Pitt O-linemen inexperienced in football but not young in life
Those on the outside of the Pitt training facility look at the Panthers offensive line and see inexperience.
Junior Jimmy Morrissey, who is inside those walls every day, looks at it another way.
“These young guys, they’ve been waiting,” said Morrissey, Pitt’s starting center since 2017. “They’re really not that young.”
Speaking from the standpoint of chronological age, he’s right.
Right tackle Nolan Ulizio, 22, is in his fifth college season after spending four at Michigan.
“Bryce (Hargrove, left guard) is in his fourth season, with me,” Morrissey said. “Gabe (Houy, right guard) and Carter (Warren, left tackle) are in their third year.”
Hargrove is only two months shy of his 22nd birthday, and Houy, Warren and Morrissey are 21.
But they haven’t played much college football as starters.
Warren, one of the top linemen in New Jersey as a high school senior, never played in a game during his first two seasons at Pitt. Hargrove (three games) and Houy (one) have limited starting experience. Even Ulizio played in only 17 games and started five in his four seasons at Michigan.
Morrissey said all four are playing with a sense of urgency after waiting so long for an opportunity.
“Now, it’s their time,” he said. “They’re flying around and paying attention to details, communicating very well.”
They like to ask questions of Morrissey, something he has been getting since his freshman year.
“The center is kind of natural in that role to begin with, the guy who calls the shots, calls the plays for the O-line,” Morrissey said. “I had guys even when I was a freshman asking me what I was seeing and why I called something.”
He welcomes questions from his less experienced teammates because he remembers getting in the ear of older players over the past two seasons.
“This year, I’m playing that role more than I ever have before,” he said, “just because I am the guy with the most experience.”
Backs are young, too
There is a similar situation developing at running back, with one important exception.
Older players A.J. Davis and Todd Sibley are three-year players, but they total only 49 carries between them. And Davis has 48 of them for 174 yards.
“Patience is key,” Davis said. “Todd and I as the older guys in the room have to take advantage of that and help the young pups and the rest of them develop.”
His journey to Pitt
Davis said Sibley and Paris Ford encouraged him to commit to Pitt when all three played on the same team at the Under Armour All-America Game in 2017.
“Telling me ‘(Pat) Narduzzi liked me a lot. You’re going to be the next running back just like Tony Dorsett and all the rest.’ ”
Davis said he chose Pitt mainly because of its legacy of running backs.
He remembers Louisville, North Carolina and South Florida recruiting him, too, but he added, with a smile, “All that doesn’t matter no more. I’m at a Pitt.”
Whipping it up
Redshirt freshman Mychal Salahuddin said sitting behind four running backs last season — Davis, Sibley and now-departed 1,000-yard rushers Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall — taught him some lessons.
Salahuddin also had to sit out the Sun Bowl with a knee injury, and coaches started camp by being cautious with him.
“It’s not eating me,” Salahuddin said. “I’m just trying to get mental reps, so when I do get my opportunity, I can make the best of it.
“Being humble is something I’d like to do well at.”
He said he likes the different plays first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple is drawing up and the atmosphere he has created.
“He’s got something cooking every day. I tell him, ‘Whip it up, coach.’ “
Whipple’s experience in the NFL is rubbing on his players, Salahuddin said.
“We have to be on the professional mindset. Details have to be straight,” he said. “We have to carry ourselves like professionals.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .