Media availability was pretty decent after the first practice. Both coordinators were put out there, along with Quarterback Max Browne and Safety Jordan Whitehead. Quadree Henderson, the team’s offensive utility knife and Defensive Tackle Jeremiah Taleni got some media time.
Max Browne had some attention for wearing uniform number 4 — which probably speaks to a lack of topics as much as anything else. It’s always been the uniform number he wore. Nate Peterman also wore it, and I had no idea that was any sort of conflict or problem. Like plenty of QBs in college now, Brett Farve was the idol to many.
New OC Shawn Watson mainly talked about getting acclimated to the new team and offensive assistants.
“Those guys have brought me in and we’ve shared a lot of football together, spent a lot of time together in our short period of time here, because we’re getting on the same page,” said Watson, hired Feb. 2. “What I’ve done is I’ve come in and tried not to change anything for the kids in terms of the nomenclature of football, how football’s communicated. So I’ve needed them to teach me, and they’ve been awesome.”
Of course, Watson, also the quarterbacks coach, has already begun his own teaching. Coach Pat Narduzzi referred to his tutelage of his position group as “quarterback camp,” helping to develop not just the veteran Browne but the three scholarship underclassmen competing with him.
So far, Watson has mostly been learning as much as he can about his new players and familiarizing himself with the offense’s potential strengths, all the while going one day at a time to install his system.
It does bring up a solid, and oft forgotten point. As much as there has been teeth gnashing over the fourth OC in as many years at Pitt, The offensive assistants have remained unchanged since Narduzzi’s arrival. Some underlying stability in the positions coaches for the players.
On the defensive side, DC Josh Conklin is trying to get the defense to simply be better then it has.
“We have to coach them better, No. 1,” Conklin said. “We have to find ways to put players in better position.”
Then, there’s swag. Conklin said defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, in his second stint at Pitt, is the man to coax it from his players.
“He’s a great motivator, a tremendous teacher,” Conklin said. “He brings great energy to those guys.
“For us, that’s where it starts. When they walk on the field, they have to have a certain swagger to them, they have to have a certain confidence about them.
“If they don’t, you are going to have troubles defending the run, defending the pass.”
Pitt’s defense certainly had trouble when the ball was put in the air. Of the 128 Division I teams, only Arizona State allowed more passing yards per game than Pitt’s 333.2.
“We hear it from coaches, fans, everybody,” junior safety Jordan Whitehead said.
Confidence is nice. It tends to remain when there is something to back it up. It will have a lot to do with the secondary and improvements there.
Jordan Whitehead being recovered from a broken arm will certainly help.
While he’s still getting comfortable having an arm that is in one piece again, Whitehead also has some other things from 2016 on his mind. In particular, he’s thinking about his performance. He was a second-team All-ACC selection last season after leading Pitt with more than seven tackles per game, but he can’t shake the feeling that 2016 was a step down from his freshman campaign a year earlier.
“I think I struggled and missed more tackles than I did my freshman year; I think that separated me from my freshman year to last year, just making more tackles,” Whitehead said. “Junior year, I’m picking up this role and being a leader on the defense and learning multiple positions, just to get comfortable with everybody, every position because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Whitehead can’t put his finger on why some of those missed tackles happened – “I just missed them; that’s on me,” he said – but he does acknowledge that he might have been trying to do too much in some situations, particularly as Pitt’s defense grew more porous against the pass.
“I probably (did) a couple times, just trying to make a play; not really focused on my assignment, just trying to make the play. It happens here and there to everybody, but I think just keying on your assignment will always make a better outcome than trying to do too much.”
While Whitehead works to stay in his lane on the field, he is also trying to take on a new role: leader. Pitt lost 18 scholarship seniors plus James Conner from the 2016 roster this offseason, leaving a serious void of leadership all over the team and especially on defense.
There is really no question that Whitehead will have to be a leader, not just of the secondary but on the team overall. There are only 11 scholarship seniors on this team.