Narduzzi on the QB's, Whitehead and more

Chris Peak, Publisher
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Pat Narduzzi talked about the quarterbacks and more at his Thursday press briefing. Here's the full rundown of his comments.

Narduzzi: Another week. Really, another good week of practice. I told our guys today after practice that they have paid the price and really worked it every week. Sometimes it goes you way, sometimes it doesn’t, but you’ve paid the price and you deserve to win a football game this weekend. But you’re entitled to nothing. So they need to go out there and show up and play the best game they have to beat a good North Carolina State football team.

Kenny Pickett - after a week of practice, is there a plan for him specifically or is it just, see what the game brings?
Narduzzi:
There’s a plan. We’ve always got a plan. And on the quarterback note, Max Browne will be out for the season, for the rest of the entire season. He had surgery yesterday morning, so we’ll lose him for the year and it’s not a great thing for our program, it’s not great for him, but he’s hanging in there and he’s good. But I wanted to give you that update as well.

How difficult is that to see a guy that came here to get his chance?
Narduzzi:
It’s difficult. And it’s difficult for anybody. I don’t care if it’s a senior that transferred in or a freshman; it’s difficult anytime you lose a guy for a year. It’s something he’s worked hard for. An entire year goes into that. He had spring ball, he had fourth-quarter, he had it all. He made a quick move from California.

But it’s hard on anybody when that happens. And then with the surgery - not the way you want it planned out. So my heart goes out to him and his family.

What about a recovery time as far as the next level goes? When will he be able to start throwing and doing stuff again?
Narduzzi:
You know, you’re looking at maybe throwing in seven, eight weeks, I guess. That’s without pushing it, probably.

Have you noticed that it’s easier for Ben or that Ben doesn’t have to look over his shoulder this week?
Narduzzi:
I don’t know if you see anything different with him or not, but he knows he’s the guy. But he knows Kenny Pickett is also a good football player. Competition makes everybody better. I don’t think he was ever looking over his shoulder at Georgia Tech when he took his first start there. This will be his first start at Heinz Field. He’s had a great week of practice. I like what I see out of him. I think he learned how to prepare better. I think he learned how to prepare as a starter. I think your first start - you prepare and you think you did the best you could, and then when you get your second start, you go, ‘Man, I could have done - man, why didn’t I do it like this before?’ And the third start, it will be even better.

I think you just build for the future. I think his preparation will get better every week. I think, naturally everybody thinks, ‘I was as prepared as I could have been,’ and the next week you’re even more prepared. I hope that’s how you are - it’s just like taking a test in the classroom; I think you get better prepared as you move along.

With Ben, he’s been around, he’s played a little bit, he’s a local kid so people are familiar with him from before; is it easy to lose sight that he’s a redshirt sophomore making his second start?
Narduzzi:
He’s still a baby. I know he’ll probably get mad at me when I call him - ‘He’s still a baby.’ But he’s still a young guy. And Kenny Pickett’s even younger than that. I mean, you look at the pains that Florida State is going through with a true freshman quarterback down there - that’s a good football team that’s struggled. That’s a key position to lose an experienced guy.

But even Max was a young guy when you think about his experience as a starting quarterback. But he’s an older, more mature person that studied the game and really prepared like a pro, I think. So Ben is still a young guy. We can’t track of that, for sure.

Assuming that Ben plays well and you turn this thing around, how do you find meaningful snaps for the other guy?
Narduzzi:
We have to. That’s kind of our thoughts going in - just telling Ben, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to try to do’ and try to stick with that plan. And sometimes you have a plan going in and sometimes the plans change. So whatever the plan is, we try to stick to it. But sometimes plans change, too.

So you mean you’re telling Ben that there might be times that Kenny comes in for him?
Narduzzi:
I’m not telling you that. I’m just saying we have a plan and we’ll see how the plan goes. We’ll see.

When it comes to Kenny, is there a quarterback that you’ve seen over the years that he reminds you of in terms of style and the ability to pick up the offense and an opposing defense? That’s the one thing Shawn brought up: his football acumen.
Narduzzi:
You know, until you go in there and play, that’s all great, what you did in the classroom and saying, ‘Hey, I know what’s going on here.’ But I don’t want to sit there and say - you know, Ben’s the guy that’s been out there and doing it; let’s focus on really what Ben is right now. If Pickett gets his opportunity, we’ll find out what he’s got, too. But to me, you’re defined on game day when you step into the arena. What you’ve done in the classroom, what you’ve done out here on the practice field means nothing until you’ve stepped in that arena, I think. So let’s just stick to the facts, really.

Sort of on that topic, do you feel like sometimes players at this level get branded by the way they were recruited? Like, this was a four-star kid and he had these big offers and this guy was a JUCO but he couldn’t be as good - but a lot of times, that’s not the way it goes, right?
Narduzzi:
No, it’s not the way at all. That’s why we don’t try to recruit stars; you try to look for character, what’s in the chest cavity there. But guys definitely do. That’s what everybody says they are, and that’s really not who they are. If you look on those Super Bowl rosters of how many four-stars, there’s a heck of a lot more three-stars that are sitting out there because of the work they’ve put in and the chip maybe they had on their shoulder to get there. But guys definitely get labeled by that because that’s the world we’re in.

Do we believe that? No.

Do you feel like what Jordan has done, has that inspired or added competition for your tailbacks who see the success he’s had? Because he’s come into games when there have been struggles running and he’s been able to find yards.
Narduzzi:
If I was a tailback - and I don’t go in there and say, ‘So how do you guys feel about this?’; that’s something that they’ve got to feel and I don’t go in and dig - but if I was a tailback and I was watching number 9 go in there and run like he does, I’d be saying, ‘You don’t need to put him in there; I can do the same thing.’ I’d take it as a challenge. And it would get my motor going. I can tell you that. So we’ll see what happens.

When you guys signed Jordan, there was a thought that he could be a safety or a cornerback, but did you ever, when you watched his film, think, ‘This guy could be a running back’?
Narduzzi:
No doubt about it. That’s why - this is not the first year he’s carried the ball. I think in his rookie year, didn’t he have two touchdowns against Notre Dame? We thought all along that he could do that. But to me it’s still getting a guy’s situated and being good at this and then moving to the next thing, and we felt like we needed him on defense. But he’s smart enough and mature enough to be able to take on that extra tailback role. We just have to be sure we don’t overload him.

Does some of that depend on how the other safeties play, then? If Bricen and Damar go out there and look like they can do the job, does that lead you to think Jordan can get some more offense?
Narduzzi:
They’re going to have some opportunities, as well as Dennis Briggs. We just have to be sure - we’re going to be counting his reps tomorrow or Saturday. And what we get defensively, it depends; if it’s a 98-play game like Syracuse and they’re upping the tempo, then we’ve got to be careful. We just can’t go too far on one end or the other.

And again, we trust Dennis Briggs back there on the boundary safety. He’s played a lot of football for us. He’s tough, he’s physical and he’s a leader of this football team. So we’ve got a lot of faith in him, too.

N.C. State doesn’t play as much tempo as you’ve seen in the past, right?
Narduzzi:
No, they’re not as fast a tempo. They’ll probably have 15 snaps a game maybe under 20 seconds, from our gauge. They had a lot of tempo in their opener against South Carolina, maybe 17 snaps, and they’ve tailed it back. But we’re prepared for 15-to-20. I don’t think it’s what they want to do. But they’ll have some quick snaps. They’ll have an outside zone that they’re going to quick-snap it. They have a couple pass concepts, they’ll have some fast balls somewhere in the 15-second range, under 20.

Has their quarterback even had any potential interceptions dropped? Or has he just been that accurate?
Narduzzi:
He’s had a couple. He’s had a couple that maybe could have been picked off. But he’s smart with the football. He really is. Someone mentioned he reminds you of a Peterman; he’s just a smart guy that doesn’t turn it over and understands how important that is to a football team. So he’s a team guy. He’s not worried about his stats where, ‘I think I can put it in there’ - that ego of trying to squeeze a ball into coverage. And again, he’s well-coached. So whether he’s really that smart and doesn’t have an ego or he’s really well-coached.

Behind Jester, you guys have some inexperienced receivers; how have those guys come along the last couple weeks when it comes to details, route-running, that kind of thing?
Narduzzi:
You know, the guy you really miss is Tre Tipton, to be honest with you. As you guys know, Tre Tipton was really your number-two guy a year ago coming in. But Aaron Mathews has gotten better every week. Maurice Ffrench is getting better. We’ve got to find a way to still get the ball into number 10’s hands. But they grow every week, I think, and that’s our job as coaches, to make sure they continue to grow every week and get a little bit better as opposed to fade away on you. I think it’s important to them and I think they’ve shown that in practice every week.

You look at what Rafael’s doing catching the football, and those other guys see that going, ‘I can do the same thing.’ They need to be great blockers tomorrow as well. Blocking’s important.

What’s been the biggest challenge getting Quadree involved in the offense?
Narduzzi:
Just them taking away some of the jet sweeps, just by alignment. Sometimes they’re taking them away and you would hope that would open up some of your inside game, but it’s really taken away the jet sweeps with some alignments and then slanting the D-line toward where the zone goes. There’s some of that stuff going on. So we’ll see. We’ve got some - maybe some new stuff this week for that.

Your defense has taken some positive strides this season; what are some specific things that you’re doing now?
Narduzzi:
To me, you’re only as good as what you are last Saturday, and that’s where we are. You know, I think we’re a young defense. We’ve got two seniors out there, one starting all the time in Avonte Maddox as a full-time starter. But I think they’ve paid attention to details, but we’re still not where we want to be, so I can’t sit here and say we’ve made all these strides. I wish I could. I want to get better.

When you say you’re not where you want to be, where did you want to be at this point?
Narduzzi:
I want a firmer run defense. I’m happy with where our corners are, I guess, maybe if you said, ‘What am I happy with?’ Safeties, we’re still not - I guess when Jordan’s come back, it made it a little bit better. But our corners have played pretty good football. We’re young up front - I mean, everybody up front is brand new. Seun Idowu’s the only guy, really, that played football a year ago when you look at the front seven.

So we’re still a work in progress. I think they’ve done some good things weekly, but it takes time to get what we want. We’re looking for perfection and we’re not there yet.

Did the defensive linemen play better at Syracuse or did it seem like they got in the backfield more with blitzes or…?
Narduzzi:
They played okay. They played okay. Not as good as we want them to. They could have been better. I guarantee that. They need to be better. So they did get in the backfield with some blitzes and some different thigns that we did that maybe wa s a little bit different, but you can’t trick them all the time. You have to play with good fundamentals.

What have you seen from Rashad Weaver? It seems like there are some really eye-catching plays and sometimes there’s five plays where you don’t see anything; is that kind of what you’re looking for - more consistency?
Narduzzi:
Redshirt freshman. I like what I see out of him and he had another great week of practice. Some of those plays, you wish you would have gotten an interception. He’s so smart, first of all; he gets into the flow of the game, he understands what’s going on and he almost got a pick on a bubble, which we talked about during the week. He told me he was going to score a touchdown on it, but he had to catch it first. But he’s a smart guy and he’s done some great things as a young guy. I think he’s going to be a great player for us in the future. But he’s good right now. We’re trying to build good to great.

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