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Pitt football notebook: Narduzzi likes quarterback play so far

| Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 8:33 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt quarterback Max Browne drops back to pass during practice Tuesday, April 4, 2017 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Pat Narduzzi was pleased the media was inquiring about Pitt's quarterback depth chart — and not just because he believes each of his four quarterbacks has performed well during spring practice.

“It's good that you (reporters) don't know,” Narduzzi said when asked if there was any separation in the quarterback competition. “It means we have no leaks in the office.”

No leaks and no fake news about the play of those vying to replace Nathan Peterman: redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci, redshirt freshman Thomas MacVittie, freshman early enrollee Kenny Pickett and senior graduate transfer Max Browne.

“We have four very functional quarterbacks,” Narduzzi said.

Speaking after the Panthers' 10th spring practice Tuesday morning at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Narduzzi said during a closed scrimmage Saturday that three of his quarterbacks got first-team reps. Although he didn't divulge the name of the odd man out, Narduzzi said the rep-sharing in the scrimmage differed from what was used in the previous closed scrimmage Mach 25.

“Then it flipped this week based on how the guys are practicing,” Narduzzi said. “Tuesday and Thursday (sessions) will determine how many reps you get on Saturday (in scrimmages). You guys will see in another week and a half what it looks like during the spring game (April 15 at Heinz Field).”

One thing not to assume: that Pickett, less than four months from graduating high school, sits at No. 4 on the depth chart. Narduzzi had high praise for the three-star recruit from New Jersey.

“Going on my third spring here, he is probably the best young quarterback we've had,” Narduzzi said. “He's got moxie. He's got composure. He's been well coached out of high school, and he's come in and really done a lot of good things. He's sharp.”

From the perspective of new offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, Browne and DiNucci are showing they're veterans.

“I think the two older guys, because of experience, both of them have really upped the ante ... in the last week,” Watson said. “What we saw happen during that transition is the two younger kids follow. It was really good. It's been really healthy in that room. It's been a really good one. They work together well, and they compete hard against each other.”

Young o-linemen impressing

Two future NFL players — Dorian Johnson and Adam Bisnowaty — were subtracted from the Pitt offensive line. They combined for 85 career starts. The eight linemen on the spring roster — none of whom was a regular starter last season — have a combined five college starts.

And one of those starts (Connor Dintino vs. Villanova last season) came at fullback.

While acknowledging filling the shoes of projected second-day draft picks Johnson and Bisnowaty is “a challenge,” Watson has been pleased with the young players who are in that mix.

“They're getting a real crash course, and they're doing a nice job,” Watson said. “We've got to get them up to speed, keep developing them. But you can't replace their effort. Their effort's been outstanding.”

‘A1' looking A-OK this spring

Clairton alumnus Aaron Mathews got largely unsolicited praise from a teammate and his coordinator Tuesday.

First, it was Watson, who singled out Mathews for “doing a nice job” during an answer to a question about fellow wide receiver Tre Tipton.

A few minutes later, another receiver, Maurice Ffrench, lumped Mathews with Jester Weah — last season's team leader in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns — as the toughest receivers on the team to cover in practice. Ffrench has been playing defensive back and transitioning into a two-way player.

Strangely, it was Mathews — whom Ffrench called by the nickname “A1” — whom most colleges recruited to play defensive back. Mathews had six catches for 51 yards as a freshman last season.

“He likes to play wide out. When we recruited him, he didn't want to play defense even though I think he can be a heck of a defensive player,” Narduzzi said. “It's ups and downs. It's a grind, but Aaron has done some nice things. He had a nice scrimmage (Saturday). Let's put it that way: It was better than scrimmage No. 1 (the week before).”

Narduzzi the big right-hander

Wearing a Pitt baseball No. 17 jersey and cap, Narduzzi threw the ceremonial first pitch before the Pitt baseball team's meeting with visiting Penn State on Tuesday evening at Charles L. Cost Field. Panthers football players also attended.

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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