UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
August 9, 2018
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Media Day 2018. First of all, just like to thank you guys for your daily, daily, daily visit to practice and obviously coming today. Hope you guys like that little Skelly (ph) period we gave you, some of you guys, it was like getting a big candy bar instead of just a little candy.
We really appreciate everything you guys do because I know your job is as important as ours. So appreciate those things.
Obviously day six of camp. You know, we're really through the first quarter of our season when you think preseason camp. There's been a lot of work to go into it but again you think of a quarter of the way there and we've got three quarters to go.
So we have Media Day kind of at a weird time. It's almost like we should start it off this way and then let you guys tail off of there.
But I really like where we are at this point. We've got 19 seniors, and they sit in those front seats; they really have done a great job leading this team, and not only leading it through practice the last six days, but really, the summer.
And then I've got to give a shout-out to really our strength coaches, starts with Dave Andrews and all the preparation that goes into getting to this camp. But Dave Andrews, and Freddie Walker and Austin Addington-Strapp and our nutritionist, I think is one of the best in the country, probably needs to be a story on those guys, make E.J. bug someone besides me. But Katherine Hopkins, our nutritionist, has done an unbelievable job.
I think really what happens during the summer when you're on vacation, coaches are taking a few weeks off and on vacation, and there's always somebody here but our strength staff really holds things together in the summer. We came in prepared physically.
Right, now we're sitting in a good place. I told you six days ago we came in really healthy and we're still really healthy right now after six days, and we want to say that way and that's attributed to our off-season program and also our guys paying attention to the tempo.
I think after three great years and then going to the fourth training camp, our kids are starting to figure out how we practice together and keep each other healthy and I think that's an important asset to have going into a championship season.
So with that, I'll leave it open for you guys to ask some questions. We've got a lot of talented young guys in, too. I know you won't get many of them next door but if you have any questions about any of those guys, fair game. Shoot.
Q. With the new redshirt rule, how does change your approach now and how you'll approach working with those guys through the season?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: You know what, it's not going to change our approach. We are looking for the best 22 on offense, on defense and really that two-deep in every special teams. It's not going to change our initial approach. What I think it does, and again, I think I've mentioned to you guys how we go ones, twos and freshmens, so we're getting a good look at these guys, today, this afternoon.
We've had an opportunity, even at the end of practice go freshman on freshman to really find out who they are and those days are running out real soon as far as how many times they are getting quality time on the field coaching. And pretty soon we've just got to kind of slide into coaching the ones and twos and getting those two-deep but there are many guys that have slid up and got some reps with the ones and twos, and that's a real positive for some of those young guys.
Q. Have you changed the way you handled a guy like Kenny Picket last year, where he played the first couple games -- tried to redshirt --
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: No question about it. No doubt about it because deep down we were hoping to go with one and when it came down to two, then we had to think about three. So that definitely would have changed the strategy a year ago, and we're not going to be afraid.
In the past, it's like, you know, we would always sit down on a Thursday, okay, who is not playing, but you know, by God, don't put him in the game unless you guys -- we sit here and talk about it, and so we've had that conversation and we knew there was some guys you put in and hoped you could get through it.
But you know, right now, it's like fair game. Anybody can go in. If you want to put a guy in, put him in. I don't want to see a guy get in for to one play. I want to see him get in or 15, game 8, 8 or 7, whatever it may be, but it does change your strategy a little bit as far as later on.
Like I've told our football team and those young guys, it's going to give you an opportunity to work your tail off as the season goes on and I think that's, you know, the real important thing. In the past I've seen some horrible, horrible scout team players in the freshman year and they are in the NFL right now because they shut it down. If you shut it down, you won't get those four games at the end of the year. If you turn it up and start getting better every day, you will. I think that's a major advantage for those consistency.
Q. At running back, you have two seniors and three young guys, how is the competition between those five?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: It's a daily -- it's a right jab one day, a left jab and an upper cut. They are going back and forth. Darrin Hall and quad rule are leading that room and they are coaching their tails off on those young guys, as well. A.J. Davis and I tell you what, Sibley, both of those guys, Davis and Sibley have gotten better. They have done some nice things.
Sibley has had two pad days in a row and gone out and shown he's ready. He had a great move today and bounced it outside on a pretty good-sized run.
And A.J. has done the same thing so both of those guys have played well. Michael started off with a bang. Haven't really noticed him the last couple days, when I say noticed him, I'm like big, big plays.
First couple days, it was big, big plays, but he looked, probably has hit the wall a little bit there. But talent-wise we've got ourselves a special football player there.
Q. As far as receptions, wide receivers, are you confident what you're seeing out there with the wide outs?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, right now after day six, yeah. It's a daily deal. We talk about getting three percent better every day. There's the good and the bat and that's really at every position. I don't care, receivers, O-line, D-line, DBs, they are all the same.
Every day is a new day but I'm confident, No. 1, that we've got a quarterback or two that can get those guys the ball. I mean, I'm watching Nick Patti, threes-on-threes, throwing the ball and watching Cam O'Neil make a nice catch and him make a nice throw and it was more of a trust thing.
It wasn't like his thing was wide open, but Nick Patti put it where he needed to be and Cam catches it right where it's supposed to be. It's kind of like, wow, with pressure in your face. I know I couldn't see the receiver. I don't know how Nick saw the receiver. I'm back there, couldn't see him; but little things like that. We have guys that can put the ball where it needs to be, and you know, it's got going to be all on the receivers. Sometimes that's a two-way street.
So I'm not worried about our guys moving balls in the paths. Our guys can catch the ball. You saw that in Skelly (ph) the other day. You got an opportunity to watch the offense move on the field and compete and guys tackle or not tackle, and again that was first day in pads.
So I hope we get a lot better, you know, from that -- from, you know, from that day to day 24 in practice.
Q. Now that you have put the pads on, have you gotten a better sense of which freshmen might be able to help you this year?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: You know what, it's still a couple practices away from really feeling that. But I tell you, one guy, Shocky is a guy that right now, you go, oohh, our kids notice that guy right now that he can come play. We know mentally he was here in the string. Physically he wasn't because of a high school injury. But right now, physically, he's done some great things and he plays fast all the time.
He is not hit a wall mentally yet which helps him because he paid attention in the string even though he didn't get the physical reps, he got the mental reps, but right now he's playing at a high speed.
He's not one of those guys that floats around there. He caught a ball out here, you know, two days ago and it was like, whoa and I thought he was overthrowing. I'm about ready to turn around and get some Gatorade and all of a sudden, he reached out and caught that thing. I didn't think there was any way he would walk it down but he walked it down; so he's a guy.
You know, Quis Williams is another guy that has shown -- and sometimes those skill positions, you can do that -- at corner, that has shown some promise early where, hey, maybe we are going to play that guy right now. And again, whether it's them playing really good or a position of need, that guy has been a guy.
And then John Morgan, kid from DeMatha, defensive end, No. 6 out there, you'll see flashing around. He's doing some good things, getting some reps with the twos. So all those guys are getting reps the with the twos right now and there's probably one or two that maybe I've forgotten or missed.
And Patti, he's playing well. We're sitting -- to find out, who is going to be our third quarterback and our second quarterback but there's some competition going on there. Nick is not just saying, okay, I'm a freshman; I'm going to be the third fourth or fifth. He's coming in and studying the game and he's done some positive things.
Q. I know coaches approach every season the same way, but this year, in your fourth year with great support, do you feel more or less pressure coming into the season under those circumstances?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: I feel the same pressure. Every day's pressure. You know, as coaches we put pressure on ourselves. Every day, it's like, God, why are we not doing this and why are we not doing that. You don't see us in meetings. I'm a lot cooler sitting in front of you here in the media but every day is a pressure day.
So you know, there was pressure in the first year. There's pressure in the fourth year. There will be pressure in the 15th year. I don't really see it any different. I mean, we do what we do. We coach the way we do. I'm not coaching any different now than I did four years ago or 15 years ago to be honest with you.
Q. How is the depth at the linebacker spot with a guy like Quintin Wirginis coming back this year?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: A healthy Quintin Wirginis.
Makes us a better defense. Love that guy. We did a goal line period today and the offense scored after two plays, and before he goes off the field he comes up to me and says, "Coach, can we get another series of that?" He wants to go again. It's like, I want to go again.
You know what, they come out again on defense and they shut them down. So the linebacker depth is pretty darned good. At the Mike linebacker spot, I mean, you see improvement every day out of Elias Reynolds and Chase Pine, they are getting better. They are so much better than they were a year ago, it's not even funny.
At the star position, Seun is having a great camp and you look at the guys behind him, Anthony McKee is sound as he's ever been. He gets it. The light bulb went on and then Cam Bright is a guy that has got some special talents that he's way ahead of where Anthony McKee was two years ago.
Going in the boundary, Saleem Brightwell and Elijah Zeise, two guys, two talented football players who are fighting to see who can get the start No. 1 and who is going to get the most reps and who is going to make the plays.
Competition is a beautiful thing and I tell you there's competition and I'm going to give you some ors to show you -- might have more ors than you've ever had on a depth chart because the talent and depth is that much better than it was a year.
Ago. Sometimes I throw some ors on there just to mess with you so you don't know what's going on. But there may be some real, real ors out there, even at the D-tackle position.
Q. How was Tre Tipton coming off the injury?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Tre has been really solid. Tre is a good football player. He's got a ton of talent and we want him to give it every down, every play, every day. He's had a good camp so far. He's really been solid. We just continue to hope we get big plays out of Tre Tipton.
Q. What areas of the team are you most concerned about; you lost a couple guys to the NFL?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: There's no -- I'm sitting here going, oh, gosh, and that's because we're healthy right now. I might say, oh, gosh, if we don't get healthy all of a sudden at some spot, but that's not going to happen. We're going to stay healthy.
You know, right now, there's no glaring weaknesses right now. Our receivers are out there playing. In the spring would I have told you health-wise that was a concern.
But right now Coach Sherman is doing a good job at keeping the reps, making sure they are not getting worn out and fatigued and then maybe broken down and part that have is us being smart coaches and kids taking care of their bodies and really the results of the off-season program, maybe a little bit more running, more this, as opposed to that.
Q. How do you try to balance the excitement you have for the new redshirt freshman and temper the expectations of the fans, especially when you're talking about Paris Ford and Whitehead?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Just tell the fans to relax. It's only day six. We've still got lots more football to go. It's day six. I mean, like I said every day is a new day so we can talk about them until May, and we may not be saying good things tomorrow or feeling good things tomorrow. I think it's a day-by-day.
Q. Can you talk about the development, your personal feelings on Elijah Zeise, what he's meant to the program as far as different positions and settling in and being one of the leaders?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Elijah Zeise is a great kid, No. 1. He's a quiet, go-to-work, doesn't say a word. Just works his tail off.
And I wish you guys could probably, before Media Day today, could have a before-and-after picture of what he was back in the indoor facility three years ago. A little skinny, scrawny, wide-out to where the other day he got dinged, was laying on the ground, and Rob Lang (ph), our trainer, rolled him over and I'm like, look at this guy, look at this dude, I'm not worried about his injury because I knew he wasn't really hurt.
But his arms are puffed up. The dude is huge. He's been so much more physical than what he was. You look at the steps and the percentages, he's got better from his first year going from wide out to linebacker. He's made some major, major improvements and his body doesn't look anything like it. Might have still looked like it if he was a wide-out maybe. He's a big kid and we're happy he's on defense.
Q. There was an ACC coach who had said when talking about your front seven that it reminded him a lot of the defense that you had in your final years at Michigan State. For someone who has been at both places and seen them firsthand, does it feel that way to you?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: You know, Coach Partridge does a heck of a job. I'm never going to go out there and say, oh, yeah, they are there. We'll find out. To me, you find out in December. Find out where we are December 1 is the key. That's how you measure yourself. It's not how many sacks you have, TFLs. It's how you are as a team and it starts up front with those guys.
So if we are going to be a dominant football team and get to a championship, we're going to have to play some championship defense and it will start with those guys up front. You know, the front seven, those linebackers and the front four.
Q. Do you feel as good as you felt about your defense the past few years?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, definitely. There's no doubt about it. I think you gradually can see it. You could start to see it the end of last year. I don't think that Virginia Tech or the Miami game was a fluke. I think we continued, got a little bit better and then I think with some of the new stuff we're going on defense, it's giving them a little bit of an advantage. We tweaked it quite a bit and I think it's just added a layer of paint as far as what we do defensively.
Q. From a personality standpoint -- Michigan State were a physical, in-your-face, kind of group. Do you see the guys you brought in when you first got in here? Do you see that sort of development?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Like I said, I love the guys we had. I'll take Juan Tice (ph) back. I'll take Tyreek Jared (ph) back. I'll Bradley and Freeze -- we had a little video of Freeze. I'll take a lot of those guys back. We had some good players a couple years ago, too. I don't want to downplay those guys. I like those guys. I love those guys.
You know, and sometimes, you have them all together, Lafayette, he's a pretty good football player. So there's a bunch of them. You know, we love Jordan Whitehead, all those guys.
Those are all our guys, my guys and those guys are all great players. I don't want to sit here and say those guys aren't of that quality, but to me, it's measured in: Do you win a championship or not. And it's not how good a D-Line is or a guy is. To me, you could have a great defense but if you go 5-7, nobody cares. You've got a crappy defense.
It doesn't matter, you know, where those people are. It's where the team is in the end. I think that's the ultimate measure of where we are. So we get to a Championship Game then you can talk about the defense and I'll jump up and down.
Q. Is this group as capable of playing championship defense as any group you've had since you got here?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Yes, I think it is, as a whole, when you talk all 22 guys on defense and when I say 22, I'm talking depth.
When you look at where we were a year ago, at the linebacker especially, we had one deep and if we had to put a backup in, put the North Carolina State game on, if we had to put a back in, you were holding on to your tail, okay, with both hands going, okay, what's going to happen here. Okay, I hope they don't run that play or I hope they don't do this.
This year, we're not doing that. You put a backup in, you've got a chance. It's the depth we have. It's not, oh, that player is better than the player we had three years ago. We have more pieces to the puzzle. We have 22 or 26 guys that maybe can help us win a championship.
Q. Your defense at Michigan State took on your personality. The Pitt defense, do they take on your personality?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: I think they are taking on Bates and Harley and Partridge and Sanders' personality. I hope they are taking on everybody's personality. I hope they are not just taking on mine, because I'm in here talking to you guys and they are out there doing walk-throughs. But I think it's a "we."
I think it's everybody and you have to practice, half of them watching the offense, half I'm watching the defense. I'm moving around. I'm inside. Whenever I'm behind a team, when I'm behind the defense and inside, I'm rooting for the defense.
And when we go to a team period or any other period I'm always behind the offense and I'm rooting for -- I don't even talk much to the defensive guys. So I hope they are taking on the personality of our football team and our coaches.
Q. Given the defense, as you mentioned 22, 25, 26 deep, what's it like to have a new coordinator come in? How much can that be something that infuses the team?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: You know, fresh ideas are great, and you know, we've got our base of what we like and then there's some tweaking that needed to be done. It probably needed to be done three years ago and we didn't do it. So there's some nice little things that we've done front-wise, coverage-wise, alignment-wise, key-wise. I gave you a lot right there. That's a ton of information.
So there's just different stuff that we're able to do and we're old enough to do it, too. Last year, we could have had new faces as a coordinator but we might not be able to do some of the little things because they just couldn't do it.
But this year because of some of the maturity that we have on defense, some of the returning starters, we have seven, eight, however you want to count them, nine, we have the ability to maybe tweak a little bit and they have picked up the install well and we have thrown a lot at them in those installs.
Q. How about on the offensive side? How do you see the offense evolving?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: I think I see a great evolvement. For me, it made my job easier; I think any time you have a one-year coordinator, you're just trying to get the pieces back to -- let's do it the way we did it last year, let's get it done that way, and if we can add some pieces, that's great. But I'm just trying to keep it the same, not structurally, not schematically. I'm just talking about like, hey, this is the way we do it. Coaching them up on how we do it.
But after second year, everyone in that room knows how we do it and now it's a matter of -- now I have as a head coach more time to go, hey, have you thought about this, just finding different ways, because I think you have to think outside the box to get better offensively, defensively, special teams-wise.
To me, it just gives me more freedom to go around and say, what are you doing here. I'm not just worried about plugging up the gaps. Coach Watson and the offensive staff have done a great job. Dave Borbely has made a major impact in our run game I think from stuff he's done at Louisville and Colorado and wherever else he's been. He's got a great mind for the run game, as well as Coach Watson does. I can't wait to watch, you know, watch them play.
Q. Talk about the special teams, especially the returning kicker and punter, the challenges you had in camp.
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, I'll start off with the punter. Kirk Christodoulou has done an unbelievable job so far.
