Narduzzi on Rice's D, Pitt's QB's, the FBI arrests and more

Chris Peak, Publisher
Panther-lair

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Pat Narduzzi discussed Rice's pass rush, the quarterback situation, the FBI's college hoops arrest and more on Thursday. Here's the full rundown of what he discussed during his Thursday press briefing.

NARDUZZI: Another Thursday, another perfect Thursday. We’ve had three good practices getting ready for the Owls, and I think our guys are ready to roll.

You talked a little bit yesterday about a couple guys on their defense and they have 13 sacks through four games, are they just bringing a lot of numbers or is it some individual guys who stand out?
NARDUZZI:
The Womack kid is a good football player. They’ve got some good football players. Period. And they’ve got a good scheme. They line up in a three-down, two 4-i’s and a zero and then they’ll get in and start twisting guys around, so they’ve got a big twist game that our offensive line has got to be good with on Saturday, not only in the pass game but they do a lot of twists in the run game as well.

Is their odd front similar to Virginia’s?
NARDUZZI:
A little bit, yeah. Sometimes people play with five, some play with 4-i’s, so it’s a little bit different. But they like to bring pressure and they’ll bring some pressure off the edges, I’m sure, to try to stop the jet sweeps and try to keep things inside.

Last year against Virginia, that’s what they did: they moved those outside ‘backers out and you were really successful running straight ahead with James. Do you feel like that’s an adjustment against an odd front that you guys can make?
NARDUZZI:
We’ll find out. We’ll find out what they do and how they’re aligned. That’s part of the equation from the press box about what they’re trying to do, and we’ll make adjustments from there.

How have your starting D-tackles fared?
NARDUZZI:
Pretty good. It’s like every week’s a little different. It’s like, you’re waiting to see a normal offense, and I don’t know if we see them anymore. You know, you go from an RPO team that’s - you’re rushing the quarterback or you’re rushing the run and they throw it over your head - and then last week was the option. You know, two different ends of the spectrum. And then you come to this week, which I guess is a little bit more of a normal offense, but you get the sense that other defenses have when they have to defend your own offense, that’s there’s a lot of headaches that go into it. Our guys are used to it, so I think that’s an advantage for us.

What about Amir Watts? He didn’t have much statistically to show for it, but it seemed like he was in the backfield here and there Saturday.
NARDUZZI:
Amir’s an explosive guy. He’s got a lot of twitch to him, and Amir’s been good. He’s been doing what he’s supposed to do. D-tackles don’t make a lot of plays at times. Usually in the option, like two years with Soto and Tyrique, they made a lot of plays. But it depends on what they’re running and how they’re running and how they’re blocking you.

Amir Watts has been good. Keyshon Camp has been very solid. And Shane Roy has been really good, too. I’m happy with those three guys in there.

You’ve moved Alex around a little bit, but overall, how do you feel about the play of your offensive line?
NARDUZZI:
You know, it needs to be better. It needs to be better. They can also have some more confidence if the running backs would hit it where they’re supposed to hit it, too. There’s times when there’s holes that nobody really sees, and you wonder what the running back’s doing, too. So it’s 11 guys out there: quarterbacks making the right checks to get in the play we need to be at the right point of attack and, you know, trusting it. I think it’s natural for everybody. Running backs start to - I remember when I played pee-wee football with the Canfield Little Cardinals and I was a tailback so I can go back in the old days, but every time you got the ball in your hand, what’d you try to do? Score. And sometimes you’re looking in the middle and you get the ball and I’m seeing, ‘Yeah, there’s four yards there but I know I can get it out there and do something.’ And you start to go rogue and do things you shouldn’t do.

Take the four yards right there. It’s pretty good. Don’t think you have to score all on one shot. I think that comes in a tailback’s brain sometimes: ‘I need to score every play’ instead of, you know, make the thing go forward, make that offensive line think things are going good, too.

But we can improve up front, too. It’s across the board, 11 guys.

To go back to the D-tackles for a second, is Kam Carter healthy?
NARDUZZI:
He is healthy. He’s healthy, he practiced all week. So he’ll be back.

Could he have helped you in Atlanta with his size?
NARDUZZI:
Maybe. It’s not more - again, Atlanta, it’s not more about the size; it’s more about being able to move and be in the right gap. Because we lined up with two 2-I’s and we’re moving them a little bit. So, could he have helped? Yeah. Was it going to stop the dive? No. That wasn’t going to be the answer.

How close is Motley to coming back and playing on defense?
NARDUZZI:
Is that the I-word you just asked me?

I didn’t say anything about injuries.
NARDUZZI:
You know, he’s getting closer. How about that?

Is there a ‘hang dog’ update in terms of the secondary? Or is Jordan back helping guys bring their play up?
NARDUZZI:
They’re all good. When I say ‘hang dog,’ it’s, you know, ‘Aw man, he’s back.’ The depth chart kind of - ‘He’s number one, he’s number two; all of a sudden this guy comes in, he’s number one and he’s number two and he’s number three.’ Nobody gets happy when that happens.

So, I don’t see any ‘hang dog’ in them. When I said that last week, I probably didn’t see much ‘hang dog’ either. But if you’re happy with that, then you probably should have a problem. You should ‘hang dog.’ I’d be upset.

