It’s official: Max Browne named Pitt starting QB |
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Jerry DiPaola
Pitt quarterback Max Browne takes a snap during practice Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Coach Pat Narduzzi’s decision to name Max Browne Pitt’s starting quarterback has its roots in football and is understandable on several levels.

No. 1, Browne has a strong arm that wide receiver Quadree Henderson recently described as “a cannon.”

No. 2, He’s 6-foot-5 and can see things just past the line of scrimmage and into the secondary that others — including his 6-2 predecessor, Nathan Peterman — can not.

No. 3, Browne will be one of the first to say, “I feel like I’m real good upstairs as far as recognizing defenses, knowing what blitzes defenses are bringing at me.”

No. 4, Browne said he has felt comfortable with his new teammates almost from the first day he showed up for winter workouts. That’s something a coach notices, and Narduzzi made it part of his decision-making process.

All of that matters and could serve Browne well this season.

Yet, there’s more to the story.

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When Narduzzi broke the news to Browne and now-backup Ben DiNucci, nothing changed between the two competitors. In fact, as of Tuesday afternoon, they hadn’t discussed it.

They remained friends and went to practice just like any other day.

“Business as usual,” Browne said. “Our relationship is fine.”

“(DiNucci) took it like a man,” Narduzzi said. “He said, ‘Coach, I’m going to be the best darn backup I can be.’ ”

Truth be told, that’s the only way these situations can work.

Browne is a team leader. Actually, he has been since spring ball, if not before that. As such, he took the news in stride, if for a different reason than DiNucci.

He admitted he didn’t travel cross-country from USC and his home state of Washington to be a backup. “I think that’s spot-on,” he said.

He has enough confidence in himself to believe he should be Pitt’s starting quarterback. He said he feels more secure as the starter at Pitt than he did last year when he was in the same spot at USC. There, he was benched in favor of Sam Darnold after a 1-2 start.

But Narduzzi, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and Browne were clear in their belief the job was earned.

“It was a competition. I don’t think it was a slam dunk at all,” Narduzzi said. “Ben fought. This football team has a lot of respect for Ben.

“Last year, we had one guy. This year, we have two guys we think we can win with.”

Narduzzi said he didn’t make up his mind until Sunday, the day after the third scrimmage of the summer.

It was important for Narduzzi to create competition so players with similarly strong pedigrees wouldn’t get too comfortable.

“All college football players have to learn, if they really want something, what it truly means to go and get it,” Watson said. “It takes so much to go get a job.”

The knowledge gained from this experience will help DiNucci next year when he might find himself in another competition with quarterbacks Thomas MacVittie and Kenny Pickett.

But it’s Browne’s team for the next four months. He’s the third transfer quarterback at Pitt in the past five seasons — Tom Savage and Peterman are the others, and they’re in the NFL — and he brings the kind of experience and swagger Narduzzi needs in the huddle.

Plus, Browne is hungry after coming out of high school as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks but never realizing his potential at USC. The sand is running through his hourglass. He has only one year of eligibility remaining.

“I would say there’s a major motivation,” Narduzzi said. “I don’t think he finished his career on the West Coast like he wanted to. And I think that’s his goal, to play at the next level. He’s got the ability to do that as well.”

Much of that assessment can be tied to Browne’s physical gifts, but Narduzzi pointedly made note of something else that helped make up his mind.

“He’s smooth. You never see him get rattled ever,” Narduzzi said. “And that was kind of how Nathan was. He’s that same type of guy.”

When asked the source of his demeanor, Browne thought for a moment.

“I’ve been around a while, been in some real stressful scenarios as far as competition battles, big-time games,” he said. “You learn that getting rattled doesn’t do anything. Staying calm is the way to go.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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