PITTSBURGH – The Pitt football team resumed spring practices on Tuesday, a week after COVID-19 protocols brought in-person activities to halt.
Coach Pat Narduzzi has been vocal about the importance spring practices have on a player’s development, particularly after observing the effects of an abbreviated spring session last year due to the pandemic.
While he is hopeful Pitt will complete all 15 of its spring practices this year, he said a weeklong pause is like being back at square one.
“You give young kids a week off, you feel like you’re feel like you’re starting all over again,” Narduzzi said after Tuesday’s practice.
Pitt is still planning on holding its spring game on April 17 and having fans at Heinz Field for the game. Narduzzi has said it’s possible the team will hold practices after the Spring Game is over if they haven’t completed all 15 sessions by then.
“That’s our plan right now, and we’re going to add extra practices in between trying to get the three that we missed made up somehow, some way, but it all depends on how it goes the next couple weeks,” Narduzzi said. “A week ago, I’m sitting here trying to make a new calendar, and then the next day I’m making a new calendar, and next day making a new calendar, so I’m done making new calendars until we find out where we are. So we’ll just look and see how we finish this week up and then we’ll make a decision on next week.”
The Panthers will hold one more practice this week on Thursday before the team has a break for Easter weekend.
Narduzzi does not anticipate any players missing significant time due to positive COVID-19 tests or contact tracing, and he believes the team will be at full strength after the Easter holiday.
Narduzzi said he “wasn’t happy” with Tuesday’s practice in full pads, but he mentioned some players who have set themselves in apart so far this spring.
“Kenny Pickett’s been really good,” Narduzzi said of his starting quarterback. “I think he’s started spring ball off in his first four or five days where he left off. I think he’s confident.
“I think he knows where to go with the ball.”
Another player who has stood out to the coach was one of Pickett’s favorite targets last season.
“(Wideout) Jordan Addison on our safeties is always an interesting day. Just leave it at that,” Narduzzi said. “Without (NFL-bound DB) Damar Hamlin out there, it’s a little bit different.”
A few new players have pleased Narduzzi as well, including transfer defensive back M.J. Devonshire. Devonshire, a four-star recruit from Aliquippa’s class of 2019, transferred to Pitt in December after two seasons at Kentucky and has been splitting his time between cornerback and safety during practices.
“We’ve been happy with where he is so far,” Narduzzi said of Devonshire. “He just needs to continue to progress.
“He will bite you. I can tell you that, and he’s athletic and can run so we’re happy with where he is.”
Narduzzi also recognized the efforts of freshman tight end Gavin Bartholomew, whom the coach believes can help the Panthers this fall.
“He’s as strong a tight end as we’ve got,” Narduzzi said.
Prior to the start of spring practices, Pickett also singled out Bartholomew, saying he was impressed with the freshman’s work ethic. Bartholomew receiving recognition from his coach and quarterback early on should be welcome news to Panthers’ fans, as tight end has been one of the weaker positions on the team in recent years.
After Pitt canceled practices last week, the Panthers began testing every day for COVID-19 after previously testing only once a week. Narduzzi said on Tuesday the program will be testing three times a week going forward or as often as is needed.
Narduzzi said practices were paused, not because so many players had tested positive, but out of extreme caution.
“I don’t think it was a numbers thing, it’s more of a just a cautious thing,” Narduzzi said.
“We weren’t testing as much as we were testing back in the fall, obviously, because it wasn’t the season and the ACC had different protocols. We’ve up-ramped testing now just because we can’t let it happen again.
“It just came down to we needed to make sure everything was clean, and we did that. We feel good about it.”
Amanda Filipcic-Godsey is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. She covers Pitt football and basketball for CNHI Pa. newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaFGodsey.