5 takeaways from second week of Pitt football’s training camp

While for some it might feel like it was just yesterday when the Pitt football team reported to its facility on the South Side to begin training camp for the 2023 season, two of the four weeks are already in the books. From tight position battles to changes in scheme, numerous notable storylines developed over the past few practices. Here are five takeaways from Pitt’s training camp, as we arrive at the halfway point:
Airing it out
Throughout the spring season, players and coaches alike spoke about how this year’s offense would feature a more aggressive passing attack. Narduzzi opened his talk with reporters Monday by highlighting successful deep-ball efforts from multiple quarterbacks, saying it looked like the offense’s rust from the opening week of camp had faded away.
“Phil [Jurkovec] and Christian [Veilleux] connected on some deep, deep throws,” Narduzzi said. “The receivers were definitely not as rusty yesterday, for sure.”
On Tuesday, reporters in attendance were able to finally get a close look. For the first time during fall camp, the media had access to the Panthers going 11-on-11. While only a few plays were run, there was a notable trend in play calling: the three pass plays were all deep balls.
Jurkovec started things off on the first play, connecting with Bub Means on a go-route down the left sideline. Despite being closely covered by All-ACC cornerback M.J. Devonshire, Means used his size to gain a favorable position and haul it in. That trend continued later on, as both Veilleux and Nate Yarnell went deep on their first pass attempts, as well, although neither of those throws were completed.
While practice completions don’t show up on the stat sheet, the mere notion that Pitt will likely be taking more shots down field this fall is a reason for fans to be excited. The team’s returning talents on the offensive line and in the backfield should once again create a successful rushing attack. If that ground presence can be complemented by any sort of threat through the air, Pitt’s offense will be far more dangerous than it was in 2022.
Still many options at wide receiver
Despite two weeks of opportunities, the narrative from camp is that there are still many available playing opportunities at the wide receiver position. Returning starters Bub Means and Konata Mumpfiled have led the way, as expected. But after that, the depth chart looks to be undetermined.
During the first week of camp, Pitt’s four-man group of true freshman receivers dominated the conversation. Spring camp darling Israel Polk received notable praise, as did Zion Fowler-El and Kenny Johnson. However, Narduzzi mentioned Friday that the passing game is still experiencing some growing pains.
“Our run game has gotten better. I see the improvement,” Narduzzi said. “The pass game, I’m still waiting to see more improvement.”
Narduzzi has said numerous times that those on the offense are both more knowledgeable of the playbook and confident in the passing game. With that being noted, it seems like execution is the final missing piece to the puzzle.
Incoming Florida transfer Daejon Reynolds has seemingly yet to assert himself ahead of his freshmen teammates. Polk seemed to be a potential camp darling but lost steam due to a minor injury, which he has since returned from. Fowler-El and Johnson have shown flashes but are still learning the playbook due to arriving over the summer, rather than enrolling early for the spring season. And redshirt freshmen Che Nwabuko has been praised for his speed displayed on short routes, but not much else.
Altogether, the message seems to be that while there is certainly talent behind Means and Mumpfield, the Panthers coaching staff is still looking for consistency among the rest of the group.
McIntyre standing out
At the start of camp, Narduzzi and defensive coordinator Randy Bates mentioned that both starting safety spots were an open competition. However, it seems like one of those spots will belong to redshirt sophomore Javon McIntyre.
“He’s been the guy,” Narduzzi said of McIntyre on Thursday when asked about the safeties. “I told you all four days ago he’s done the best job. The cornerbacks feel very comfortable with him because he’s giving them the calls fast. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s doing it because he’s studied it.”
Pitt fans were given a brief tease of McIntyre’s abilities last fall, when he received notable playing time against Miami and then made his first career start in the Sun Bowl.
While he intercepted a pass in both contests, he also made many mistakes. However, those youthful errors have seemingly been minimized due to his strong preparation.
“My game starts in the film room,” McIntyre said Thursday. “... I always want to know what’s about to happen. Film doesn’t lie, and that’s going to help me be a playmaker this year. I study quarterbacks’ tendencies in how they throw and when certain plays get called by other teams based on where they’re at on the field.”
McIntyre said he is comfortable playing safety spots, but the bulk of his experience came at strong safety, in place of Brandon Hill. Juniors Phillip O’Brien Jr. and Donovan McMillon and redshirt sophomore Stephon Hall remain in the mix for the other available safety spot.
Baer’s stock is on the rise
Offensive line coach Dave Borbely said his goal for both spring ball and fall camp was to find the team’s five best overall linemen. Based upon how things look after two weeks of camp, it seems like redshirt freshman Ryan Baer will be included in that group.
After redshirting last fall as a freshman, Baer looks to be on track to make his first collegiate start in Week 1 against Wofford. The question surrounding Baer isn’t when he will play, but where.
Baer came to Pitt as a four-star offensive tackle, which is where he played during the limited amount of action he saw in 2022. This spring, Borbely challenged Baer to also learn guard, but that project was cut short due to left tackle Branson Taylor coming up with a minor injury.
While Taylor has returned, it was Baer who was seen receiving first team reps at left tackle during the team’s 11-on-11 work Tuesday morning. However, Baer spoke with reporters this past week, saying he will be prepared to play either spot by the start of the regular season.
“When I first got here, all I played was tackle, so I’m a bit more comfortable there,” Baer said. “But if I can get a whole camp under my belt at guard, I think I can get pretty comfortable with it.”
Rather than a battle between Baer and redshirt senior Ryan Jacoby at left guard, the new matchup looks to be between Jacoby and Taylor. Whoever can perform better at their respective spot will start, and the worse of the two will be replaced by Baer in the starting lineup.
NIL deal brings collective joy
Pitt’s preferred NIL collective Alliance 412 announced Thursday that it has signed a team-wide, seven-figure deal with the football program, ensuring each of the 85 scholarship players will receive at least five figures of annual income.
Known for his strong opinions on NIL, Narduzzi spoke about the deal Friday morning, saying he was very much in favor of each player getting a slice of the pie.
“(Alliance 412 CEO) Chris Bickell is a good friend,” Narduzzi said. “We’ve talked about what I’d like to have. To me, it’s about ‘we.’ We have a sign over there that says ‘we not me.’ It bothered me when some guys had it and others didn’t.”
And like Narduzzi, players within the Pitt football program were also excited about the deal.
“I’m very grateful,” Reynolds said Friday. “It’s a great thing for us to have. Stuff like that, it’s always good.”

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