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Back in March – when sports stopped and we had no idea when they would resume – ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit offered these distressing words.
“I’ll be shocked if we have NFL football this fall, if we have college football,” he said in a radio interview.
This is not meant to mock Herbstreit. He had good reason to say that. Many of us believed him.
“There were times I had a lot of doubt,” Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett said. “I did not think that we were going to be able to go this year with everything going on on the news and around the world.”
Yet, here we are, days from the NFL opener in Kansas City and Pitt’s first game next Saturday at Heinz Field.
“The fact that we’re here, I’m just real happy and grateful for the opportunity,” Pickett said.
All-ACC center Jimmy Morrissey called training camp “crazy,” but only because of the many necessary precautions Pitt’s administrators and health officials ordered.
Players were tested, wore masks, had their temperatures taken, answered health questions and held meetings in the cavernous indoor practice facility. Testing bumps up to three times a week now that the season is starting.
“It’s been weird having to deal with being in a pandemic and trying to play football, too,” Morrissey said. “We have a lot of older guys on this team and we’re used to camp being a certain way. But our team has done a great job adapting.
“Thankfully, the athletic department and everybody involved in the football program have done a terrific job making sure that we accomplish having a season.”
1. What’s the latest on the offensive line?
Pickett said there is more depth among the unit charged with keeping him clean than he’s seen “in a long time.”
He said left tackle Carter Warren, his blindside protector, is having “a great camp.”
“A guy who changed his attitude since he’s been here. He’s been working really hard.”
Warren will line up with Bryce Hargrove at left guard and Morrissey in the middle – three guys who played together last season, a significant advantage.
Also, juniors Gabe Houy and Carson Van Lynn, sophomores Jake Kradel and Blake Zubovic, redshirt freshman Matt Goncalves and transfer tackle Keldrick Wilson are making an impact. We’ll see who fits where when Pat Narduzzi releases a depth chart (presumably Monday).
2. How’s Paris Ford doing?
By all accounts, Ford is having a predictably good camp. His running mate at safety, Damar Hamlin, has been impressed with his ability to read minds — or, at least, to understand “what the offense is really trying to do to us.”
“That’s one thing he has a natural instinct for. Just having a year of experience under his belt, he’s able to pick up (the offense) pre-snap,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin also was complimentary of backup safety Brandon Hill, a redshirt freshman
“He’s explosive and he’s smart, a quick learner. He reminds me of me like the way he can pick up knowledge fast,” Hamlin said.
Athletically, he said Hill reminds him of Jordan Whitehead, “speed-wise, just how he flies around.”
3. What about the run game?
If Pickett is right and there’s depth on the offensive line, there should be room for the backs to run, even if someone up front is having a bad day.
Morrissey said his unit takes responsibility for the performance of the running game. Such declarations are what makes him a good co-captain.
“Instead of being passive and waiting to see what the defense does, we have to be the aggressors,” he said.
4. `Clean’ scrimmage
Pitt held a rehearsal scrimmage Friday, with the scout team mimicking Austin Peay, the FCS opponent for the opener next Saturday.
Morrissey called it “probably the best rehearsal scrimmage we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
“Everything went smooth. It was clean. Guys are ready for football now.”
5. Where can you watch the game?
With no fans permitted in Heinz Field, people are wondering where to go if they can’t find the ACC Network on their cable systems.
Hamlin said his family members are concerned because they never have missed one of his games, home or away, Central Catholic or Pitt. “It’s been at least 10 years,” he said.
If all goes well, Hamlin said his family is planning a loud watch party, complete with a life-size, cutout picture of Hamlin as a senior in high school.
“They’ll be right there screaming at the TV the whole time. They get after it, for sure.”
Meanwhile, Pickett said his mom in New Jersey calls every day.
“They want to come out, but they’re trying to figure out where they can watch the game,” he said.
He offered his house in Oakland, reluctantly. “It’s not the nicest place.”
“I really wish they would have let family members come to the game,” he said. “It’s a 70,000-seat stadium. I think they could be 6 feet apart from each other.”
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