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Up before the sun: Pitt football workout visit

Pitt was willing to open up a portion of its workout to the media.

I'm not a full time journalist by any stretch. I think that is true for all of us here at Cardiac Hill, and we write here mostly because we really love Pitt sports. Waking up at 4:30 in the morning to essentially watch kids run around in spandex is proof of this, and I more than enjoyed seeing the session we were invited to this morning. I'll try to simply give you an idea of my thoughts and observations of how things went, and aggregate what the more professional guys noticed as well.

I was fairly interested to see this mostly because this is the first time we'll have seen new head coach Pat Narduzzi and his staff interact with his players. Narduzzi talked a lot about intensity and toughness in his opening press conference, and this workout session mirrored that. Narduzzi calls this his "4th Quarter" program, and anybody that has watched Pitt the last seven years or more knows it's an appropriate name for Pitt. Narduzzi has had this system at several schools now. Early on, the team does some calisthenics and some stretching, and then Narduzzi gets them in a huddle to talk. After he speaks, they go to 3 rounds of tug of war between the offense and defense. The losing side does up-downs, and the winners get some pride.

First match up had Dontez Ford against Lafayette Pitts, which Ford won. Second one it wasn't possible to see who went at it, but offense won again. Third match up had KK Mosley-Smith for the defense, and it was definitely a longer pause before redshirt freshman Alex Bookser volunteered up to face him. Bookser won, so the offense swept. It definitely followed the narrative of where the talent of the team has been stockpiled from the previous staff.

The team then broke into stations where the players spent about five minutes or so at each station. Everything from rope pulling to agility drills to some footwork.

The coaches were definitely intense guiding each station. I did not get to see every coach in action, but Tim Salem and Rob Harley in particular were very energetic, and pushing each kid. Harley noticed Justin Moody not doing a particular drill correctly, and took the time to show him how to do it right. Narduzzi was kind of orbiting around to each station, making comments to particular guys or the groups as a whole. Most of the groups were position based it seemed, but there were more than a few guys in random groups. Most of the drills were also a race of some type. Everything was a competition.

Chad Voytik later revealed that players are ranked after every session. Everyone is in competition with each other even this early on. There's definitely more than a certain amount of peer pressure going on. Guys who perform at an "All ACC" type level are given gold shirts for the next workout. Guys who put in a good or solid effort are given blue or white shirts. Poor effort is given a black shirt. There were no black shirts today.

We were only given a half hour of the session, so we then waited for some interviews afterwards. Coach Narduzzi was up first, and he basically talked about the philosophy of his fourth quarter program, describing how the coaches are looking for effort, intensity, and toughness. He was asked about injuries, which he said there wasn't any he's gonna talk about. He was asked if any players have stood out, and he said he wasn't going to name names, and that we'll know who stands out to him when captains are named. He spent a lot of time mentioning how the overall effort and energy of the team has been really great, and guys seem to really want to get better. When asked why having the sessions so early he noted that for him he loves the early morning routine, but also said that it adds another stress on the players. If you practice early, it means you have to get to bed early which he hopes keeps the kids out of trouble. He was also asked about if he would add any more players from other schools since Pitt has scholarships to give. He spoke about making sure players finish, whether that's a drill, a play, or the game. It's very clear he knows what has been irking the program the last few years.

Next up was Dave Andrews, the new strength and conditioning coach. This was his first media appearance, and aside from noting he's a very big dude, he seems like a pretty savvy guy. He described that he told the players to take each day as a "coat of paint". By the time the season starts, they'll have a full picture. Andrews spent time mentioning the previous staff definitely did a great job with the group of guys he has now. He said "this is an add on job for me, it's not a tear down and rebuild". He went on to say that he wants them "uncomfortable", and saying "the honeymoon is over." Andrews talked about how the players may know his name, and vice versa, but that doesn't mean they know each other. He mentioned several times holding players accountable to the standard, whatever that may be.

Andrews mentioned they try to mix up who the groupings are working out. "Position groups can be developed later, we're trying to build a team right now", Andrews said. When asked about the morning workouts, he said the players seem to identify with the idea of "Rise and Grind". He said they made a point of letting him know what being in Pittsburgh meant, and that the effort has been "phenomenal". Like Narduzzi, he's very energetic. I can see why Narduzzi wanted him as part of the staff.

QB Chad Voytik and center Artie Rowell came in, and were asked mostly questions about the offense. Voytik mentioned that of what he's seen of the offense so far, it'll be faster paced, less huddling, a little bit more shotgun, but not terrible different scheme wise from the previous system. Artie Rowell made note that the blocking schemes and movements are similar, but also mentioned that the coaching staff emphasized that it would be better to try to clean the slate of the previous system, so there isn't confusion or misinterpretations by equating things between the systems (i.e., this jet sweep play A in Chryst offense is the same as the Chaney jet sweep b except this. The coaches want to avoid this.) Junior tight end Scott Orndoff was also brought in, and said this staff is much more energetic, and they're really big on the minor details. He enjoys the morning workouts, and said the team is really just trying to learn the systems and improve physically through the workouts. He said the ranking system definitely does provide a little bit of motivation and competition between players. He also took a slight shot at the former staff...

That was pretty much it for the morning. I do have some more general snippets and observations:

  • I've seen Q&A's from three different head coaches at Pitt now, and Narduzzi more than fits in. You would truly forget he is a first year head coach. He used to answer questions post game as a coordinator which most don't do, and it shows. He knows how to answer questions the right way, and deflect properly if he doesn't want to give a certain answer (this isn't a knock, it's something every coach has to know how to do). He has a clear plan, and exudes energy when talking. You can just tell he can't wait for spring ball and eventually the season to get started.
  • James Conner is a monster. You would think after spending watching hours of playing in game that this would be just a well accepted truth, but when you see him up close and person, he's just built like a train. It's impressive every time you see him.
  • Artie Rowell was participating in most of the drills from what I saw. He's moving well, and while he's not as physically impressive as some of the other linemen, he proved to be a very smart center before he got hurt. Terrish Webb was also fully participating, and looks very good. Hez Trahan was on a bike, and seems to have some type of injury. Overall the team is pretty healthy, however.
  • Darryl Render is pretty fast for a defensive lineman. He moved through drills and what not pretty quickly, and I was impressed with his flat out speed.
  • Don't start making starting line up predictions based on results or hearings from team workouts. Running around cones is obviously very different than playing in a game.
  • The past few seasons have taught me to keep my expectations in check, but I really like this staff. Pitt definitely upgraded. It's also a change that we were able to film and take pictures of this sessions. Previous staffs didn't allow that. 
  • If you'd like to check out video of Narduzzi and Andrews talking, which I highly recommend, you can go here and here for Pantherlair's video. (subscription required, which I also highly recommend you get if you like articles like this one)