Overcoming loss of Keyshon Camp to injury won’t be easy for Pitt
For the second time in a month, Pat Narduzzi called a starting defensive lineman into his office to deliver bad news.
After only one game, the season is over for Pitt defensive tackle Keyshon Camp, who hurt his knee Saturday night not by running into a Virginia opponent but by planting his foot in the ground to support his 6-foot-4, 285-pound frame.
“If someone rolled into him, you’d feel one way, but no one rolled into him,” Narduzzi said. “You plant your foot and something pops.”
Wondering aloud about the unfairness of it all, the coach said, “You just go, ‘Wow.’ ”
Camp’s injury emerges a month after Pitt lost defensive end Rashad Weaver, who hurt his knee in practice and also will miss the season. Gone are two experienced players who were expected to anchor the defensive line with their size, talent and leadership.
Now, the question becomes: Does Pitt have enough good players on its defensive line to withstand another gut punch?
“Anytime we lose anybody on our two-deep (depth chart), it’s significant,” Narduzzi said.
Yet, the coach spoke Thursday with what sounded like optimism and conviction as Pitt prepares to face Ohio on Saturday at Heinz Field, followed by nationally ranked Penn State and Central Florida.
“We’ll become stronger from it,” Narduzzi said. “Keyshon will become stronger from it. It happened to me back in 1985 (at Youngstown State). It’s part of the game.
“You just feel for Keyshon. It’s not easy to tell him. These kids worked their tails off for eight months.”
Narduzzi said he looked at Pitt’s depth at defensive tackle before the season and liked what he saw.
“(Jalen) Twyman (redshirt sophomore) is playing at a high level. (Senior) Amir Watts will take on a bigger role there. We’re not going to have to sub him as much.”
Redshirt freshmen David Green, Devin Danielson and Tyler Bentley go from names on the roster to important players in the rotation.
“I can see all five of them playing,” Narduzzi said. “They’ve shown they can play. They’re playing with good technique at times.”
But what about their lack of playing time at the collegiate level? Narduzzi knows it won’t be easy for those players.
“Sometimes, I underestimate the (importance of) experience, thinking it’s easy,” he said. “ ‘You’ve played out there since spring ball and you did it all through camp. You’re good.’ But when the lights turn on, I’ve always said, we are going to find out who makes those plays.”
Narduzzi said he doesn’t expect the replacement players to get discouraged by what the injuries might mean to the big picture. Sometimes, losing good, respected players can have a negative effect off the field.
On the contrary, the chance to get off the bench might lift the young players’ spirits.
“In today’s society, everybody wants to go. It’s their opportunity to go,” the coach said. “We have faith in them. They have faith in themselves. They’ve been begging for these opportunities and now the opportunities are there. And we’ll see what they have when the lights turn on.”
Narduzzi said Camp wasn’t wearing a knee brace in the game, although defensive linemen do wear them in practice.
“It really doesn’t matter,” he said. “Weaver gets hurt with knee braces on. Why do we spend all this money, $1,000, on knee braces, and it doesn’t even prevent what it we want it to prevent?
“I don’t know if we’re getting ripped off by the knee brace people or not.”
Offensive linemen wear braces in practice and games. Narduzzi said right tackle Nolan Ulizio came to him with a request to take them off in games.
“Yeah,” he said in response. “If you can guarantee me you don’t get hurt.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .