PITTSBURGH – After missing a week of spring practices due to COVID-19 protocols, the Pitt football team announced Tuesday that its annual Blue-Gold Game would be moved back a week. The game is now scheduled for April 24 with a 1 p.m. kickoff at Heinz Field.
Coach Pat Narduzzi said trying to make up the three practices the team missed during the weeklong break was going to be too difficult to do by April 17, the original date for the spring game.
“I just thought I’d be cheating the team if I practice today and then had another one tomorrow,” Narduzzi said on Tuesday.
“I just didn’t want to do it.”
Narduzzi has been vocal about the importance of spring football in developing players, something that was lacking after only getting in three spring practices last March before the rest of the slate was canceled due to the pandemic.
“I don’t want to speed it up. We need this development time,” Narduzzi said. “We need this time, selfishly, and we’ve got it.
“We’ve got to take our time.
“We need (to) come look at the tape today and make all the corrections, fix it. That’s what coaches do. To rush it, it’s just, we’ll exhaust our kids physically and mentally, and I don’t think we’ll get as much out of it.”
The coach says the Panthers are in a much better place right now after seven spring practice sessions than they were a year ago after only getting in three.
“We’ve got seven (practices) in, with five padded practices, so we’re way ahead,” Narduzzi said. “You want to keep going, too. We don’t want to say, ‘OK, we got what we needed,’ and that’s why I’ve slowed things down. We’ve got three more weeks to work with our guys. I want as much time as we can around our guys.”
One position group that’s benefitting from having a full spring slate this year is the quarterbacks. When starter Kenny Pickett was injured midseason last year, both Joey Yellen and Davis Beville saw time behind center, but Narduzzi thinks the lack of spring practices last year affected the progress of both players.
The return of Pickett means neither will have to start this season, giving the coaching staff time to fully assess the quarterback room – which also includes freshman Nate Yarnell and junior Nick Patti.
“We did not have spring ball last year to develop those younger guys,” Narduzzi said.
“That’s why this spring is so important. In every position it’s important, but that quarterback position, they just didn’t have time. We would really be under the gun right now if Kenny wasn’t back, trying to get one of these guys to step up.”
Figuring out who will back up Pickett this fall means the rest of the quarterbacks are getting hit during the intrasquad scrimmages Pitt holds on Saturdays during the spring.
“Part of this development is finding out who that backup quarterback is going to be as soon as we possibly can,” Narduzzi said. “I think the only way you can do that is to make them live and see if they can make plays with their feet, and see how they take pressure, so we’ll continue to do that this weekend.”
Pitt is expecting that a limited number of fans will be able to attend the spring game, with details being announced at a later date. Admission to the event will be free.
Amanda Filipcic-Godsey is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. She covers Pitt football and basketball for CNHI Pa. newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaFGodsey.