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July 14, 2017

Pat Narduzzi

Avonte Maddox

Brian O'Neill

Charlotte, North Carolina

PAT NARDUZZI: Good morning, everybody. It's great to be here in the great month of July 2017, and as we approach this great game of football and this new upcoming season in Pittsburgh, our guys are preparing hard. Dave Andrews, our strength coach, and his assistants are diligently getting these young men mentally and physically prepared for a grueling season of the ACC. I can't emphasize enough how important our summer conditioning is as we approach this August football camp and this important season.

I think we're a little younger football team this year than we were a year ago. We lost quite a few guys. I think we had a class of 21 seniors a year ago and lost some great players that are on a lot of great NFL squads right now fighting for position there. So the interesting thing will be how our guys approach this season, not only mentally, but as far as physically, their leadership, the chemistry is important, and really the competition for those spots that are open.

I think as a coach, it's always interesting to see how our guys compete and really what this 2017 team is going to look like. There will be a lot of questions today about this or that position, the competition going on. But we'll find at the end of August when we go into September 2nd really what our depth chart looks like because there's still a lot of open holes and a lot of competition to go. With that, I'll open it up for questions or bring these guys up.

Q. Just going off of last season, obviously the adversity on defense, how you can use last season as a motivation for this year?
AVONTE MADDOX: Man, we can use it as a great motivation. I look at it as a learning lesson, a time where you can learn about short memory and how to grow as a team, how to go out and compete the next play no matter what happens. I feel like we'll be able to do that in 2017, and I'm looking very forward to it.

Q. Let's talk specifically about the Syracuse game. You give up 61 but you guys win; what happened in that game, and what's your prediction for the rematch at the Dome this year?
AVONTE MADDOX: That was a basketball game. But no, I'm looking forward to that game. We'll be playing at Syracuse in the 2017 season, and it should be pretty fun. We're not going to let them score 60 points this time, but we'll get in and watch the film, see what we have to do, make our corrections, and make a better game of it.

Q. Most of last season Pitt was impenetrable against the run but really gave up a lot of yards through the air. Your thoughts about that and differences this year, obviously new players.
AVONTE MADDOX: Obviously we did give up a lot of yards through the air, but as a team we all fight through adversity, and that`s something we're working on in the back end, and I feel like we're getting it together now. This year, our incoming -- we're older back in the back end, and now that we see what we have to do to make no more mistakes like we did last year, we'll be much better.

Q. Your coach talked a little bit about the guys you're replacing, and when you replace guys like Peterman and James Conner, who was such an inspirational guy in the huddle, how difficult is that, how much will you miss hearing those two voices?
BRIAN O'NEILL: I think we are going to miss those two a lot. They did a lot of great things for our team. But one of the things they really did for us is taught the younger guys how to lead, and they're the two best examples I've ever been around on how to lead other guys and how to incorporate everybody in everything we do and hold everybody accountable. Those are two of the biggest things we've tried to work on as a rising group of upperclassmen and leaders on the offense is being able to lead by example and incorporate everybody, whether it's freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors in everything we do and make everybody feel important because that's two things those two guys did really well, and we all really appreciate them for that.

Q. Just to speak on your versatility going from the right side to the left as far as a tackle at this position for Pittsburgh and then what you can say about some of the other guys on the line, how you would define this year's O-line in Pittsburgh?
BRIAN O'NEILL: I think we have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things, guys who can play all over the place. All of our inside guys can play center, guard, right or left guard. I think I can play right tackle, left tackle. If there's a need for me at guard, I'll play there. That's one of the things Coach Petersen has taught us really well is versatility and how that's going to help us later in our careers, whether it's at Pitt or later down the road.

But being able to play multiple positions is a byproduct of learning conceptually, and we learn our offense and our plays conceptually through -- whether it's different concepts, but not just knowing your position, but knowing what everyone else is doing and having an increased knowledge base is really good for versatility and being able to play multiple positions.

Q. David Cutcliffe was in here previously and he talked about how physical the Coastal Division is. I'm guessing he probably was thinking about Pitt as one of the teams when he mentioned the physicality of the Coastal. When you think about Pitt you think about the offensive line that you guys dominated defenses last year. Talk about the mentality that you guys have on the offensive line. Obviously you lost some tremendous players up there, but you still have more. What do you see up front this year from Pitt's O-line?
BRIAN O'NEILL: Yeah, physicality is the hallmark of our program, and it's something we pride ourselves on. As an offensive line, we take it very personally that there's no group out there that's going to be more physical than us, and I think that's been the trend for the last couple years is if we hang our hats on that, good things are going to happen. I think we still have a lot of guys left who are capable of doing that. We hear a lot about the two guys who left, and they did great things for us, and they're going to continue to do great things in their career, but we`ve still got some horses left.

