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Pitt football notebook: Defense shows promise early

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
Pitt defensive back Damar Hamlin goes through during drills on the firs day of practice Friday, Aug. 3, 2018 UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt defensive back Damar Hamlin goes through during drills on the firs day of practice Friday, Aug. 3, 2018 UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

Through the first week of Pitt’s training camp, there is some cautious optimism growing about the potential of the defense.

“You could start to see it at the end of last year,” coach Pat Narduzzi said of the Virginia Tech and Miami games in which the opponents totaled only 607 yards.

“With some of the new stuff we’re doing, it’s giving them a little bit of an advantage. We’ve tweaked it quite a bit. It’s adding a layer of paint as far as what we’re doing defensively.”

Narduzzi, however, isn’t ready to accept excessive praise.

“To me, it’s measured in did you win a championship or not. You can have a good defense, but if you go 5-7 nobody cares. If we get to a championship game, you can talk about the defense and I’ll jump up and down.”

He admits the depth has improved.

“When you look at where we were a year ago, at linebacker especially, we had one deep,” he said. “If we had to put a backup in, you are holding onto your tail with both hands, going, ‘What’s going to happen here?’ Saying, ‘I hope they don’t run that play.’

“This year you’re not doing that. You put a backup in, you have a chance. We have more pieces to the puzzle. We have 22, maybe 25 or 26 guys (on defense) who maybe can help us win a championship.”

Freshmen put on alert

The NCAA’s new redshirt rule in which players can participate in four games without losing a year of eligibility might give some freshmen increased playing time.

“Anybody can go in,” Narduzzi said. “If you want to put a guy in, put him in. We have four games. It does change your strategy a little bit.”

Narduzzi said it also can be motivating. He said he has seen freshmen in the past “shut it down” on scout team because they didn’t believe they had a chance to play in games.

“If you shut it down (now), you won’t get those four games at the end of the year. If you turn it up and start getting better every day, you will.”

Who’s standing out

Among the freshmen who have stood out so far are wide receiver Shocky Jacques-Louis, quarterback Nick Patti, cornerback Marquis Williams and defensive end John Morgan.

Of Jacques-Louis, Narduzzi said, “Physically, he’s done some great things, and he plays fast all the time. He has not hit a wall mentally (because) he paid attention in the spring (when he was recovering from a high school injury).

“He caught a ball two days ago, and I said, ‘Whoa.’ I turned around to get some Gatorade. I didn’t think there was any way he would walk it down.”

Patti is not conceding the backup quarterback job, the coach said.

“Nick is not saying ‘OK, I’m a freshman. I’ll be the third, fourth or fifth (quarterback).’ He’s coming in and studying the game, and he’s done some positive things.”

So far, so good

Narduzzi has been knocking on wood a lot these days as he shepherds his team through the first week of training camp.

“We came in healthy. We’re still really healthy right now after six days,” he said. “That’s attributed to our offseason program and our guys paying attention to the tempo, kids starting to figure out how we practice together and keep each other healthy.”

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Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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