Narduzzi on the QBs, defending the option and a lot more

Chris Peak, Publisher
Panther-lair

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Pat Narduzzi had a lot to say on Thursday, covering topics ranging from Pitt's quarterbacks to Georgia Tech's offense and a lot in between. Here's a full rundown of what he said.

NARDUZZI: We are ready for Georgia Tech. I think we had three very good practices. Obviously the speed is never the same. And when I say speed, I’m talking about the option part of it and I’m not talking about the Paris Ford part of it. Paris Ford did an unbelievable job, maybe the best Georgia Tech quarterback we’ve had yet in the three years. Last year it was Therran Coleman, the year before it was, um, boy, I just had it on the tip of my tongue. But both of those guys were really good. Paris Ford did an incredible job of running that unit. So the speed there was really good.

But the speed out of the receivers, the speed out of the wings and the offensive line - the way these guys come off the ball, you’re going to notice they’re flat-backed and they come off like an attacking D-line. They’re not worried about pass-setting; put it that way. They’re on all fours a lot of times and they’re coming off the ball, so that speed, you can’t get. The speed of the chops, you can’t get. So that will be something our guys will have to get adjusted to after that first series. I think there’s always a big adjustment there.

And offensively, our guys did a nice job this week. We had both quarterbacks competing. I think they had two solid weeks and I’m happy where those guys are.

WHEN YOU’RE EVALUATING THE QUARTERBACKS THIS WEEK, WHAT WERE THE THINGS YOU WERE LOOKING FOR AND IS IT DIFFERENT FOR EACH GUY BASED ON WHAT THEY’VE DONE SO FAR?
NARDUZZI:
It’s different for each guy because they’re two different guys, and when they’re in there, we’re kind of doing things that they do best, for sure. We’re looking for them to make plays: run the offense, lead the offense. That guy that can get the offense going, I think, is the important thing. It’s a challenge any time you have a new quarterback in your system to get those guys to play for you, and I think that’s a key: who’s getting it moving, who’s making the plays? And I think that’s something that will go into today’s decision on who that guy will be?

WITH BEN, IS IRONING OUT THE BALL SECURITY ISSUES AND GETTING THE DECISION-MAKING STRAIGHTENED OUT, DO YOU HAVE TO STRADDLE THAT BUT ALSO NOT TAKE AWAY WHAT MAKES HIM EFFECTIVE?
NARDUZZI:
Yeah, we’ve worked hard on - there’s a lot of those things. Obviously, ball security’s key, and he texted me last week after the fumble at Penn State that, ‘Hey Coach, you ain’t gotta worry about that again.’ But I still worried about it again.

But ball security, he works on weekly, but it’s also where his eyes are in coverage. If you go back and look at some tape, you know, you go watch Mason Rudolph throw the ball and where he looks - you know, the normal fan looks at the quarterback, how he throws the ball, what he does here and there and does he make plays? But as a coach, you look at it and what that quarterback is doing, and he’s been staring some receivers, so we’ve worked hard. If he goes in there and stares down receivers, Georgia Tech is pretty darn good; they’re going to be staring at him and finding out where he’s staring. If I’m a defensive coach, I’m going, ‘That guy tells you.’ There were a couple plays that were critical in our game last week where Mason’s looking here and he throws the ball there. You know, we’re looking there for a second and then we’re over here, we get antsy with our eyes. Those are the details - again, those are the details at every positon.

I think that’s something that he’s improved this week. We’ve worked hard on where he’s looking. He’d like to - everybody would like to stare at the receiver you’re going to throw it to because you feel like you can have a better pass. But if you stare at him, all the coverage starts to melt that way and it’s not as good a pass.

WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO TELL HIM AND MAX AND THE WHOLE TEAM?
NARDUZZI:
We’ll have that conversation here, probably this afternoon as a staff and then tomorrow the guys will know. I think the kids probably have a pretty good idea what’s going on right now. Coach Watson’s talked to them and kept them - you know, they communicate every day. So after Monday, after Tuesday, here’s where we are, after Thursday, this is what we’re looking at.

