grades and the evaluation that a lot of teams are having of Nathan Peterman?
Pat Narduzzi: No, not surprised at all. Put on the tape and watch the games. But sometimes people got to see it. Just like sometimes we watch tape of a high school kid, and maybe you don't see as much as you want, but then when you see him live in your camp or at the Senior Bowl you kind of go, whoa, it is real. He's a good quarterback.

Q. You have a new director of player personnel; can you talk about the new guy and how that all came about?
Pat Narduzzi: Dann has left and had some other opportunities that he wanted to investigate. We moved in a different direction. We appreciate everything Dann's done in the last two years here for us. We thank him for his efforts and we wish him luck in the future. But we're fired up about Graham (Wilbert) and really the ability that he has to maybe take our recruiting in a little bit different direction. We're excited about him.

We interviewed a few guys for the job, and I'm excited in just the last couple days of work we've gotten in here, some of the new structural changes. I think change is always good. It will make us all better, so we're excited about Graham.

Q. (Question on whether there has been any change with Zack Gilbert's health status)
Pat Narduzzi: Not really. Not right now. We're getting second opinions to find out. Good question. But right now it's status quo until someone tells us it's different.

Q. (Question about redshirt freshman Kaezon Pugh, who moved from linebacker to defensive end)
Pat Narduzzi: High expectations. Another one of those guys. You ask about Kaezon, the Aliquippa guy. He's always got a big smile on his face, he's big, he's physical, he can run. The guy can really run. If you look at him, he might be a little bit bigger Ejuan Price. That's our expectation, we're going to turn him into a Ejuan Price. If we can do that, we're excited about him. He's got a lot of work to do starting off, but he's very enthusiastic about the move.

He's kind of talked about it at the end of last season. Like, coach, I think I want to try that. I want to get to the quarterback. He's raw, but I know Coach Partridge is excited about working with him. He's looked great in our morning workouts, fourth-quarter workouts, so it will be interesting. You don't know what you have yet.

He's a guy that could still play running back. He's a guy that could play linebacker, and he could play D-end. I don't know if you guys know this, but he was a scout team tailback for a lot of weeks during the season where he just went back and played tailback, because we need a big, physical tailback depending on who we're playing. The only negative thing I could say about Kaezon is his ball security is awful. You wouldn't want to see it. He carries the ball like this, but he can run. We've got to work on his ball security.

Q. What's the process been like installing a new offense?
Pat Narduzzi: I think it's been good. You find that out after spring ball how smooth it was. The great thing is you have coaches that know the players. I think that's always the hardest part is knowing what you have and who they are and what button to push on each kid to make sure you get the best out of them. So I think it's going to go well.

Q. In the past, spring especially, with two-sport athletes especially at Pitt, lately there haven't been too many of them. Have you had much experience with two-sport athletes in the spring and getting them to come to you since you've been at Pitt?
Pat Narduzzi: Why? Do you have somebody you know? Do you know something I don't know?

Q. No, I don't.
Pat Narduzzi: We've had some two-sport guys. The last one I can really remember, we had Dion Sims who might be with the Bears now. He was with the Miami Dolphins and played basketball for about a month until his grades went like that. We had to get him back up and pull him off the basketball team. We had John Bowie play corner for us. Ended up playing with the Raiders for a couple cup of coffee there. He ran track. He actually played in a spring game or spring scrimmage on Saturday and ran track in the afternoon. He's really fast. Those are two of the latest ones.

But lately, you don't hear about it. You don't get much of it. If players want to do that, you have no problem. I have guys that wanted to play baseball. And as a matter of fact, Nick Goldsmith said, hey, can I try out for the baseball team? And I said, sure, go at it. Go see if you can help Joe.

So I think it's great if you can go run track, whatever it may be. Basketball players, you know, put Dane Jackson out there, he's going to call coach up and say, you need Dane.

Q. Has anyone else approached you to play two sports at Pitt?
Pat Narduzzi: Not that I can remember. No, Nick's the only guy that I can think of that did. But nobody other than that.

Q. Who is your long snapper?
Pat Narduzzi: We don't know yet. That's another interesting thing. Pat Quirin, did a great job for us. That's another spot that's open. We've got a young freshman coming in, Conrad Brake is a guy that we brought in a year ago that's developing. We're going to find out if he can do it under pressure. So the opportunity's open.

Nate Bossory's done a good job at really learning it. I'm not sure if he ever snapped before a year ago, but last year he'd sit after practice when you guys were talking to somebody, and he'd be out there for 15, 25 minutes out on the field just practicing. Really has gotten to be pretty proficient. So we're going to find out if he can do it when someone's rushing him, and I think that's a big question mark.

Q. Is one of the things you have to do with those redshirt freshmen guys is find out if they have a fit on special teams in the spring?
Pat Narduzzi: They better. They better. I think we know who has the ability to do -- I think anytime you have a bunch of young -- Therran Coleman, I think, Henry Miller, those are all guys if they don't end up starting, they should be starters on all special teams. I mention those two just because they hit me first. There is probably somebody, Bricen Garner, there's a bunch of them. All those guys need to be on special teams.

Tomorrow morning we'll have a five-minute team meeting, right into a special teams meeting, and this room will be full of specialists that should be on the punt team and kickoff team and cover kicks, period. So I think we have more of those this year than we had last year. It's just a matter of teaching them and making sure they know what they're doing when they get on the field.

When you're a redshirt freshman, you better love special teams. That's all part of the team.

Q. Is Brian O'Neill a candidate for left tackle?
Pat Narduzzi: Yes, for sure.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
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Pitt Football Set for Beginning of 2017 Spring Practices

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