How did the quarterbacks respond this week with the competition starting again?
NARDUZZI:
They responded good. I think they got better this week. We’ll find out. I think it all finds out on game day. I think that’s when you really better shine.

How close are you to making a decision? Or have you made a decision at quarterback?
NARDUZZI:
Made a decision.

You have?
NARDUZZI:
Yeah.

When did you make it? When did you decide in your head?
NARDUZZI:
Well, we rotated back and forth during the week. We just had a staff meeting in here. We know.

Is it going to be the same thing as last week, where you tell them tomorrow?
NARDUZZI:
Yeah.

How did Max take that last week when you told him?
NARDUZZI:
He was good. He’s a pro. That’s the way it goes. It’s a part of business. That’s why you move them around in camp and you get used to being - I mean, when you move guys around, whether it be a quarterback or a linebacker, when you move the depth chart, they don’t get shocked. If you’ve never been moved around on a depth chart and knew that, if you don’t have a good day, we’re going to move you down, then it doesn’t become a shock. If you’ve catered to that and said, ‘Oh, you’re our starter; just ignore how you practice that day,’ then it becomes more shocking.

In your experience, not just here, have you ever had a guy get upset when you told him and really make a scene?
NARDUZZI:
No.

Not at all.
NARDUZZI:
No. Not at all, I don’t think. And a lot of times, I see the kids make those decisions. I’ve never had a - you know, you always have a parent every once in awhile who will call you because they don’t understand or they’re getting the wrong story. But never had a player kind of get upset. Because you know what? They all see it. The beautiful thing is, there’s cameras. And if you’re not happy, all you have to do is go back and watch the tape. To me, it’s justified when you watch video tape of what you do on tape, and I think it’s verified with that.

Is there any one player that’s stood out to you that’s progressed significantly over the last four weeks? Especially on defense.
NARDUZZI:
On defense, Damar Hamlin continues to get better. You guys know from camp where he - he continues to get better. I’ll tell you the other guy that I’ve been impressed with is Jalen Williams. Just a guy that’s a backup that has gotten better every week and you just keep noticing him. And we needed a guy to step up. It’s just like in our meeting we just out of; Coach Harley said - we talk about how we’re going to play the players, and he said, ‘Jalen’s going in, not necessarily a series but as soon as one of those guys needs a blow, he’s going in.’ That wasn’t said the first week, so that’s a positive that we have confidence in him to go in and do it. And Jalen knows that.

Do you enjoy the challenge as a coach of going up against someone in Wes that was here last year and has a pretty familiar -
NARDUZZI:
He knows our players.

He knows your players and he knows your scheme. So are you interested to see what he’s going to try to do to attack?
NARDUZZI:
Our video guy came from Rice. He’s really smart and he’s a football guy; Chad’s a football guy and has worked in the NFL, so he has a pretty good feel of their personnel, what they like, what they don’t like, if they’ve got girlfriends, you know, do they talk a lot? Or are they just quiet guys? So we’ve got some insight, too. Which is good.

But do you like that part of it?
NARDUZZI:
It’s not something I try to set up. I don’t like playing against friends, period. I think it’s never fun there. But it’s a game on Saturday. That’s for sure.

It’s been a tough go for the Rice football team since the hurricane, hasn’t it?
NARDUZZI:
Yeah, real tough. Real tough. You know, they were stuck in L.A. for awhile coming back from that Australia trip. So it couldn’t be easy on any of those kids. I haven’t been down to Houston to see what’s going on; it doesn’t sound like it’s as bad as what Puerto Rico is right now. They’re at least not surrounded by water on all four sides. But I’m sure it’s been tough.

Their coach said they’re very resilient kids. Kids usually are, aren’t they?
NARDUZZI:
They are.

Quadree told us Tuesday that you guys had a really spirited practice. Do you feel good about how they’re dealing with the adversity?
NARDUZZI:
I do. We had a great practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and really another good one here today. They’re locked in. They’re ready to play football and we need to get better. That’s the key. You can’t go out and have your head down based on what you’ve been dealt. We were dealt what we’re dealing with and now you need to dig yourself out.

Is Aaron Mathews earning a bigger role in the offense?
NARDUZZI
: He is. He caught some balls in a two-minute situation, if you want to call it a two-minute at the end there. But he is earning more reps and he’ll get more Saturday.

As a guy who’s been involved in college athletics for such a long time, do the events of yesterday affect you at all? Does it sadden you?
NARDUZZI:
What events of yesterday?

The arrests, the FBI arrests.
NARDUZZI:
You know what? I saw four guys’ pictures up there and I didn’t recognize any of them. Then I came off the practice field and heard about the Louisville incident, and it’s sad. It’s not a good situation for college athletics, period. It’s something that you hear when you’re on the road - things happening - but I’m glad that someone’s, you know, I’m glad the FBI investigated the situation. That doesn’t make it even for anybody when you’re trying to compete off the field for players. It’s just not the right way to do things. So hopefully it makes everybody go, ‘Oh gosh, we gotta do it the right way.’ That’s how we do it here.

Could you see any of that trickle over to football?
NARDUZZI:
You know…trickling over to football? Or been like that? I mean, I think it’s like that at some places, you know? I don’t know where. You hear rumors and all of that and we won’t get into that. But if it’s happening in basketball, it’s happening in football. There’s too much money to be made out there and people think they can get away with it. It’s nice that the FBI slammed it somehow.

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