THE INSIDE LINEBACKER HAS TO HAVE A PRETTY BIG GAME AGAINST GEORGIA TECH AND THE TRIPLE-OPTION IN GENERAL. HOW HAS SALEEM DONE THIS WEEK FACING THAT?
NARDUZZI:
He’s done well. Again, you don’t have the speed of those linemen, and Saleem has done well and so has Chase Pine, to be honest with you. Chase may have had his best practice. I think the D-line is kind of licking their chops a little bit. Not because it’s an easy game; because they get an opportunity to make some plays. I think everybody would like - you know, they pretend like it’s a run and they throw it over your head, and as a D-lineman, you rush up the field and turn around and run that way and go, ‘Why didn’t they run the ball?’ Nobody runs the ball anymore; it’s all RPO’s and the game has really changed.

Georgia Tech hasn’t changed the game. They’re who they are. They do a heck of a job. They’ll have adjustments to adjustments and they do a great job of adjusting. Because they’re so simple, they know, ‘If you do this, then we’re going to come back and do this.’ That’s why that system has been effective: because they have a system. They don’t run plays; they run a system. But our D-line, I think, is excited, because they have opportunities to make some plays this week in the run game. Make some tackles, get some TFL’s, shoot a gap.

DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT DO WHAT YOU DID EARLY IN ’15 WHERE YOU HAD A STARTING QUARTERBACK AND A PACKAGE FOR THE OTHER GUY?
NARDUZZI:
Um…I don’t know.

DOES THE FACT THAT THEY’RE PRETTY DIFFERENT PLAYERS MAKE THAT MORE FEASIBLE FROM A STRATEGY STANDPOINT? IF YOU HAD TWO GUYS THAT WERE BASICALLY THE SAME KIND OF PLAYER BUT ONE WAS A LITTLE BIT BETTER THAN THE OTHER, IT WOULD BE DIFFERENT THAN WHAT YOU HAVE.
NARDUZZI:
I don’t know. I mean, it doesn’t matter if they’re two different guys or the same guy: we’re going to play them as we want to play them. I think they both do some great things. I said that back in camp - I remember when I named Max Browne the starting quarterback, we still have a lot of faith in that guy and sometimes the ball just doesn’t roll your way. And Ben’s had his good plays and his bad plays, too, so we’re still searching for that guy that’s going to lead this team to victory. And that quarterback position is key and we need a guy that’s going to lead us to victory. We’re going to find out who that is, and if it takes us six games, it takes us six games. If it takes us one, we’ll find out.

SO IT’S JUST GOING TO BE ONE GUY; YOU DON’T THINK YOU’RE GOING TO USE BOTH?
NARDUZZI:
I don’t know. We’re going to find out. Okay, if things are going good with one guy, we’ll probably stick with one guy. If one guy goes down the field and scores a touchdown and the next series he goes again, I’m probably not going to take him out if they go down the field. So there’s probably not going to be any preconceived, ‘Hey, every two series.’ But if things start to stall, we’ll change it up and see what happens with the next guy off the bench.

I GET THE SENSE MAYBE YOU GUYS THINK BEN’S PRESSING A LITTLE BIT; DO YOU THINK IT COULD HELP IF HE COMES IN WHEN HE’S NOT DOWN 21-NOTHING?
NARDUZZI:
Maybe. We’ll find out. We haven’t had - he hasn’t had that opportunity. But I don’t think he’s pressing at all. I think Ben’s got a lot of confidence. I love his attitude, his demeanor, I love everything about how Ben attacks a game. And again, I don’t think he’s pressing at all. I think he’s a football player and he’s still a young guy, too, so he’s not going to be perfect. Old guys aren’t perfect. But he’s not going to be perfect, but I love how he approaches the game and I think he’s got a lot of confidence. A lot. A lot of confidence, I’ll tell you that.

THERE’S A LOT OF COMPETITION AT SAFETY THIS WEEK WITH DAMAR AND JORDAN, WHAT’S THAT BEEN LIKE WATCHING THOSE GUYS?
NARDUZZI:
There’s some ‘hang dog.’ There’s kind of some ‘hang dog’ for some guys, kind of like, ‘Ugh…’ You know, you got Whitehead back and it steps up some people’s games and some people might put their dopper down like, ‘This ain’t fair.’ But that’s life. Again, the opportunities to make plays - you know, you’ve had three weeks to do that and prove that you’re the guy and should be the guy. That’s the game of football.

