Pat Score: The Backyard Brawl, Linebacker Depth and Getting into the Camp Swing

Pittsburgh One of the good things the NCAA has done over the past few years, at least according to coach Pat Nardozzi, has been to add two extra days of rest to bootcamp. It allows for the same number of practices while adding that extra amount of rest to aid in the health and safety of the athlete.

Pete used a day off on Thursday, allowing the team to move to his hotel on the South Side for training camp and hit the field again on Friday. In an era of health and safety that is already beginning to take priority in the world of college football, a few extra days of rest can make the difference between a healthy camp and some tight muscles and broken bones.

“We’ve had good training three times, two days ago,” Nardozzi said. “Yesterday, we were out. The NCAA gave us two extra days of camp, but they’re for days off. So, three days passed, a day off just for health and safety, and then I think we’ll go three or four days and then a day off again. Just use it strategically.” Just to keep our kids fresh and healthy.”

With the team now registered at the hotel right on the road from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, the football house is closed.

“The rules are there, they are in that facility there or they are here,” Nardozy said. “And that’s it. I told them last night, it’s a real camp. We’re really into camp mode.”

With just under a month until the now-sold Backyard Brawl opens for the 2022 Pitt season, staying healthy is paramount. Positional battles on offense and defense are important, but Pete will need a good roster to replicate as ACC team champions. And speaking of West Virginia…

The biggest crowd in Acresor Stadium history?

Backyard Brawl single tickets didn’t go on sale until August 2, with the online stock available for purchase at 9 a.m., 10 minutes later, they’re gone. Three days later, The Brawl became an official sale.

“I found out probably a week ago, when I opened, after 15 minutes it was completely sold out,” Nardozzi said. “It just broke, and we know it. We kind of thought it was going to happen. We know we had the biggest audience in the history of Acrisure Stadium, so we hope to break that record as well.”

Pete opens to West Virginia on September 1 at Acresor Stadium to open the 2022 season. There is hostility, grudging respect, and a desire to win the game above all else. But for Nardozzi, he just wants to focus on Pete – staying here and now.

“She works every day toward West Virginia, but I think the first thing is that we’re worried about Pete,” Nardozzi said. “If we’re still worried about something far ahead, we have issues. The kids obviously think about it, you think about it, but the focus is really on Pete now and what we’re doing to be better. We have plenty of time for that, but as coaches, we’re bigger. Older and more mature. We did a lot of mental work, making movies, all that stuff, and now we put that aside and just focus on getting better as a football team.”

A win over West Virginia would set the tone for perhaps the most important season of the past four decades, and a loss would do just the opposite. No one needs to tell Pete players and coaches how important Backyard Brawl is. Everyone on both sides is already well aware.

A Pitt-Penn State game in 2016 had 69,983 fans gathering at Heinz Field at the time. The Backyard Brawl can cross the 70,000 fan threshold.

Sleeping in the Linebacker?

SirVocea Dennis is a well-known commodity at linebacker. He’s the young player-coach unit Pete needs going forward, but he’s also the central voice in defence. Bangally Kamara and Solomon DeShields popped up all spring, looking like NFL players and drawing praise from the coaching staff.

But there are already some names that may be sleeping at the full-back who have already made their appearance through camp this summer.

“You look at the full-back, we’ve spent a lot of time just focusing on these guys this week, and some of the players are looking really good there,” Nardozzi said. “Just some of the names you might not have heard of, Aidan Henningham, just went out with him, saying, ‘Hey, I’m seeing big improvements where I was in the spring. “You see a jump sometimes the light clicks on it.”

Henninngham, a 6-foot-2, 225-pound sophomore converted from a wide receiver, used his red jersey season in 2021 and didn’t see the field, but by all accounts, it was just what he needed to grow into his frame. And learn exactly what Pete requires of a midfielder.

Nardozzi praised Missouri State’s move Tyler Weltz, speaking of the potential impact it could have on the field this season. He is expected to play a lot – both as an outside full-back. Shayne Simon, Notre Dame’s move, also continued to impress – looking better in the summer than he did in the spring.

DeShields, who emerged as a potential quarterback in the spring, is in deep competition for the position now.

“I think Solomon Deshields is a better move than it was,” Nardozy said. “He’s been really good in the spring, he’s got a start, he’s kind of beaten, he’s back in the fight. And he’s looking good too. There are some athletes out there for sure, I just have to get them to run in the right direction.”

If one thing is clear, it is that the quarterback will have a deep spin in 2022.

Defensive appearance plays fast

Brandon Hill, Erick Hallett, and AJ Woods all deliver a tremendous amount of pace in high school. And Marquis Williams is uncompromising when it comes to his speed. It’s a fast unit, but Narduzzi wants to make sure the speed is put to good use.

“It helps, obviously speed really matters, but if you go fast in the wrong direction, you’re going to have problems,” Nardozzi said. “So the speed is great, the athletic ability is great, the knowledge and the technique you use there — you can have a lot of fast players. The great thing about Brandon Hill is he’s not a track guy, he’s a footballer.”

Boundaries and field safety were closed to Hill and Hallett, respectively, and Marquis Williams returned as a field corner. Woods, MJ Devonshire, Rashad Patel, among a few younger options, are looking to replace Damary Mathis’ role as frontier angler. With just two days of training, the competition has really defined anything so far.

“Two days in our underwear, and yesterday, we just walked out on day one wearing shoulder pads,” Nardozzi said. “The guys we thought were good are good.”

The midfielders are still the same

This is the weekly update for the quarterback competition:

“Both looked solid,” Nardozzi said. “Each of them have their good plays and their bad plays, like everyone else, just like you guys. It would be a really time-tested for consistency.”

Don’t expect any new information until the end of the month.

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