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Pitt football notebook: Depth starting to develop on defensive line

Jerry DiPaola
| Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, 12:51 p.m.
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi observes his team during the first day of camp Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi observes his team during the first day of camp Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Pitt defensive lineman Kam Carter goes through drills during practice Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt defensive lineman Kam Carter goes through drills during practice Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Two weeks from the opener, Pitt is starting to build some desperately needed depth on the defensive line.

After losing his most experienced tackles — Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto went to the NFL, and Jeremiah Taleni was thrown off the team — line coach Charlie Partridge said he is encouraged by the improvement from the young players.

And one who's not so young.

“What's been a nice surprise — I saw it coming in the spring and he's carried it forward — is (junior tackle) Shane Roy,” Partridge said. “He's really, really having a great camp. If we were playing a game right now, he'd be one of our starters.”

Partridge said Roy could line up next to any one of three tackles: redshirt freshman Keyshon Camp, sophomore Amir Watts and junior college transfer Kam Carter, another sophomore.

“Depends on the day,” Partridge said. “The fun thing is we are building some depth. We can win ball games with some combination of Watts, maybe Kam, definitely Roy, Keyshon for sure.”

Added coach Pat Narduzzi of Carter: “Some days he has (looked like a starter) and some days he hasn't. He's sometimes. We're trying to get him all the time. But he's done some good things. He's been very, very coachable and working at it.”

Partridge said he's comfortable rotating his tackles. “I'm not going to leave guys out there for 70 plays.”

At end, Partridge said junior Dewayne Hendrix, though limited as he recovers from last year's lingering foot injury, could make an impact.

“You can feel his maturity,” Partridge said. “He's a gifted young man. If we can keep him healthy and keep him progressing, he has a chance to be a real force for us.”

At the other end, Allen Edwards has improved his pass rush and run-stopping ability, Partridge said.

Even walk-on Jim Medure (Neshannock) could find a role at end on passing downs after moving from linebacker.

“He's proven that he can be an impact guy,” Partridge said.

Big tight ends

Tight ends coach Tim Salem is impressed by the size of his freshmen: Charles Reeves Jr. (6-foot-5, 280 pounds), Grant Carrigan (6-7, 275) and Tyler Sear (6-4, 245).

“Those guys are monsters,” he said. “They can run. They can cover space. They're smart. They can block. They can get down the field. To think they are just kids right out of high school. They have some physical maturity to them that is nice to have.

“If all of a sudden, we get caught at any time in the season (needing to use a third tight end after Matt Flanagan and Chris Clark), I'd sleep (well) on Friday night.”

He said there are no current plans to move any of them inside to the offensive line.

“I'm making sure they're eating salads at lunch time,” he said in jest. “I'm not letting those guys get big. They're already big enough.”

Wet practice

Football is played in all kinds of weather, so the wet grass Friday morning didn't stop Narduzzi from practicing outside.

The rain stopped around 10 a.m., but Narduzzi appeared eager to see his young team deal with the elements on the 16th day of training camp.

“(We'll) practice in some different circumstances,” he said.

Perhaps he was in no mood to give his players a break after Thursday's practice, which he labeled an “average day.”

“They started to get some camp legs, a little tired,” he said. “As we told them (Thursday) night and (Friday) morning, they have to push through it mentally and physically, and let's go. This is the time teams will become great or level off and become an average football team.”

Leaders needed

Meanwhile, he is looking for more leadership on his young team.

“When you're in the huddle, offensively or defensively, somebody is going to pick them up and keep them going,” he said. “As opposed to if nobody says a word, they can all be downers together.

“I think we have decent leadership right now, can't say it's great. We'll find out.”

Scrimmage Saturday

The team will scrimmage Saturday (closed to the public) at the South Side facility, with Heinz Field unavailable because of the Steelers game Sunday.

“I wish it was at Heinz, but it's not,” he said. “It would even be more important because of where you are. I still think that's a major benefit.”

No matter the venue, Narduzzi expects changes in the depth chart — just like what happens every day, he said.

“It will get moved again this Saturday,” he said. “Anytime that depth chart is continuing to move and you're trying to get your best 11 out on all phases, it's a big day. It's a bigger day for some people, maybe more than others.”

Almost ready

Junior left tackle Brian O'Neill, maybe the most important player on offense next to the quarterback, could practice fully for the first time next week, Narduzzi said. Coaches have been monitoring O'Neill's shoulder injury he suffered in the spring game four months ago.

“He's done a lot,” Narduzzi said. “He feels great. It's probably more of the coaches' (concerns) than how he feels. He's doing a lot of individual work, some group work, blocking, pass protecting. He's done it all.”

He added that there's “no chance” O'Neill won't be ready for the opener Sept. 2.

Lots of centers

Four players continue to work at center: Walkon Jimmy Morrissey, Connor Dintino, Alex Officer and Alex Bookser.

Narduzzi said there's been more cross-training on the line than in his previous two seasons at Pitt, including using Bookser at guard, tackle and center.

“We have a lot of versatile guys, and we're trying to find where they fit.”

What about Ford?

Narduzzi declined to answer when asked about freshman safety Paris Ford's progress with his academic issues. Ford has missed the first three weeks of camp.

Classroom stuff

Narduzzi tweeted that 62 players recorded better than a 3.0 grade-point averages this summer. Team average: 3.07.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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