Deep passing game emerges in Pitt spring game
Placing too much significance on spring football is often folly, but three Pitt players were so sure in their declarations after the Blue-Gold Game on Saturday that they should not be ignored.
• In his own words, wide receiver Tre Tipton is “lovin’ life,” a revelation that actually hit him before he caught touchdown passes of 13 and 22 yards in the Blue team’s 14-7 victory against the Gold.
• Boundary safety Paris Ford, named a starter by coach Pat Narduzzi in the postgame news conference after he had a team-high seven tackles and an interception, was asked what can be expected from him this season. “ACC championship,” he said, immediately standing up and walking out of the room, his head held high.
• Kenny Pickett was one of five quarterbacks who combined to complete 36 of 58 passes for 425 yards and two touchdowns. “It shows we’re not talking nonsense. It’s real,” said Pickett, referring to the recent talk about the new passing game that isn’t afraid to go deep.
Saturday’s game at Heinz Field, contested in front of an announced crowd of 8,797, was played like any Pitt football game with four quarters (10 minutes long, however), referees and, of course, “Sweet Caroline” after the third quarter. But it was, in reality, just one of 15 spring practices.
The best offensive linemen were drafted onto different teams, hindering rhythm and communication and, thus, blocking. Running backs A.J. Davis recorded a sum total of 6 yards on nine carries, Todd Sibley 5 on 8 (before hurting an ankle) and V’Lique Carter, who also played cornerback, zero on seven.
“It’s hard for a broken O-line to run the ball,” defensive end Rashad Weaver said.
Offensive coordinator Mark Whipple allowed wide receivers coach Chris Beatty to call plays, and Pickett said they used only two of the 13 packages they’ve learned this year. There were some plays that were unexpected and went against the pregame plan, but no one seemed to mind.
“There was a little cheating going on both sides, but at least the players recognized the plays that we were trying to run and knew we weren’t supposed to run them,” Whipple said. “That gave me a sense that they have some kind of awareness.”
It turned into a day that belonged to players who seek the football when it’s in the air, with Tipton and Ford enjoying probably their finest moments at Pitt.
“I’m the most healthy I’ve ever been in my life, physically, mentally and emotionally,” said Tipton, a senior from Apollo-Ridge who’s been struck down by injuries more often than not since stepping on campus in 2015.
He has only 17 career catches, but he said he has built a relationship with Pickett in which they can almost read each other’s mind.
“Every time we looked at each other, (we said), `I know you see it. I see it. So do it.’ It was really smooth.”
Tipton, who will turn 23 this summer, said a recent talk with Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba opened his eyes to his potential.
“I feel like I’ve always been this player,” he said. “I’ve always had this opportunity and ability, but it was making sure I was in love with the game. And once I fell in love with it again, it was simple.
“Me and my old coach were talking about what was my reason for even going to Pitt. I really sat back and thought about it.
“I just l love football. I love this city. How can I not love the game when I have the opportunity to play for the people I love? It brought that love back in my heart.
“(Skiba) said, `I miss watching you play.’ That school gave so much to me. I feel l like I owe it to them to love the game.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, Ford (Steel Valley) said he is maturing and, as a result, becoming a better player. He heard Narduzzi name him to the starting lineup, but he didn’t celebrate the news.
“That’s big words from Duzz,” he said. “I’m going to keep my head down and keep working. I ain’t proved nothin’ to no one yet.
“I was a little surprised. I want to thank the guys for believing in me and my coaches for pushing me. I’ve been in the film room a lot more, the weight room a lot more, just trying to soak up the game as much as possible.”
Yet, Ford said he hasn’t matured so much that he will stop talking trash whenever he can.
“If I can get under your skin, why wouldn’t I do it?”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .