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Pat Narduzzi talks passing game as Pitt football training camp opens

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Pittsburgh Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Well, football season is officially back. The Panthers opened up camp on Friday and head coach Pat Narduzzi had plenty to say.

One of the focal points from his opening press conference was about the offense. The offense, of course, had a decided focus on the run game last year. With two outstanding senior backs in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, that was somewhat to be expected. But a problem area for Pitt was that they weren’t real diverse and had great difficulty throwing the ball most of the time.

It’s been a while so you might forget just how much Pitt struggled in the passing game. But quarterback Kenny Pickett threw for only 1,969 yards and 12 touchdowns all season long. What Pickett managed to do was be an effective game manager and limit his mistakes with only six picks while completing just over 58% of his passes. Still, the Panthers were unquestionably one-sided on offense as his yardage and touchdowns ranked only 89th and 86th in the nation, respectively. That was even more frustrating as we occasionally saw the athleticism of some of the team’s receivers in Taysir Mack and Maurice Ffrench — both of whom looked capable of producing more than the modest totals they did if given more of an opportunity.

Despite that, Pitt did enough to win the ACC Coastal Division with an exceptional running game. But in losing their two best backs, getting the passing game going is much more important this year and Narduzzi acknowledged that. When asked where the most growth was needed, he made it pretty clear.

“We need to have an accompanying passing game to go with our run game,” Narduzzi said.

He continued later in the presser with this theme, discussing how it’s easier for the defense if you can’t throw the ball.

“No, I don’t like to be one-dimensional,” Narduzzi added. “As a defensive guy, historically any time you make an offense one-dimensional … we like to make people one-dimensional. We want to make them pass it. But if all you can do is run the ball, that’s a problem. If I know that’s all you’re going to do is run the ball, I’m going to load the box.

“We’d like to be 50/50, we’d like to be more balanced, and we’ve got to threaten people through the air as well as the run, and we’re going to threaten you on the ground, I can promise you that. But we’ve got to start to threaten people in the passing game, and we will.”

Narduzzi did acknowledge that having a good passing game and no run game is equally troubling. But it’s clear that Pitt’s aerial attack needs to improve this season. And, under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, that passing will be led by Kenny Pickett. How Whipple adjusts in the position and what he’s able to implement will obviously be key. But in terms of players on the field, it all starts with Pickett.

If you’re expecting some kind of controversy at quarterback, it doesn’t sound like that’s going to be the case. Pickett is firmly entrenched as the guy, even after somewhat of a subpar year. And Narduzzi even acknowledged that as of now, there isn’t any real competition for his job.

“Right now there’s not,” Narduzzi said. “But what’s Nick Patti going to do? I want those guys to push Kenny, just like at every position.”

The reality is that Pickett seems like Pitt’s best option going forward and he’s got to feel good knowing that he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder right now. That could change, Narduzzi indicated. But as of now, he’s very clearly the guy.

Pitt has proven playmakers at receiver with Mack and Ffrench. Both have big-play ability and the Panthers have a half dozen other guys that all expect to be in the mix, too. But no matter how talented those guys are, it’s up to Pickett to be able to effectively deliver the ball and create a balanced attack on offense.

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