Pitt sack leader Rashad Weaver lost for the season with knee injury
Like most football coaches, Pat Narduzzi prefers to conceal his emotions. The window into what he’s thinking often is closed to those outside his team.
Sometimes, though, it’s just not possible to hide your deepest feelings.
Friday morning was one of those times.
Quietly, thoughtfully, Pitt’s coach stepped in front of reporters and revealed some sad news: Junior defensive end Rashad Weaver tore the ACL in his right knee Thursday at practice, will have surgery and be lost for the season.
“This is one of those ones (injuries) that make you sick to your stomach as a coach,” Narduzzi said. “It’s not easy to sit with the doctor and hear that news come out and then go break it to him. One of the ugliest days you can have.”
In his five seasons at Pitt, Narduzzi has been more somber while meeting with reporters only one other time: At the news conference in 2015 when James Conner announced he had cancer.
Weaver’s situation is not as dire, of course. How he handles it could be instructive to others dealing with similar misfortune.
There he was, helmet and practice script in hand, walking onto the field Friday to help coaches, offer support to teammates and let everyone know he will be all right.
Predictably, but not inaccurately, defensive coordinator Randy Bates put a positive spin on the situation.
“Losing any starter is a big impact,” said Bates, aware Weaver led the team in sacks (6½) and tackles for a loss (14) last season.
“The thing you lose with a kid like that is he’s such a great leader. He’s got such a great work ethic. Guys feed off that.
“I don’t think we’ll lose much because he’ll be out there giving us that. Mentally, he’ll be in all the guys’ brains on the field. He will be a tremendous help for us as a student-coach basically for this year. I think it will make him better next year as a player.”
Said Narduzzi: “You’ll see him on the sidelines with headphones on.”
Weaver had set a goal this season of earning ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Clearly, he was preparing for and expecting a big season.
Narduzzi said the injury occurred during an inside drill during what is known as the thud period (no tackling to the ground).
“It was the very last play of inside drill. It was a pass. Inside drills 99 percent of the time (means) a run. I bet we’ve thrown six passes.
“Play-action pass, and he’s coming off a block and the tight end is trying to run a route, block and then go. He just kind of threw him, and as he came off of it, planted his foot.”
This is the second year in a row Pitt has lost an important member of the defense. Last season before the Notre Dame game, senior linebacker Quintin Wirginis suffered a knee injury in practice and didn’t play in the final eight games.
Now, Narduzzi and Bates must find alternate pass-rush avenues that will include junior end Patrick Jones II, a starter on the other side, and sophomore Deslin Alexandre, who initially will step into Weaver’s starting spot.
To them, the goals have not changed. They simply must chase them without the defense’s most impactful player.
“I told him, ‘God has a plan for everybody,’ ” said Jones, who had four sacks last season as a reserve end. “ ‘Everybody has their own story. This is part of your story.’ ”
Said Alexandre: “That’s our brother. You never want to see one of your boys go down. But we want to keep fighting for him.
“Nothing really changes. Same goal for the team: ACC championship.”
The first issue that must be addressed is there is no experienced depth behind Weaver. Alexandre played in 13 games last season without a start, recording half of a tackle for loss in the Central Florida and Virginia Tech games.
Redshirt freshmen John Morgan, Habakkuk Baldonado and Kaymar Mimes will get an opportunity. Among the three of them, they have appeared in a total of only four games, recording one tackle (by Morgan).
Again, Bates is optimistic.
“The beautiful thing in football, it’s 11 guys, not five. It’s not basketball,” he said. “You can’t win the game with one guy. You can’t lose a game losing one guy. Guys will have to step up and make plays. I have total confidence they will.
“It will be big factor to lose him, but how quickly we can maintain the level with the next guys will be a key to our success.”
The process started Friday and will get a serious test Saturday in a live scrimmage.
“The young guys are going to come on,” Bates said, “and we are going to see where they’re going to be.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .