Still a lot to settle in Pitt’s QB competition
Max Browne doesn’t apologize for carrying excess baggage into the upcoming football season.
Call it a chip on his shoulder, perhaps left over after he lost his starting job at USC last year. But also call it motivation for his last collegiate chance, currently underway at Pitt’s practice facility.
“That will be a part of me wherever I go,” Browne said Tuesday after the seventh practice of Pitt training camp. “After year five, something has to get you up, and that’s definitely the case.”
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has been careful not to simply hand Browne the job without the former five-star prospect dropping several pints of sweat and maybe a drop of blood or two on the practice fields. Narduzzi insists there’s competition between Browne and sophomore Ben DiNucci (Pine-Richland) that won’t be resolved until later this month.
“Max has no airs about him,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said of Browne, 22. “He expects to have to earn everything. He didn’t come here with any promises. He came here just for an opportunity to finish something that was very important to him.”
DiNucci, 20, took a slightly different route, changing his plans to go to Penn of the Ivy League when Narduzzi offered a scholarship shortly after accepting the Pitt job. That turn of events occurred after quarterback Alex Hornibrook decommitted from the Panthers’ Class of 2015 and followed former Pitt coach Paul Chryst to Wisconsin.
“I try not to reflect too much on what might have been,” DiNucci said. “I love it here. It’s all I could ask for.”
Watson, in his first season at Pitt, has been impressed with the competition between the two that he said is evident in the meeting rooms but is also marked by repeated compliments when someone makes a good play.
“They feed off each other,” Watson said.
Each has a different strength, he said.
“Ben can extend plays and really create plays,” Watson said. “Max is an excellent decision-maker. They’re good students. They get the passing game. They understand it.
“The one thing I feel comfortable about is they have a real good grasp on what they’re doing.”
Now, the trick is to transfer that understanding into points on the scoreboard. Neither has had much game-day experience or success.
Browne played in only nine games (two touchdown passes, two interceptions, no starts) in two seasons at USC before winning the job in training camp last year. When the Trojans started 1-2, including a 52-6 loss to Alabama, Sam Darnold replaced Browne and led USC to the Rose Bowl.
DiNucci has played only one half of one game, a pinch-hitting performance when Nathan Peterman suffered a concussion in the Pinstripe Bowl. He threw nine passes, completing three, with a touchdown and two interceptions against Northwestern.
DiNucci gave Pitt a 24-21 lead early in the fourth quarter with a 6-yard scoring flip to George Aston, but the Wildcats rallied for a 31-24 victory.
No one accepts losing — least of all DiNucci, who led Pine-Richland to the PIAA title game as a senior — but he welcomed that opportunity to gain some experience.
“Getting in that game was huge for me,” he said, “just in terms of confidence and knowing I could hang with those guys and hold my own.”
He said he didn’t even have time to get nervous.
“Coach buzzed down and, within 15 seconds, I got my helmet on and I’m warming up on the sideline.”
Finally, Pitt has some depth at quarterback. Watson said the competition between Browne and DiNucci extends to redshirt freshman Thomas MacVittie and first-year freshman Kenny Pickett. Both “have big upside talent,” he said.
After Wednesday, Pitt will have 16 of the 24 days of camp remaining. Plenty of time to find a starter, but there is no timetable Watson wants to mention. The most consistent quarterback will start the opener.
“Somebody will have done it over time. That’s usually the way it works out,” Watson said.
“Max has been really, really consistent. Ben has upped his play. Thomas is better. Kenny is better. We’ll see how it works out.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review sports columnist. You can contact Kevin by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .