Game week is here.
For the first time under Pat Narduzzi, the Panthers begin preparations for their 2015 season-opener against Youngstown State.
Don't believe the players who were there forgot about 2012. But more to come on that later this week...
Narduzzi's debut comes against an opponent familiar to him on a level deeper than football. His father Bill coached the Penguins for 10 years and Pat played at nearby Ursuline High then served as a ballboy before he donned a YSU uniform for a year.
Of course, the Narduzzi family ties in Youngstown were severed rather viciously when his father was forced out while Bill dealt with cancer and Pat later transferred to Rhode Island.
"When I think about them I like to think about the positive things," Narduzzi said.
Years later, Narduzzi would like to add another positive Youngstown State-related memory by beating the Penguins in his head coaching debut.
Adding another layer to the matchup is his counterpart on the opposite sideline in Bo Pelini, who took the Youngstown State job after he was fired at Nebraska and looks to get his career back on track.
Narduzzi and Pelini played against each other in high school as Pelini attended Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown.
"It’s great to go out there and play someone you know," Narduzzi said. "I’ve got a ton of respect for Bo."
Even with the history between the two coaches, Narduzzi was quick to restore focus to who will actually the game.
"When it comes down to it, me and Bo aren’t going to play one down," Narduzzi said. "We’ll shake hands, give a little hug pregame and that’s about it, then let the players take it over."
A depth chart!
After sifting through potential personnel scenarios from spring practice through training camp, there is finally a two-deep.
But instead of answering questions, it's only created more. Four positions list co-starters: center, defensive tackle, outside "Money" linebacker and strong safety.
Khaynin Mosley-Smith and Mark Scarpinato are listed as co-starters at defensive tackle, Artie Rowell and Alex Officer at center, Bam Bradley and Mike Caprara at Money linebacker and Patrick Amara and Jordan Whitehead at strong safety.
Narduzzi says it's up to those players to remove the "ors" listed between the co-starters on the two-deep.
"They’ve got to get rid of the ors," Narduzzi said. "So hopefully they get rid of the ors by themselves on gameday, not by coach just saying he’s that rid. I want them to know they get rid of the ors."
On the co-starters listed at defensive tackle, noticeably absent was senior tackle and captain Darryl Render who was out of action for most of training camp with an injury to his left arm. Render lifted Sunday and it appears he expected back this week.
"He’ll be dressed, I guarantee you that," Narduzzi said. "There’s a good chance he plays too."
Also of note, Brian O'Neill is listed as the starter at right tackle wtih Alex Bookser at right guard. As many know by now, O'Neill moved to the position at the beginning of camp, making the declaration of him as a starter a bit of a surprise even though he performed well in camp.
This creates complications as the line appeared as it would be composed by left tackle Adam Bisnowaty, left guard Dorian Johnson, Rowell at center, Officer at right guard and Bookser at right tackle. Rowell is recovering from a torn ACL that ended his 2014 season and he participated in early parts of camp before he was shut down after the first week.
Narduzzi said he feels like Rowell will be ready to go and his decreased activity was a precaution. As of now, he's probably questionable for Saturday.
Even when Rowell returns, don't expect O'Neill to be transitioned back to the second team right away. Narduzzi said the Panthers will use different looks on the line and rotate players in which could entail the current personnel or the unit involving Rowell at center with Officer and Bookser on the right side.
Finally, with Tyler Boyd out Saturday due to his one-game suspension the Panthers list Dontez Ford and Zach Challingsworth as the starting receivers. Elijah Zeise and Jester Weah each showed improvement during camp and should see the field Saturday as well as during the season.
Pitts and Holtz named captains
Pitt named its captains for the 2015 season at its kickoff luncheon Friday afternoon. Included are seniors Rowell, Render, cornerback Lafayette Pitts and tight end J.P. Holtz.
The distinction was an unexpected one for Holtz, a product of Shaler.
"It was a surprise," Holtz said. "It’s a huge honor. It was always my dream to play at Pitt and I mean, now it’s my senior year and I was named captain. It’s a dream come true."
The honor was especially meaningful to Pitts who's started all but one of the team's games in the last three seasons. He's also stuck around through a transition involving five head coaches.
His pledge to Pitt was given to Dave Wannstedt and remained solid during the Mike Haywood and Todd Graham fiascoes in 2011. Pitts remained with Paul Chryst and is now a captain for Narduzzi.
"It meant a lot for me because there’s been a lot of changes," Pitt said. "I had my ups and downs but when the new coaches came in I’ve been trying to be that positive guy and a leader so when my teammates voted me to be a team captain, I took that personally and it was really important to me."