Narduzzi: 'I think great things can happen'
Pat Narduzzi met the media at the ACC Kickoff on Wednesday. Here's a full rundown of what he said.
Looking at the last six years as you head into year number seven, how would you assess looking past all this time that you've had at Pittsburgh? Where are things from where you wanted them to be to where they currently are?
Narduzzi: I guess first thing in the assessment is I'm getting awful old, going on year seven here at Pitt. I really like the football team we have. It takes time to build. You'll meet these three classy young men over here in a second.
But when you look at the quality of player we have. There's times in my first couple years, I'm looking out there like, Wow, okay? That's no disrespect to what we had. I think every year we get a little bit better. I think the quality of personnel that we have, I think our depth.
I think it all starts with roster management. We've been able to retain our players. We don't have a bunch of guys in the portal. Our guys are sticking with us. For example, Kenny Pickett probably could have gone anywhere in the country he wanted to go. He said, I'm coming back for my fifth year at Pitt. Tells you about the culture we have there.
You know how the game goes, there's the ups and downs of every ballgame. Sometimes it takes a little luck. I'm excited about where we are as a football program, a football team. Again, our depth and roster management is as good as it's been.
There's years like how are we going to get through the season with these four linebackers that can play? Man, if he goes down, if he goes down, if he goes down, we're still okay. I think that's crucial in the ACC.
29 returning on defense, 31 on offense. You only lost nine lettermen. It seems the Panthers are pretty well fortified this year.
Narduzzi: We had 13 super seniors, which fortifies you pretty good. When you're from the Steel City, that certainly helps. I think our depth is good everywhere. It's going to be really trying to make sure everybody is getting enough reps and try to keep everybody happy through the season.
Our locker room is full. We have great players. I think we got team concept going on. I like the leadership that our players have shown from top to bottom. Our coaches have done an unbelievable job.
Name, image and likeness, something that every coach has to really think about, break down to the best of your ability. There's a lot of questions. Doesn't seem like there's a lot of answers at the moment. How do you assess it?
Narduzzi: Number one, it's a great opportunity for our kids. I think as coaches, you look at your children back at home, your children on campus. I look at all our players. The opportunities they have. I want them to be selective, I want them to do the right opportunities. You want to make sure they're organized in what they do.
The opportunities that our kids are getting. It gives some young guys an opportunity to look up at a Kenny Pickett or a Deslin Alexandre and say, I want to be like him. Look what he got. How do I get where Kenny is?
Everybody wants to be in Kenny shoes. It's not a given, he's earned everything he's got. Kenny, when he decided to come back, he didn't come back thinking that this name, image and likeness was going to be something. But he's able to take part in it. It's really going to build him for the future, it's going to build our kids for the future.
I think it's a great opportunity for our young men to build their image. We have a life skills program on campus. Penny Semaia runs it. Since the first day I arrived on campus, he talked about branding, branding. We've been branding for a long time at Pittsburgh. He talks about the first impression, what do people think of you when they step up on this podium today.
Now it's an opportunity for our kids to earn some money, earn a meal, I don't care what it is. Not to have to go to a restaurant and say, 'You can't give me that appetizer.'
It's a great opportunity. There's got to be some restrictions, some lids put on this thing. I think eventually we'll get to that. It's disappointing there isn't already some, like, legislation. I think the commissioner talked about it this morning, I won't beat a dead horse with that.
I think there have to be some constraints on this thing or it can get out of control. I think you want to make everything equal. I think the quality there is going to be important.
Obviously lost a lot of talent off that defensive line from last year to the NFL. How is the unit progressing this off-season?
Narduzzi: Yeah, great question.
With Patrick Jones heading to the Vikings, Rashad Weaver to the Titans, we lost a lot of firepower there. We'll have to blitz a little bit more, bring more linebackers. We have Deslin Alexandre over here you'll get a chance to talk to in a few minutes. We've got Habakkuk Baldonado, a young man from Rome, Italy. John Morgan.
Again, we've talked earlier, as Dan asked those questions about our depth, I'm happy with the way we've recruited. I'm happy with the depth. I'm happy with the development. It all comes down to development. Patrick Jones was a two-star player out of Virginia that I don't want to say nobody wanted, but we were able to get. He only had two stars. I don't know how many Rivals guys we have in here or two, four, seven, all that. Our job as coaches is to develop, okay? That's why I like coaching.
When you develop players, good things are going to happen. That's our job to develop more guys that can get to the passer in a four-down situation. We have plenty of players. Whether we have to design something to get pressure, we've been fortunate enough to lead the country in sacks the last two years. We would like to do it three years in a row.
Historically speaking, two of the top five of Pitts' largest ACC victory margins came last year. That's pretty impressive given as goofy as all of 2020 was.
