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Pitt notebook: Panthers sorting out depth at running back

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, 12:12 p.m.

Even though the opener is only 10 days away, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi isn't ready to revise the pecking order at running back. He will release a depth chart Monday before his weekly news conference.

There are veterans Darrin Hall, Qadree Ollison and Chawntez Moss and freshmen A.J. Davis and Todd Sibley, who have flashed potential at various points in camp.

“You'd like to redshirt one and play one, find out who's close enough to help you,” Narduzzi said of the freshmen.

Narduzzi likes to redshirt some freshmen but not at the expense of immediate success.

Elusive goal

If Andre Powell isn't the hardest-working assistant on Pitt's staff, he's certainly the busiest. He coaches two positions (running backs and special teams). Powell's tutelage of the running backs was on coach Narduzzi's mind prior to the 20th practice of training camp, and he even took a good-natured shot at his assistant.

Powell wants his running backs to make plays after contact. In fact, he wants them to be elusive enough to avoid contact.

To that point, Narduzzi referenced a recent slick move by junior Darrin Hall.

“Coach Powell has been on them about getting yards after contact,” Narduzzi said. “Making something happen, making somebody miss. Just don't run somebody over.

“I know coach Powell didn't have any moves at all (as a fullback at Indiana). His move was to go right through people.”

That's OK for some backs — James Conner was good at it and, apparently, Powell was, too — but mere brute power isn't always enough at the Power 5 level.

New attitude?

On defense, Narduzzi suggested a different attitude exists among his players.

“I see the attitude is so much better,” he said. “You look back, ‘Was it like that at this time (last year)?' I don't know, but it just seems a little bit different.

“I see more guys making plays. I see guys making plays on the ball. In the past, I guess in the past year, guys were in position but didn't make something happen. But our guys are playing a little bit different.”

As an example, Narduzzi said an ACC official who works practice every day made the following comment: “That Maddox (cornerback Avonte) is different than he was last year.”

“It was good to hear that from somebody else who watches every day,” the coach said.

Is defense better?

“We'll find out,” Narduzzi said. “It doesn't matter what you do in practice. It doesn't matter what you did against Clemson or Youngstown State two years ago. It's what you do on Sept. 2 (in the opener against YSU).”

More from Mathews?

Narduzzi said he has been unimpressed with sophomore wide receiver Aaron Mathews, who missed the first two weeks of camp while dealing with a personal issue.

“He's doing OK, nothing special right now. I'd like to see more.”

Mathews is one of the players asked to step up in the wake of Tre Tipton's season-ending knee injury.

Hamlin update

Coaches continue to monitor defensive back Damar Hamlin's recovery from an injury that cost him most of last season.

“We're just taking it easy,” Narduzzi said. “Taking it slow and don't want to mess anything up. I don't want to say it's a serious deal (injury) he had, but we just don't want to go backwards.”

Hamlin played in three games last year while recovering from a hernia injury suffered before he arrived at Pitt. Narduzzi said the plan is not to redshirt Hamlin.

Scout team graduate

Ben DiNucci found some good that emerged from losing the quarterback competition to Max Browne: As the No. 1 backup, he's no longer the scout team quarterback.

The scout quarterback runs the opponent's offense every week, and often takes a beating from the Pitt defense.

“That's something you have to go through as a freshman quarterback,” he said. “That's something that has helped me a lot in my progression, but, yeah, I'm happy I don't have to get hit in practice every day.”

DiNucci said he believed he was given a legitimate shot to win the starting job.

“When I made my decision to come here, I knew after two years I was going to have the possibility of playing and starting,” he said. “All I could ask for is that opportunity and I had that opportunity this year.”

JuJu not surprised

Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said he understands how Browne, his former USC teammate, won the job.

“Being in the film room, the dude is smart,” Smith-Schuster said. “I'm happy for him. I wish him the best. I'll be out there to some Pitt games to support him, and just, ‘Good luck to him.' ”

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

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