THE DECISION, IS THAT GOING TO BE ‘THIS IS OUR GUY FOR THIS GAME,’ OR IS IT ‘THIS IS OUR GUY FOR THIS SERIES’ OR ‘THIS IS OUR GUY IN THE SECOND QUARTER?’
NARDUZZI:
It is our guy for the first series. Whoever that guy is, is our guy for the first series. I guess we’re going to find out how that goes. If you’re the head coach and the guy goes out there and scores a touchdown on the first drive, takes the team down on a 13-play, hopefully it’s 11-and-a-half-minute drive, I think that’d be pretty good.

THEY OUTLAWED THOSE IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL.
NARDUZZI:
We had a nine-minute drive the last time we went down there in the fourth quarter. I don’t know if you guys remember this: a nine-minute drive for like 37 yards and kicked a 58-yard field goal. Okay, there’s nothing wrong with that drive. We went for it on fourth down twice and kicked a game-winning field goal, kept it out of their hands. That was an unbelievable game there.

YOU’RE SOMEONE WHO HEATHER LIKES AND SOMEONE SHE SEEMS TO THINK WAS PRETTY INSTRUMENTAL IN HER ULTIMATE HIRING. SHE SAID THAT YOU GAVE A GOOD DEAL INTO THE SEARCH COMMITTEE ABOUT HER QUALIFICATIONS AND WHY YOU THOUGHT SHE’D BE A GOOD FIT. WHAT KIND OF INPUT DID YOU MAKE IN THAT PROCESS?
NARDUZZI:
I’m not sure I understand the question. You went from football to AD’s. She was hired a long time ago. That was a first-week-she-was-on-the-job question. What are you looking for?

I WAS JUST CURIOUS FOR A STORY I’M DOING, WHAT KIND OF INPUT YOU MADE IN THAT PROCESS? WHAT YOU SAW IN HER, WHAT YOU KNEW ABOUT IT.
NARDUZZI:
I didn’t know a whole lot about her going into the process, to be honest with you. We were given our papers and I have to be careful what I say because I was sworn to secrecy in the whole process when you do something like that. But we were given a certain list of candidates for the job and you had to look at it like you don’t know these some people; there were some people I knew of and some people I knew of that knew people, and I’d obviously gotten phone calls on those people.

But I just took it kind of, wipe the slate clean. I’m going to go in there and give input on, who is the best person for the University of Pittsburgh Athletic Director job? And it was clearly her. When you say input, I mean, everybody votes. You vote. There’s a vote and they have to get so many votes to move on from 25 people down to 10 down to five down to the three you bring in or however many we brought in; I think we brought in four or five. That was a long time ago.

So it was a voting process. Is that what you’re looking for?

YEAH.
NARDUZZI:
Yeah, so the input I had was to say, you know, I vote here. And I gave them my vote.

WITH GUYS LIKE BEN AND SOME OF THE LESSER-EXPERIENCED PLAYERS, WHAT’S BEEN THE MESSAGE THIS WEEK ABOUT MAINTAINING DISCIPLINE AND HOW HAVE THEY RESPONDED TO THAT?
NARDUZZI:
The discipline is important. I talked to them again after practice about the discipline part of it, and it’s interesting: during the week, we kind of started slow one day, kind of like we did in the game. We’ve started slow the last two games; we have to get a faster start and I said we have to get a faster start to practice. And I explained to them about, when we practice, we go part-part-whole. You know, you’re showing them all the bits and pieces, all these little things that you do in individual drills build up to, you know, the inside which is the D-line vs. the O-line and running backs and linebackers. Then you get to seven-on-seven, which is all the skill guys vs. skill guys; there’s no line there. And then you finish with the live 11-on-11. So it’s part-part-whole in everything we do, and I seem to think that they’re more interested in playing the game - the whole, they like the whole; they don’t like the part as much, and that’s youth. That’s young guys that just want to go play the game. ‘Coach, I don’t need that individual drill; let’s just go play.’ Which, you know, is what we’re lacking is fundamental details that you’re going to get in the parts, and they have to buy into the individual part of it to lead them into better 11-on-11.

