PITTSBURGH – Pitt will be without one of its best players for the 2019 season, as defensive end Rashad Weaver sustained a right anterior cruciate ligament tear during Thursday’s practice.
Coach Pat Narduzzi announced the news on Friday morning.
“You know I hate to talk about injuries to begin with, but this is one of those ones that just makes you sick to your stomach as a coach,” Narduzzi said.
“I feel bad for him. It’s not easy to sit with the doctor and hear that news come out with just him and me, and then go break it to (Weaver). Just one of the ugliest days you could have.”
Narduzzi said the non-contact injury occurred on the last play of an inside drill at Thursday’s practice. A play-action pass was called despite inside drill being runs “99 percent” of the time. Weaver sustained the injury when planting his foot coming off a tight end’s block-and-go on the play.
The loss of Weaver – a preseason all-ACC pick – is a big one for the Panthers. The junior was a force on the defensive line last season and led the Panthers with 6 ½ sacks. In addition, Weaver led the team in tackles for loss (14), quarterback hits (10), and fumble recoveries (3). He also had four pass breakups and two forced fumbles last season.
“Losing any starter is a big impact,” defensive coordinator Randy Bates said. “The thing with a kid like that is he’s such a great leader, he’s got such a great work ethic. Guys feed off that.”
Bates remains optimistic about his defense, despite losing arguably its best player.
“The beautiful thing in football is there’s 11 guys, not five; it’s not basketball,” Bates said. “You can’t win the game with one guy and you can’t lose the game losing one guy. Guys will have to step up and make plays.
“I have total confidence they will.”
Weaver will be replaced by redshirt sophomore Deslin Alexandre and redshirt freshmen John Morgan, Habakkuk Baldonado, and Kaymar Mimes are also in the mix. Alexandre played in 13 games last season and recorded five tackles and one tackle for loss.
“I feel really good with (Alexandre),” Bates said. “He’s smart, he’s very similar to (Weaver) from a standpoint of studying off the field. He just doesn’t have as much experience. But I feel really good about him.”’
Alexandre said he’s already learned a lot from Weaver.
“He’s taught me how to really watch film, different keys to read to know which play is coming,” Alexandre said.
Weaver, who was on the sidelines for Friday’s practice, will have the opportunity to teach others this year. Both Narduzzi and Bates said Weaver will be a sideline presence throughout the season.
“Rashad’s going to coach,” Narduzzi said. “You’ll see him on the sideline with headphones on.”
“He’ll be a tremendous help for us as a student coach basically, for this year and I think it’ll make him better next year as well,” Bates said.
Entering this season as redshirt junior, Weaver has a remaining year of eligibility. It’ is possible Weaver could be granted a medical redshirt for the 2019 season, giving him an additional year of eligibility. Narduzzi said the program will fight to get Weaver that extra year.
It will be the second straight season the Panthers have lost their best defensive player to a non-contact injury – last year, starting linebacker Quintin Wirginis suffered a knee injury during an October practice that ended his final season prematurely.
The Panthers are using Weaver’s injury as motivation to play well for their fallen teammate.
“Guys are texting me saying, ‘Coach, we’re going to play our tail off for Rashad,’” Narduzzi said. “Guys use this a little bit as motivation. This just keeps the guys going.
“Each day is there for you, but it is not a given. You step out there, you might have one play and it might be your last.”
“That’s our brother,” Alexandre said.
“You never want to see one of your boys go down, but we want to keep fighting for him.”