Some Pitt football thoughts as the ACC gathers in Charlotte
Pat Narduzzi will open his fifth training camp as Pitt’s coach Aug. 2 on the South Side.
The Panthers will have the place to themselves for a few weeks until the Pittsburgh Steelers return from Saint Vincent, creating that state of seclusion football coaches demand at camp. For three weeks, until classes resume, nothing but football matters.
Before the sweat starts to roll off the faces of players and coaches, there’ll be time for relaxation in Charlotte, N.C. Narduzzi will join two of his 15 seniors — cornerback Dane Jackson and wide receiver Maurice Ffrench — on Wednesday and Thursday at the ACC’s annual media days.
There will be plenty of hopeful talk from coaches and student-athletes from all 14 ACC schools as 13 of them try to figure out a way to unseat defending conference and national champion Clemson.
Here are a few thoughts about the upcoming Pitt season:
• Perhaps the transfer portal is required reading among Pitt’s coaches because Narduzzi has taken advantage of it by bringing in three players who have graduated from other institutions. That’s after Narduzzi found success with such transfers as quarterback Nathan Peterman and offensive tackle Stefano Millin.
Linebacker Kylan Johnson (Florida), tight end Nakia Griffin-Stewart (Rutgers) and offensive lineman Nolan Ulizio (Michigan) will be among the chief players at their positions competing for starting jobs. All jobs are open (just ask any coach), but all three players have been promised ample opportunity to earn playing time or they wouldn’t have enrolled.
Pitt lost several offensive linemen and linebackers to graduation, and Narduzzi has had a longstanding need at tight end since Scott Orndoff graduated. There is a room for able-bodied football players all over the roster.
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— Nakia Griffin-Stewart (@NakiaGriffin) January 24, 2019
• Of the 12 returning seniors (those who attended spring workouts), one to watch is wide receiver Tre Tipton.
Tipton has struggled with injuries, but quarterback Kenny Pickett said the wide receiver from Apollo-Ridge “really took a big leap this offseason.”
• Senior safety Damar Hamlin could be in position for a big season. He led the team in tackles (90) and added two interceptions last season.
Lindy’s College Football magazine lists Hamlin, a Central Catholic graduate, as one of the top five senior free safeties who will be available in the 2020 NFL Draft.
• Lindy’s preseason All-ACC team lists Pitt center Jimmy Morrissey, defensive end Rashad Weaver and Jackson on the second team and kicker Alex Kessman and Hamlin on the third team.
• Pitt’s schedule shouldn’t be as difficult as the one that led to a 7-7 finish last season.
Lindy’s ranks all 130 FBS teams, and you don’t find a Pitt opponent until Central Florida and Miami at Nos. 18 and 19 (both home games, by the way).
The remainder of the FBS opponents are, according to Lindy’s, Penn State (26), Virginia Tech (31), Syracuse (32), Virginia (42), Duke (66), Boston College (70), North Carolina (74), Ohio (85) and Georgia Tech (90). Pitt is 60th.
Last year, Pitt played four of the top 17 teams in the final Associated Press poll: No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 11 Central Florida, No. 15 Syracuse and No. 17 Penn State.
• That doesn’t mean the schedule is devoid of talent. Here a few players who could cause Pitt fans headaches:
Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins threw for 2,680 yards and ran for 923 more. Only one other quarterback, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, reached those heights, and he became the NFL’s No. 1 overall draft choice.
Boston College running back A.J. Dillon rushed for 1,589 yards as a freshman and 1,108 last year while missing two games. He was the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2017 and the conference’s preseason player of the year in 2018.
Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos had 20 tackles for a loss last year and is a projected 2020 first-round draft choice. His teammate, Micah Parsons, a freshman All-American a year ago, might be the best linebacker in the nation.
Miami might have two of the best linebackers in FBS: Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, who have 31 and 29½ career TFLs.
• Pitt also will see two of college football’s best cornerbacks — Virginia’s Bryce Hall and Duke’s Mark Gilbert — plus top safeties Andre Cisco of Syracuse and Jordan Fuller of UCF.
• Groza Award winner Andre Szmyt, who has hit 30 of 34 field-goal attempts, and Penn State return ace K.J. Hamler surely will attract the attention of Pitt special teams coach Andre Powell.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .