5 storylines from 1st week of Pitt training camp
The first week of any training camp typically is packed with plenty of happy talk and unfettered hope.
That’s how it was at Pitt, even after the discouraging news Friday of defensive end Rashad Weaver’s season-ending knee injury.
Coaches don’t want it any other way. Sour faces and attitudes won’t win games.
But there are issues surrounding the team that one week in the hot August sun can’t cure.
Here are five early storylines and how Pat Narduzzi is dealing with them:
1. Weaver’s injury could turn D-line from special to ordinary
Pitt fans are tired of ordinary. The Panthers are 53-51 since Dave Wannstedt was fired, and Weaver had the ability to turn the pass rush into a vicious weapon. He would have been Pitt’s top NFL prospect if he chose to enter the 2020 draft.
All that has changed, and the burden falls on Patrick Jones, the end on the other side, to generate a pass rush from the down linemen. Don’t count out Amir Watts in the middle, though. He’s having a good camp. Not much is known about Deslin Alexandre, who will replace Weaver, but he is a 21-year-old sophomore. He’s more than just a kid.
The good news is Jones plays with a mean streak, and he could develop into a player close to Weaver’s caliber.
There is good depth, a tribute to recent recruiting efforts that have provided a solid backup or two at each position.
Linebackers Saleem Brightwell, Chase Pine and Cam Bright earned enough trust to play in all 14 games last season. Pine has played defensive end and is an option to help mitigate the loss of Weaver.
Even if Pine moves to defensive end, the potential starters at linebacker — Kylan Johnson, Elias Reynolds and Phil Campbell III — have reason to look over their shoulders.
Other backups who will log significant minutes are end John Morgan, tackle Jaylen Twyman, safeties Jazzee Stocker, Therran Coleman (Brashear) and Bricen Garner (Central Catholic) and cornerbacks Damarri Mathis and Marquis Williams.
2. Pickett’s job is secure
That’s the surest bet in camp as Kenny Pickett has become a kick-in-the-pants leader that all quarterbacks need to be.
Here’s what backup Jeff George Jr. said about Pickett:
“Big maturity jump. He’s really calmed down. I think the game has slowed down for him. He was the guy last year, and he got the chance to settle his feet and really take in how college football is. He’s doing an unbelievable job. He’s a tremendous leader.”
That said, Pitt has depth for the moment in George Jr., who is the oldest player in camp at 23 years, four months, and for the future in redshirt freshman Nick Patti and first-year freshman Davis Beville. The experience George Jr. earned at Illinois is evident, and he has caught the eye of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.
3. Can line protect them?
The word among players and coaches is the rebuilt offensive line — four starters must be replaced — is less experienced but more athletic than it was last season.
Line coach Dave Borbely has three more weeks before the opener to work with his young line that includes tackles Carter Warren and Nolan Ulizio, guards Bryce Hargrove and Gabe Houy and center Jimmy Morrissey.
4. Do they really ‘stink?’
Narduzzi prodded his group of pass catchers last week by saying they “stink,” leaving no doubt what he thinks of them at the moment. That’s not good. Pitt has bodies behind starters Maurice Ffrench and Taysir Mack. But what have they done? It’s an urgent situation, actually, because there probably won’t be two 1,000-yard rushers to lean on this season.
5. What about the tight ends?
That position came to mind when Scott Orndoff, one of the best Pitt tight ends this decade, was back at Heinz Field on Friday with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Perhaps Rutgers transfer Nakia Griffin-Stewart will help. If you force the defense to respect the tight ends, that will unclog pass-catching avenues for wide receivers. Maybe then they won’t “stink.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .