Reese Strickland-USA Today Sports

O-line shaken up, Whitehead named starter

News and notes from Pat Narduzzi's press conference Monday as Pitt begins game week for Virginia Tech.

Pitt's only bye week of the 2015 season came and went. Head coach Pat Narduzzi is eager to get back to work. 

"We’re cranked up," Pat Narduzzi said. "It’s always rough on a Saturday to watch all of those games and not being able to go out and play. I think our kids are anxious to get back on the field."

Narduzzi's team took its week off after a 27-24, last-second loss at Iowa and the Panthers hit the road again for their first conference game of the season. 

The Hokies (2-2) enter the week after a disappointing 35-28 loss to East Carolina. They have won five of their six games played against Pitt in Blacksburg.

"We face a great football team in a tough place to win," Narduzzi said. "It’ll be another angry environment like we faced down in Iowa City. The Panthers will be ready to go."

Ground attack 

Pitt struggled when it ran the ball against Iowa, a program that prides itself on playing physical football at the line of scrimmage on both sides. The Panthers carried 27 times for 55 yards as the trio of Darrin Hall, Qadree Ollison and Chris James put together a rushing attack that Narduzzi said wasn't good enough.

"Obviously we’re missing some guys up front and we’re missing a great tailback that can make people miss," Narduzzi said. "There’s just a lot of guys who don’t have a lot of experience back there."

As a result, Ollison, James and Hall all have an "OR" between their names on this week's depth chart which denotes them as co-starters. Yet again, Pitt has a scenario in which Narduzzi's players must remove the "ORs" with their performance. 

Hall led the team with 14 carries for 38 yards at Iowa, Ollison gained 17 yards on four attempts and James carried twice for no gain. Based on reps, Hall would seem to be in line for the majority of carries especially after his coach said he "did a good job" against the Hawkeyes. 

"He didn’t run the ball like how we wanted him to run it but it was a good front on Iowa," Narduzzi said. 'We knew it wasn’t going to be easy to run the ball against them."

Running the ball won't get any easier this week against the Hokies, who boast one of the league's best defensive lines led by end Dadi Nicolas and tackle Luther Maddy. 

The Panthers shook up their offensive line this week, moving Alex Officer into the starting right guard position and Brian O'Neill up to first team right tackle. As a result, Alex Bookser was demoted to the second team. 

"When you look at it and you evaluate yourself, you have to keep moving up front," Narduzzi said. "Alex Officer and Artie Rowell have to keep moving on the three-techniques and nose tackles up front. That’s going to be key."

Don't forget the Hokies also boast shutdown corner Kendall Fuller in the secondary, who will look to lock up Tyler Boyd after posting back-to-back double-digit receptions to start his season. An impediment to the passing game might place more importance on running the football effectively come Saturday. 

One "OR" removed

Speaking of the "ORs", one was eliminated at the strong safety position. Jordan Whitehead was officially named the starting safety in this week's depth chart. The true freshman recorded 16 tackles against Iowa and has been one of the defense's most active playmakers thus far. 

"I never envisioned him being the starting safety come week two or three but he’s really just progressing," Narduzzi said. "He’s very intelligent and, again, he’s picked up the game of football and what we’re doing defensively."

Whitehead's performance in training camp made it clear early on the coaching staff would be hard-pressed to keep him off the field for long, and he has now ascended past Jevonte Pitts and Patrick Amara to become a starter. Pitts appeared to be the first team safety during spring drills, while Amara worked his way to the top spot during camp. 

The naming of Whitehead as a starter cements a foregone conclusion.


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