Pat Narduzzi preps for Year 3 at helm of Pitt football |
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Jerry DiPaola
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi during the first day of spring practice Thursday, March 16, 2017 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi cracks the seal on his third season July 31, with players only he recruited — Max Browne, Keyshon Camp, Amir Watts, Dewayne Hendrix and others — in key positions.

With a fan base hungry for a championship, he remains calm and follows the same plan that got him the job in the first place 31 months ago: stay devoted to the task at hand.

“It’s a big year, but it’s no bigger than year No. 1,” he said. “It’s just another season with different roles to go by.”

He said this season is no different, though the roster includes two classes and 45 players (2016, ’17) whom he recruited exclusively.

“All the guys I coached are my guys,” he said while attending ACC Media Days in Charlotte, N.C. “We spend so much time together, I don’t care who they are. Whether it’s Nathan Peterman or Chad Voytik or James Conner.

“I don’t care if I coach them for a year or I coach them for five years, they are my guys.”

He said if he had to list his concerns, “I could give you 25 of them.”

“The biggest concern is we lost a lot of good football players who have opportunities to make NFL rosters all over the United States. We’ll have another five or six next year, more than likely.

“My biggest concern are our young guys stepping up and filling those roles and the leadership roles. A year ago, we had 21 really good seniors who were impressive. To not have those guys with us is a void. So, we’re looking for those new seniors.”

One of the young players starting to develop under Narduzzi’s staff is sophomore Saleem Brightwell, who was listed No. 1 at middle linebacker — over senior Quintin Wirginis — when the first depth chart was released Thursday.

“That position is still up for grabs,” Narduzzi said. “We have a lot of ball to play here.”

Still, he said he’s impressed by Brightwell, who made the season’s biggest defensive play last year when he intercepted a pass and returned it 70 yards in the upset of Clemson.

“Saleem is a guy who can make tackles from sideline to sideline,” Narduzzi said. “He has good athletic ability.

“We’ll see if he can hold onto that spot. But it was something we saw in the spring and some other things that go into it. Saleem is a good football player.”

At quarterback, Narduzzi said Browne didn’t play especially well in the spring game when the best players were split between two teams.

“But there were 14 days before the spring game where he had the (first-team) receivers and offensive line. I thought they did a great job with the offense.”

He also said there is plenty of time for the other three scholarship quarterbacks — Ben DiNucci, Thomas MacVittie and Kenny Pickett — to provide competition.

On the status of incoming freshman safety Paris Ford of Steel Valley, who is finishing up academics before he can join the team, Narduzzi said he expects him to be with the team this season.

“He’s just waiting to qualify at this point,” Narduzzi said. “He’s got a plan, and his family is taking care of it to give him another chance to finish it out academically. So wait and see. He’s got a plan and has to work the plan.”

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

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