You know, Ryan Winslow is kicking with the Bears. You probably watched him in the Hall of Fame Game the other day. Booed a couple, and then got a guy (indiscernible), we've got a real true, I get a redshirt freshman punter coming in from Australia but this kid -- there's two things with a punter that are important: How long does the ball sit in your hands, when the ball touches your hands and when the ball touches your foot, how long is that.
And this guy went from a consistent 1.45 to 1.55, somewhere in that range, because I time them every day because it's so important. The punter can't do anything about the snap location, but how fast can you get it out of your hand. And Kirk has made major improvements of getting the ball out of his hands. Because last year we had consistent times out of Win, but when he come up, I'm like, golly, you're sucking on that ball and we need to get rid of it.
In the off-season, he's improved, getting that ball out consistently, it's not been an up and down, 1.5, 1.2, 1.5, 1.45; it's been a consistent, somewhere in the 1.2, below 1.3, hand-to-foot get-off. That's the first thing that's important because you know, I hate to hear that double-thud. You guys know what I'm talking about -- that ain't a good thing, and a lot of times it's on the punter if he doesn't get it out.
And then second thing is, you guys have been out there. You come out to practice, it's real sunny out and all of a sudden he hits a couple bombs, and then all of a sudden starts raining them. He's bringing the rain down with some of his hang time. He has some 5.0 hang times that are 50 yards long, people better just start to learn how to do that -- if he can do that in Hines Field when the lights are on, our punting is going to be where it was last year when Ryan was here.
So that was the punter. You want to hear about the kicker?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: You sure? Second part, part two, stay locked in.
But then you look at Kessman, Kessman is doing a good job. He's got a stronger leg. I've never seen in three years guys kick it over the net and you guys have been out there watching them like golly, another tribute to our strength staff and what we have done down there power, strength-wise, flexibility and recover.
But Kessman has got a stronger leg, and mentally he's stronger. He's not a puppy anymore. We expect both those guys to be strong contributors to a strong special teams game.
Q. In a hundred words or less, how are you a better coach today than you were December 24, 2014?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: I'm not. I'm the same dude. Just I'm -- same guy, maybe a little chubbier, maybe a little balder, that's about it.
Q. Do you change your approach or change the way you treat your people?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: About the same. It's consistency. If you change too much, it's a bad deal. Everything the same.
Q. I've heard people say that about you, you're consistent.
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: I hope so. That's good. It's good to be consistent.
Q. This might have been the first Media Day where the coach was never asked about his quarterback specifically --
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Hey.
Q. You've already talked about Kenny in practice, but what progress have you seen even from the spring from physically and mentally? He did a lot his first start.
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: You know what, he's smarter than he was in the spring. I think he's more confident than he was in the spring. You take those 15 days in the spring, and now he's got a another six under his belt. He's got, you know, 60 of them under his belt. This summer was just -- our summer workout program.
But we'll find out on game day. I mean, you know, that bar is up there as far as where he set it against No. 2 Miami and that's what everybody is expecting on September 1. So he's got to come out and deliver that.
Anything less than that is probably, you know, everybody is going to be like, oh, man, but we won't worry about it. We'll go back to work the next week. Kenny is a great kid, great player. He's a leader out there on the field as I've said a hundred times and our team trusts in Kenny Pickett.
Q. I was going to ask where the slogan, "lock the gates," came from?
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Where did it come from? We've had that slogan for a long time. Since we got here, we kind of had that as one of our slogans. It's been one of our slogans. We walk out of the locker room, we hit a sign above our heads that says "lock the gates."
Basically we're going out to the field and we're going to lock the Gates and take care of business. That's really where it comes from and we've done it for a long time.
But the seniors, our Eagles, our leadership counsel, it shows. We talk about: Hey, what is the phrase, they say, coach, we want to lock the gates every practice, we want to lock it every practice. I said that's fine.
Just because it's there, doesn't mean you can't use it. Those guys in the past, as coaches and creative people, we've tried to make up a name, but to me the best thing to do is to put it in the kids hands and let them take ownership of that and who do you want to be?
Well, we are going to be talking about locking the gates every Friday, every Saturday, every game, whatever time they tell us to play, that's our goal is to lock the gates and finish business and then we'll unlock the gates after the game is over.
Q. Is that a reference to the Coliseum --
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: You can make it a reference to whatever you want to make it to. It's a reference.
Q. Thought it was referencing the reporters.
COACH PAT NARDUZZI: Lock you out, too.
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