Spring practices start today. 14 practices mostly closed off to the public and media, culminating in the Blue-Gold Scrimmage on Saturday, April 15. There’s no way it will be as perfect weather as last year, but at the moment I’ll settle for it being warmer then this week in the Cleveland area.
Yesterday was the pre-spring practices press conference. (Is that really what we’re calling it? Shut up.)
The theme of the spring appears to be about finding leaders. It’s a subtle thing, but articles vaguely hinting at the topic are here, here and here. Narduzzi seems to be emphasizing it on the defensive side. Perhaps surprisingly, it is Jerimiah Taleni who he is singling out as the guy who at the very least, has been leading the way all through the offseason.
“I’ll mention Jeremiah Taleni: he’s just come so far, it’s unbelievable,” Narduzzi said. “The kid’s really become a leader. I’m watching him in the winter workouts coach up the young guys. That’s when you see it. I’m not saying he’s a captain; we’ll find out in August or September. But right now you look at him like, what happened to you? He’s made some major strides in that.”
Narduzzi said two other key positions should lend themselves to leadership roles.
“I always look at your quarterback and your middle linebacker as leaders because they’re really talking every play to your football team. Obviously with Nathan Peterman gone, you lost a major leader there. With Matt Galambos gone…we’ll miss Matt. He was a major leader; he was a guy that led our defense. Those are two major guys and voices that our players are used to hearing every day. So those are some voids that we’re looking for.”
Taleni, is the (only?) Pitt player who has the coolest picture with the Dalai Lama.
Narduzzi talked a lot about the defense — big surprise. Between his roots on that side, and the struggles of it last year. Well, that should be a big topic.
On offense, of course there is the issue of replacing James Conner at running back. Though, that one may be a bit of “to be continued” checkmark with the incoming freshmen ,A.J. Davis and Todd Sibley.
Narduzzi is always hesitant to single-out certain players, whether it be on the injury front or something as simple as those who are making strides in practice, but he specifically mentioned that he looks forward to seeing how running back Qadree Ollison progresses this spring. He expounded on Ollison, who faded into obscurity last season after his 2016 breakout when he was named ACC offensive rookie of the year in James Conner’s absence: “He is a hundred percent different from what he was a year ago. He was feeling good about being rookie of the year, goes into spring and he’s just OK. But he’s a different dude out there now. He knows the door’s open and he looks like he’s ready to grab it.”
One player who’s not in the 95 percent of healthy guys is running back Darrin Hall, who was banged up in the bowl game and will remain out for spring camp. Between Ollison apparently looking better and Chawntez Moss grabbing backup work last year as a freshman, maybe not the best omen for Hall.
The same can be said for the tight end spot where the Chris Clark is the only tight end presently on the roster. But talented young players arrive in the summer in Grant Carrigan, Charles Reeves and Tyler Sear.
Then there is the case of the presumptive starting QB, grad transfer Max Browne. Fitting in, getting used to Pittsburgh, and getting ready.
Other topics to expect heavy focus. New OC (and the offense, generally under) Shawn Watson. How does Jester Weah continue to progress? Which receivers really take a significant step this year? How about some reshuffling on the O-line?
Then there’s the defense. Starting with the secondary. Oh, that secondary. Heck, the defense as a whole with the changes up front on the D-line and linebacker.