Narduzzi: Yeah, that was last year. I don't remember what happened last year. I think offensively, when you talk about college football nowadays, you got to score points. I think our offense got into a groove as the season moved on. I think when Kenny Pickett was healthy near the end, not 100% healthy, I'll add that, but you get your running game going, I think great things can happen.
I think a couple of those might have been Florida State, Virginia Tech, I'm not sure which games you're talking about. It was so ago, and it was COVID ago. I think those were two games. In both those instances you saw run game. We can't drop back with any quarterback - you can give us Dan Marino back. If Dan has to drop back every snap and throw the ball, you're going to have issues.
I think when the run game gets going, you're going to see a lot more explosive plays, not a seven- or eight-yard pass completion, you're going to see a 78-yard pass completion. Those are the ones we like to have. Kenny would like to have one throw and a fresh arm.
The Coastal is going to be extremely competitive this year. What are some of the key things that will set your team apart, get to the top of the division?
Narduzzi: It's going to come down to discipline I think. You can have good players, you got to go out and make plays. To win football games, I think it's going to come down to our guys preparing to win. I think we have the talent to win. It's preparing to win.
It's going to come down to the details on the field, the discipline and the details. Our goal is to be the less penalized team in the country. We have to eliminate those errors. We have to win those turnover ratios, all those football coach-speak words. Those are going to be the keys.
Then again, I'm going to go to church on Sunday morning at 7:30 and say my prayers and hope for a little luck. Everybody needs a little luck.
We don't often hear questions about special teams during this type of forum. Your thoughts about the Panthers and those special teams unit members going into 2021?
Narduzzi: Yes, we'll start off with the strength, is our punting game. Again, I think your punt is the most important play in football.
Cal Adomitis, our longer snapper, turned down an opportunity to go to the Senior Bowl last year, had an opportunity to be a drafted guy. Has graduated from Pitt already. Not like he was going to stay to graduate. Had graduated, stayed for another year. Just loves Pitt, college football. That opportunity he knows is going to be down the road.
He's the guy that's going to be snapping it to our Ray Guy finalist, Kirk Christodoulou, one of our punters from Australia. He's an incredible kid. He has made strides and gotten better every year. We have some new weapons and skills that we're teaching him as far as some of the schematics go with our punt teams. Made major strides with our punt game last year. We continue to get better with that as the spring went on and through the summer.
Our protection has been solid. We have to make sure we don't give up any blocks there. Then when you look at our field goal team, the big thing is we're not going to kick field goals in the red zone anymore. Really don't need a field goal kicker this year, we just need a guy that can put it up through the upright on an extra point. When we get in the red zone, we're going to score a lot more points this year.
I think we relied too heavily on Alex Kessman. It's like guaranteed three when you got it in field goal range. So Alex Kessman is not with us. We have two really fine kickers that will be battling out this fall. I think they're two guys that can play for anybody.
We're going to put a lot of pressure on them in fall camp like we did in the spring. I feel comfortable with either one of them lining up. We're going to find out who is that guy that's going to make the money kicks.
Going into training camp after having a spring with Brennan Marion as wide receivers coach, what have you seen him impact-wise on guys?
Narduzzi: I think that's a great question. It's a great question for our players as well. I think Jordan may be able to answer that question as good as I can. I think I can answer it with a lot of confidence.
I'll first off say Chris Beatty, our receiver coach, left for the Chargers in the NFL. He was a hell of a coach. Great coach, great person. A joy to be around every day in our office. I miss him.
But my job as a head coach is to move on. We can hang our heads and say we just lost a guy to the NFL, why did the NFL have to come and steal our receiver coach. My job is to get a guy good or better. I know there were some sad faces. Jordan had one of those sad faces. Not only did Coach Beatty coach him, but he recruited him as well. They had a great relationship. My job was to go get another guy.
There's always that other coach that can come in and give you even more. Brennan Marion has come in, and those kids are playing with a lot of enthusiasm, playing with a lot of effort.
I like what I see. I think they're doing a better job blocking right now. Again, they're a year older. A lot of that comes with age. It's nothing that Coach Beatty was not coaching, but I just see a lot more effort out there. Again, I think they have a lot of confidence.
It's just a different atmosphere in that room. Every coach, whether my old linebacker days, got a little bit different attitude in that room, a little bit different demeanor. It's been a great change. We're excited about it. I think our receivers are excited about it. Now we got to get into game mode.
Spring ball was great, coaching fundamentals was great. Now we have to get into game mode and make sure we're prepared. That's going to be the key, preparation game by game. When the coverage changes, what are they doing, how we make adjustments. I'm sure Coach Marion will do a heck of a job there, as well.