YOU MENTIONED A COUPLE GUYS MAY BE HANGING THEIR HEADS, BUT HAVING JORDAN BACK, HAVE YOU NOTICED DURING THE WEEK THAT HE HAS BROUGHT AN ENERGY OR A SWAGGER TO THE DEFENSE, JUST HAVING HIM BACK THERE?
NARDUZZI:
I don’t think it - I can’t tell you that I really saw it in practice like that. There’s so much going on at practice. He brought me up. I know I was excited to get him back out there. But I’m sure the kids feel that. I haven’t asked what it is, I haven’t felt it, but I think you feel it on game day; that’s when you really sense a guy, when he goes in there and he makes his first play. I think he can pick some guys up, because he’s an older guy back there. We’ve been playing, on that hash, Dennis Briggs, who’s only played on third downs in the past for us, and Stocker and Bricen, so there’s been some puppies back there, true puppies.

I WAS CURIOUS ABOUT NICKEL DEFENSES. IT MIGHT NOT BE AS RELEVANT THIS WEEK, BUT I WAS CURIOUS BECAUSE IT SEEMS LIKE SOME COACHES LIKE TO USE THREE CORNERS, SOME LIKE TO USE THREE SAFETIES; SINCE YOU’VE BEEN HERE AND AT MICHIGAN STATE, YOU USUALLY USE AN EXTRA SAFETY. WHAT GOES INTO YOUR PREFERENCE BEHIND THAT?
NARDUZZI:
Bringing that safety in as a nickel back?

YEAH, USING A SAFETY INSTEAD OF BRINGING IN A CORNER.
NARDUZZI:
First of all, it comes down to what you have available. Who is that fifth guy? That nickel spot, that Star spot, I tell our defensive staff all the time, is probably one of the hardest. Sometimes it’s like, ‘Hey, let’s try this guy,’ and it’s like, ‘Hey guys, there’s a lot to do at that position.’ There’s a lot to it, and Dennis Briggs does the best job. I remember having a young guy, Isaiah Lewis at Michigan State, who was a young guy; we took a beating one year just because he was so young and he made mistakes every week. But the next year, he was great. You learn by being out there in that position. We’ve learned a lot with Dennis Briggs out there, and to switch that over is critical.

But, you know, could it be a corner? That position is a hybrid-type guy where you’d like to be able to cover a guy man-to-man, he’s got to be a tough enough guy that you feel like you could blitz him. I think everybody’s got the same thing; it just depends on what position that is. Damar Hamlin could be a guy that could be that guy. I think he’s got the toughness to blitz, so there’s some guys that could do it. But do you want to start all over mentally with all the knowledge part of it?

OBVIOUSLY MOSS WAS OUT FOR WEEK ONE, BUT WE HAVEN’T SEEN MUCH OF AJ DAVIS SINCE THEN; DO YOU GUYS WANT TO TRY TO GET HIM MORE INVOLVED SINCE HE HAS ALREADY -
NARDUZZI:
That’s a great question. AJ, you know, really had a good week of practice. There’s some kind of up and down with those freshmen, but AJ might see something this week. We have a little package for him. We’ll see how those other guys do.

You kind of play them how they practice. Sometimes young guys come in and they just don’t do what you want them to do that week. It’s interesting, also, even with a different - whether it’s a front and picking up a pressure package that they - you don’t know when you put them in there. You can’t just put a guy in for a run; you don’t want to put a guy in just for a pass. But when people have exotic blitzes that they might bring and you don’t pick up one of those all week and maybe you have a check and you’re going from a run to a pass, all of a sudden that guy gets stuck in there and doesn’t know how to pick that up and gets your quarterback killed. That becomes a problem. Protection is so important. So you have to be able to be a tailback that can run the ball but also know, if somebody fires off the field side or the boundary side, that you can pick that guy up.

IS MISSING THE LITTLE DETAILS A PRODUCT OF A YOUNG TEAM? YOU MAYBE DIDN’T HAVE THE SAME PROBLEMS WITH LAST YEAR’S TEAM?
NARDUZZI:
Yeah, we didn’t have as much problem with that at all. It’s something that we focus on, and that’s 2017. It’s not surprise to us; we kind of knew that was happening. We knew that we were a young football team. It’s not like we found that out after the first game or the first practice in doubles. Those are things that you continue to harp, but young guys go out there - it’s funny, last night at the radio show, we had Ryan Winslow, and the difference between Ryan Winslow as a senior compared to a junior; what’s the difference? Did his leg all of a sudden become on fire? And he said this talking to Billy last night on the radio - I don’t know if you guys listen to it a lot - but as him and Bill are talking on the radio and I’m sitting kind of in the middle, he talked about how last year he was just trying too hard.