Q. You got to make some plays with the ball in your hand last year. How much fun is that as an offensive lineman, and does it help keep you engaged at all?
BRIAN O'NEILL: It's a lot of fun, and I owe a lot of thanks to our coaching staff for setting that up. But at the same time, I don't know if it keeps me engaged more so than it distracts me from the 70 other plays I have to worry about during a game. But it's fun. It's fun for our whole offense. I'm really thankful for the opportunity. But it's definitely a little bit of a distraction, worrying about something like that that isn't going to come around a lot. But trying to focus on my primary job is what I should be doing when those things come around.

Q. Coach, obviously your focus is on forward, not looking backward at the players you lost, which some of the guys mentioned. To Max Brown and what he can be for this team and what you can say about the quarterback position heading into the fall as you move forward.
PAT NARDUZZI: Overall, first of all, Shawn Watson, our new quarterback coach, offensive coordinator, has done a great job of identifying their strengths and weaknesses of that quarterback group. I'm very, very happy with the depth that we have at that position. Two years ago when I first took over as the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh, that was not a healthy quarterback room. So the depth that we have in that room from Max Brown to Ben DiNucci who's gotten better every day I think through spring ball, and through the summer, as well, to Thomas MacVittie, and then our new young incoming freshman, Kenny Pickett, it's a good quarterback room. Shawn has done a good job of being positive in there and really just trying to make them better.

I don't know if there is a better quarterback developer than Shawn Watson, okay. Just in my three years there when I watch development, I watch individual drills as a head football coach, the little things that he teaches in there are incredible, and again, the best I've seen in my three springs here as the head football coach. I'm impressed with that. There's going to be a quarterback battle going on. I think coming out of spring ball, Max obviously transferred from the University of Southern Cal, he`s a guy that was at the top, but he knows he's coming into this fall camp with guys on his heels. They just didn't stand around and get worse during the summer. So they're all competing, and I think competition is great for everybody.

Q. I thought you were a defensive coach, but your team averaged like 41 points a game last year and scored 76 against Syracuse. What's going on with that?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, that's a great question. I kind of heard that one before. First thing is we're focused on 2017, and we'll make no excuses for giving up points. A W is a W, okay, and I like wins, and I think we got the W, so that's the first thing and most important. I don't care about points scored, against or for. Dino Babers is a great coach. Let's give him some respect. Obviously he does a great job with the tempo offense. I can sit here and give you excuses of why. I really don't want to hear them. This is 2017 that we're locked into, and we can talk personnel, we can talk this and that. Doesn't really matter. Was that your question? Did I give you an answer?

Q. Just about why your team is so good on offense, why you scored so many points. Do you expect the same kind of offensive production this year?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, we'll find out. It's a different team. Every year is different. That's why I said we'll find out what 2017 -- maybe we will be this dominating defensive team and not score as many points. I've been around them all. Maybe we'll be a dominating special teams unit.

I think that's why we look forward to the season. That's why we're having these meetings today to find out where we are. There will be strengths and weaknesses to every football team. There will be units that are stronger than others, and it`s our job as coaches to make them better, so we'll find out. It's hard to surpass 41 points per game, period. I did not bring Shawn Watson and say, hey, that's the bar. The bar is not set there. We're going to play better defense than we did a year ago. We may play better offense, who knows? But those are all things if we knew at this point, we'd be really special.

Q. You're renewing your rivalry last year with Penn State playing at Penn State for the first time in quite a bit, 15 years. How do you feel about playing at Happy Valley and the underdog mentality that you're going to have to bring?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, we're definitely the underdog going into Happy Valley. I've been there before. We've had good days and bad days in that stadium and against that football team. I think our kids embrace that rivalry. It'll be an important week as we get to it. Obviously the first and foremost is that opener on September 2nd, and we'll move on to that game. But any time you have an interstate rivalry like that one, ACC versus the Big Ten, it's a big game, and we'll be ready.

