When James Conner plays for Pitt this fall, it will be the biggest story in Pittsburgh Sports. Plus interview with Offensive Lineman Brian O’Neill. And preview of Pitt vs. Wisconsin.


Pitt Release-
Coach Pat Narduzzi Quote Sheet
Opening statement:
“We got day two in. We’ve got our second of three total practices where we have to be in shorts, and we’ll get one in a couple weeks on a Monday after Easter after we come back. So we’ll put the big boy pads on next. I think our guys are looking forward to it. We had some physicality out there today. I guess our guys want to put the pads on, so we had to send someone on some laps today to keep them in line. But our guys were very energetic. Our kids are just so fired up. It just seems like there’s just so much energy out there to learn and to do the right things, so we’re excited where we are as of [today].”
On team energy during the second practice:
“I think the second day is always much better than the first day. I think the first day you’re just trying to see what they do. On the first day you’re just waiting to see what they’re going to do. And then I think as coaches I’m always more excited for the second day than I am for the first day. But the second day, you’re looking for them to get better. You know what they did yesterday, so you’re just looking to push buttons and get them ready for the next day. I didn’t think they were quiet at all today. I didn’t have to re-call them up and get them ready to go at all. That’s kind of their ‘M.O.’ They’ve been ready to go.”
On linebacker Mike Caprara:
“I think, last year, he was trying to find himself, and I think now he knows who he is and what he’s done, and I think he’s ready for the next level. We’re out there in the last period, and he recognizes something within our formations, and he barked it out. And I yelled out to [defensive coordinator] Coach [Josh] Conklin and [linebackers] Coach [Rob] Harley and said ‘Hey, you’ve got one guy who’s telling people what’s going on,’ which is good to see because I’m just listening to what he was saying and I knew the play because I had the paper [script] on me and he was 100 percent correct. He saw what the offense was doing. And he only saw it one other time, that they lined up in a formation package and he said, ‘Hey, watch the [name of given package and play].’ He’s got the ability to do a lot of different things, and I’ll take those smart guys. He does a great job.”
On the versatility of his linebackers:
“We’re going to find the best three guys, without a doubt. There’s enough versatility where we’re going to make it that way. But we’re always going to find the three best linebackers, and then who’s the fourth, who moves in for the fifth, and then sixth. You hope to have six or seven. I’ve gone through a season having four or five. You like to have seven that are some good special teams guys but we’ll be OK. We’ve got some guys who are banged up. We’re just being smart to not put them through contact stuff right now because we don’t have to beat anybody in May. They’ll be good to go in fall camp.”
On contact during spring practices:
“My philosophy on contact is to have as much as you can. [My philosophy] hasn’t changed at all. The game is a contact game. If you coach it in any other way, you’re losing something. It’s not basketball, it’s not soccer. It’s football. You’ve got to have contact, but you’ve got to coach it the right way. You can’t have cheap shots. You can’t have players with their heads down who are going to get hurt or hurt somebody else. It hasn’t changed, and we’re going to get in as much contact as we can. When the NCAA says we can tackle, then we tackle.”
On moving Jalen Williams and Seun Idowu to linebacker from defensive back:
“It’s a permanent thing. As a matter of fact, Seun was moved down probably halfway through the season last year just to get him ready to go. Seun didn’t come into camp last year. I wish he would have. He missed a lot of practices. But that’s a permanent move for both of them (Williams and Idowu). Both of them will show improvement, and both of them probably showed improvement today. I’m interested in seeing where they are after 15. I think it’s a good move for both of those kids.”
On wide receiver Tre Tipton:
“First of all he’s a great kid. He’s smart. He’s got a lot of swagger to him. I think it starts there. He’s got a ton of athletic ability. I think he’s going to be a great player for us. I think when you watch the spring game on the 16th, I think you’re going to say, ‘Woah, who’s that [jersey] number two.” I keep telling him that it’s about being tough. You’ve got to make it through the 15 days. One of our goals is to get all 15 practices in. You can’t get better with the yellow jersey on. If he gets through 15 that means he’s mentally and physically toughened up and able to make it through, but I think he can do big things. He’s explosive, he’s got great hands, he runs great routes, he can get off the press. He’s a great football player and he needs to show it on the field.”
On having a wider distribution of touches among the receivers this year now that Tyler Boyd is gone:
“I think it happens naturally. I think it goes with the part of offense of what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to get it to, what your run game is like and how your offense is set up. The offense is a little bit different from what it was last year, not much different. We try to keep a lot of things the same, so we’ll see. We like to get the guys the ball, and you demand reps and snaps and catches by doing your job. And, obviously, Tyler is a guy who we targeted a lot and handed the ball off to because he demanded those. He worked for those because he knew that, once he got the ball in his hands, he’d do something with it or he’d catch it. Guys have to prove that they want the ball and should get the ball.”
On having untested options at wide receiver:
“I don’t think it’s in bad shape at all. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty excited with what I’ve seen over the last two days. But I always think that. In shorts, receivers catch the ball really well. I think the big time is when they’re going to get hit, whether they’re going to get hit immediately or later. Once the pads go on, you can really tell who can play.”
On Tyler Boyd’s pro timing day:
“Tyler had a great pro day. He actually had another workout this morning with the Carolina Panthers and did a great job out there, didn’t run a 40 or anything. Tyler really needed to come in here—and I don’t watch ESPN for the combine, but I watched bits and pieces of it—but he put on eight pounds before the combine. Most guys usually lose weight. J.P. [Holtz] yesterday was down weight. Artie Rowell probably lost about 12 pounds. Everybody loses weight so they can run a faster 40 time for the combine. So he put on weight, and he wasn’t necessarily worried about the 40. So that’s a good thing. He’s more worried about playing football and he’s a great football player. I think he made some money yesterday by going out there and running the 40, which is all that he had to do. And then when you watch his ball skills and him work out, he’s special catching the ball. You can hardly hear the ball touching his hands.”
On the performance of other Pitt players on pro timing day:
“There’s a lot of guys out there. Nicholas Grigsby. You look at Lafayette Pitts, who had a great day yesterday. I could mention a lot of them. David Murphy did a great job of snapping. J.P. Holtz as well. There’s a lot of guys out there who will find their ways to camp. Will they make it? Will they get drafted? I don’t know. I don’t sit in on the personnel meetings. Some guys chose to stay here with [Pitt strength and conditioning] Coach [Dave] Andrews and really did well, and some guys chose to get trainers across the country and enjoy the sun, but I was impressed with all of them and what they looked like.”
On recent communication with NFL scouts and coaches:
“Yeah, you get phone calls, and a lot of them will save the comments for when they get here and watch them and do a face-to-face, but you never know.”

Defensive Coordinator Josh Conklin Quote Sheet
On observations after two days:
“We have a long way to go, I know that. I feel like we’ve had really good effort right now and the guys have been trying hard to do what we want them to do. However, in terms of what we want to do defensively, we’ve got a long way to go right now.”
On injuries at the linebacker position:
“It’s got to be the next guy up. We have a converted safety in Jalen Williams coming down to play the Star, and another converted safety in Oluwaseun Idowu playing Star. It’s going to be a bit of a painful process this spring in term of getting those guys to play at the level we want them to play at. It’s obviously a bit of a concern, as well as depth for us. We want to get some guys healthy but it’s a great opportunity for some of the younger guys to develop at some really important positions.”
On moving Shakir Soto from end to tackle:
“We need to become more athletic at the defensive tackle position. We didn’t get the production we needed from those guys, especially on the inside. It’s a major focus and major emphasis for us. We lost a couple guys in there that were decent players for us. We feel like he will give us more athleticism in there, but we have to get more production from those guys as it’ll help us in the run game. It’s not where it needs to be.”
On the balance between installation of new things and focusing on improvement:
“We don’t put in a bunch of new stuff, it’s more of making what we have better. We’ve put in some adjustments, but in terms of all that our guys are just in the second year of the system getting more comfortable with it. Their attitude and effort in doing so has been really good.”
On safety Jordan Whitehead’s potential going forward:
“You would hope it would be a lot in terms of his improvement. He has a lot of natural skill and he played off of that last year. The big thing for him is making everything tighter, his keys tighter, and his reads tighter, where everything slows down for him. With that, we hope he will be more productive going forward.”
On the versatility and leadership of linebacker Mike Caprara:
“He will probably line up under all three positions in the spring. He can play the Mike, the Money and the Star. He’s at Money right now. He and Matt Galambos have done a really good job leading it, especially from the linebacker position, which is where you really want it as far as making the calls and the checks. He’s been really good.”
On defensive end Dewayne Hendrix looking ready to contribute this year:
“He looks like a Division I college football player. He’s an SEC defensive end. When you look out there, there’s a marked difference in terms of what he looks like. That’s what they look like. For me, as far as getting the depth and the guys we need to get, that’s what you want them to be. Speed matters, strength, power, and all that. Our job is to get him there and hopefully he will. He’s got all the skill sets to be an important player for us, schematically as well.”
On depth at defensive end:
“When Rori Blair gets back I think it’ll be good, and Dewayne Hendrix is a good addition to that. We need to develop some of the younger guys like James Folston. He has to come along. The biggest thing with those interior guys right now and even the defensive ends is playing with an attitude. Getting a relentless attitude that we want to play with. Getting an energy and a knowledge of the game, and we’re getting there.”

Wide Receiver Tre Tipton Quote Sheet
On his first spring practice:
“The first spring practice was really good. As a team we worked really hard. Came off really fast and going into a new system everybody is catching on really easily. I feel like we’re going to be pretty good this year.”
On the receiving corps without Tyler Boyd:
“Honestly, personally, I see us as we’re about to be the next best receiving corps. Everybody was looking at Tyler Boyd, but our goal next year is you can’t guard any of us. If you want to double team me, or Jester Weah or Quadree Henderson, it’s going to be tough for you because we have other people working inside the system. It’s not so much who’s the next Tyler Boyd or Larry Fitzgerald, it’s going to be who’s the best receiving corps and we feel like we are.”
On the possibility of more targets throughout the receiving corps:
“It makes everything exciting to be honest with you. We saw how fast the ball is moving and everybody is getting a chance to get the ball. It seems like everyone can do something with the ball in their hands and is feeling more comfortable. Now everybody is going out there and doing what we’re supposed to do and what we should have done last year. Now that Tyler Boyd is gone, he’s gone but he still comes back and pushes us to get better. It’s going to be interesting.”
On how he feels this year compared to last year in training camp:
“I feel so much more comfortable. It feels like everything has slowed down and the teammates that we have make it feel easy. Everything this year is a lot easier than last year and the pace of it is easier. I’m starting to learn more football, not just going off of athleticism but football I.Q. now. Learning the schemes and reading the coverage, it’s all become a lot easier.”
On his strengths as a wide receiver:
“I’m getting really good at reading the cornerback and the safety. I’m not the fastest guy on the team but I feel like I’m one of the [sharpest] guys. I can see something, coach will tell me something, and I kind of like to make it my own. I like to call myself a chemist like I work in a lab or something. I try to learn and then make it my own.”
On the message Tyler Boyd gave to the receivers:
“Compete. Go out there and compete, and win. Everybody knows Tyler is a hard worker, but he’s also the best competitor I’ve ever met. So he tells us to go out there and compete, and not only compete but win. That’s the game plan. We can’t let him down. Everybody is asking what we’re going to do without Tyler. If we don’t live up to that standard and look past that standard, then we’re letting him down. We plan on living up to that standard and surpassing that standard. We need to make sure that everybody knows that even though we don’t have Tyler we’re still ready to go out there and handle our business.”
On senior receiver Dontez Ford:
“Dontez is definitely a leader. He’s an old guy, he’s been around a long time and he’s the only one of us that actually started last year. Learning how he takes care of business is a big opportunity for us and a big way for us to learn from him.”

Defensive End Dewayne Hendrix Quote Sheet
On sitting out the 2015 season following his transfer:
“Starting off it was pretty tough, but I just had to look at the bigger picture. I know it would make me better. It feels good just getting back. I have a lot of work to do. We’re still working.”
On why Pitt is a better fit for him than Tennessee:
“Mainly the coaches and the defense that we run, I feel like I will be better here. It’s a lot easier playing a nine technique rather than a six technique. Six technique is a lot harder with your head up, while as a nine you’re outside and basically just have to contain.”
On his development over the past year:
“I feel like I’ve got a lot better. I feel a lot more comfortable out there as well.”
On what his motivation was over the last year:
“I just had to look at it like I had to help the team. I couldn’t look at it like I’m not playing so I’m about to just go fifty percent instead of one hundred percent. I know if I gave my all it would help the offense and help the team, and that’s all I want to do.”
On why he chose Pitt:
“When I decided to transfer, I didn’t know where I wanted to go. A good buddy of mine, quarterback Nate Peterman played a big part in it. As I started to take more and more visits here, I really started to like the place.”

Posted in College Sports