It’s an interesting concept: you try so hard, you screw it up. This year, he just said, ‘I’m going to have fun and relax.’ He’s been relaxing punting. And I don’t know where - I don’t look at stats and know where he is, but he’s got to be one of the top three or four punters - and I don’t know how anybody else is punting, but he’s got to be one of the top punters in the ACC. And not much has changed. His leg is the same. He didn’t go get an amputation and get a new leg. He’s the same guy, but a little bit different mindset, a little older, a little more mature, and I think that’s a great analogy to use: really, just what he flat said on the radio last night. I thought it was good stuff.

WITH JORDAN, WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN OFF THE FIELD SINCE THE SUSPENSION CAME DOWN THAT GIVES YOU - HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT YOU WANTED TO SEE IN TERMS OF PERSONAL GROWTH AND HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU THAT THINGS WILL -
NARDUZZI:
Stay that way? I think - and, you know (knocks on the table) - the light has gone on and I feel good with where he is. I’ve seen a big smile on his face, really, throughout the last three weeks, to be honest with you. I feel good that he’s paid his due and I think he understands. I think anytime you bench one of your best players, it sends a sign. Did that help us against Penn State? No. Did that help us against Oklahoma State? No. It didn’t help us. But you know what? I think in the long run it tells everybody that nobody’s too big or too small to get disciplined. So I think you have to have discipline.

WITH THE TOSS PLAY THAT THEY USED PRETTY EFFECTIVELY LAST YEAR, IS THAT THE OUTSIDE LINEBACKER’S RESPONSIBILITY OR THE CORNER OR IS THAT ONE OF THOSE PLAYS THAT DEPENDS ON HOW THINGS GO AND THAT’S WHY IT’S HARD TO DEFEND?
NARDUZZI:
Well, you know, we’re going to stop that toss play this year. Okay? Out of that formation, okay? It’s a numbers deal, okay? They’re looking at numbers, leverage and angles. That’s what they do with all their blocking schemes. That’s why you’re going to see more linemen pull than you normally do and we’ve worked a lot of the G-option and trap-option as well as all the other stuff. There’s more to do this year, even than last year - and you thought there was a lot last year. If I showed you a hit chart, you’d be like, ‘What is that?’

So there’s more to it than - really, I guess when you look at it, if they don’t run toss, that means they’re doing a great job at running the option, okay? Which I’m not sure which I want: Is it the dive? Is it the quarterback? Is it the pitch? We’ve just got to be able to adjust to what they do. They’re going to do something different; that was something different than we practiced. They hadn’t seen it and it’s hard to switch like that, and we didn’t adjust to it. We made a couple plays on it but they wore us out. And they’re going to wear us out on a different thing. We got that defended. Okay Paul? If you’re listening, we’ve got that defended, I think.

But you know what? We’ve practiced things - I went into Coach Conklin’s office today and said, ‘Okay, we’re good here; we’ve got that, but if we do this, what’s he going to do?’ We have to think like they’re thinking, and they’re going to bring - so we worked on some, you know, single-width, motion that guy back in the backfield and doing some stuff that we’re going to have to rock and roll our coverage a little bit based on what we’re doing.

But it’s going to be - what is it going to be? Is it going to be the dive? Is it going to be the keep? Is it going to be the pitch? Is it going to be the toss? Is it going to be the pass? You know? TaQuon can throw the ball, too. They get you one way or the other, and they know what they’re doing. And they can count up how many guys - ‘Oh, they’ve got six guys over there, they’ve only got five over here; let’s go do that over here.’ And they know their system. They’ve been doing it for years and years and years.

DO YOU PRACTICE ANYTHING THEY HAVEN’T SHOWN?
NARDUZZI:
You have to.

YOU COME UP WITH YOUR OWN IDEAS OF WHAT THEY MIGHT DO?
NARDUZZI:
Yeah. I mean, you have to. Especially when you see how they wore you out last year and they know, if you move a guy over there to stop that - the toss - and it’s not necessarily a linebacker; it depends on how they block it. Every formation is different and the way you line up to it is different and you can only - if you pull a guy over here, then what happens? They’ve got something over there. There’s 11 guys out there and this guy’s a magician as far as some of the things you think of and what he does.

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