Q. Your offense last year was so diverse, power game, deep ball. If I remember correctly, then the Clemson game you scored two touchdown passes on a shovel pass. I don't think I've ever seen that before. Change of offensive coordinator obviously. I'm sure the offense will look different, a lot different, a little different? What do you think?
PAT NARDUZZI: I'd say somewhere between a little and a lot. How about that? You know, I think any time you bring in a new offensive coordinator -- and again, as a former defensive coordinator I think if someone told me I had to change my defense, I can't run any other defense -- I would be probably the worst coordinator in the country as opposed to one of the better ones hopefully.

So Shawn has got to come in and do his thing. We tried to keep the terminology similar as far as formations and all, but he`s got to put his twist on this offense. I think the one thing that you have to keep in mind is defenses in the off-season just didn't sit around and twiddle their thumbs during the summer. When you look at Northwestern who had 30 days to prepare for us, they did a pretty good job. You have to have answers, you have to have plays off of plays. So for us to walk into the season and be the same offense, you know, I think it would be foolish. So there will be tweaks to a lot of different things, and we'll have plays off of plays, and maybe it'll be a different shovel pass out of a different formation. Maybe it'll be something else.

We have to do what our personnel can do. You lose a James Conner, you lose a Nathan Peterman that was very experienced and playing with the Buffalo Bills now, those are all things you have to keep in mind of what they can do, so we're going to do what our personnel can do.

Q. Two of your first three opponents are against Penn State and Oklahoma State. Can you speak about how difficult it is to prepare for both of those teams, both offensively and defensively?
PAT NARDUZZI: Yeah, you know, I think preparation is important in every game we go into. You've got a back-to-back team like Penn State and then Oklahoma State the next week, preparation is everything. Now, again, this is the ACC. We understand that neither one of those games will impact being down here in Charlotte on December 2nd and that's really the goal. Those are two good football teams with two of the top quarterbacks in the country, both of them could be top 10 picks in a year. Mason Rudolph a year ago with the Washington kid, you're talking about great talent. Those are two great challenges. We'll embrace both of them, one at a time, and we'll start off with Youngstown State.

Q. Last year with big wins over the National Champions and the Big Ten champions and really every game you were -- even the games that you lost, you were only a touchdown or less from turning that game into a win except for one. How much does that carry over into the upcoming season where you guys know that if you stick to your game plan, limit the mistakes, you've got a chance no matter who you're playing week in and week out?
PAT NARDUZZI: You know, I think, again, it's a different team. I think really in my first two years here at Pitt, it's been that same way in every game. We're going to have a chance to win every game and we're going to be in every game. We've got to do the little things at the end to win those games because whether you get beat by 50 or you get beat by 1, it really doesn't matter, it's a big L.

But I think the carryover -- I think our kids have confidence in who they are, and I think they have confidence in our football coaches, and I think that's the key. There is a trust between the coaches and the players in our program. They trust the coaches. They're going to take coaching. They're going to play tough, and I think that's the key. So there is that carryover. They know, okay, as they line up in that locker room before the game or on a Tuesday practice during the season that they're getting a coaching staff that's going to give them the best possible plan to execute for the Saturday. They believe. And I think it all starts with belief. If they believe, then we've got a chance to be successful.

I think belief is what our kids have right now.

Q. How do you feel about special teams, where you are right now?
PAT NARDUZZI: Well, we've got an All-American returner in Qadree Henderson, who is electric. He's a one-play touchdown threat every time he touches the ball, whether it's a kickoff return, a punt return, and obviously he's in the pass run some of those jet sweeps. Everybody talks a lot about offense or talks about the pluses and minuses of a defense, and special teams really is one of our mainstays. Andre Powell, our special teams coordinator, who I think was special teams Coach of the Year a year ago does an incredible job. You look at offensively and defensively and special teams, as well, it's those little things that you do. Going into our third year and going through spring ball and listening to the same coaching points, having the same coordinator, the continuity of having that same guy teaching them the fundamentals of our special teams is critical, and I think, again, we can be a threat in our return game.

When you look at our punter, Ryan Winslow, is back from a year ago, and we've got a new snapper that we'll be looking for, so there will be some competition at our long snapping and short snapping positions. And then our field goal kicker, Chris Blewitt, I think everybody knows who Chris Blewitt is, he was a great kicker for us. He was a guy that I think kicked five or six game winners through his career there, some big ones in my career, and we're thankful for what he has done for us in the past. And we're going to move on to Alex Kessman will be our kicker and a guy that we've got to get as many snaps into Heinz Field as we can. So in August -- I see our AD is over there somewhere. I thought she was there -- it's going to be important for us to get Alex Kessman in Heinz Field kicking field goals in that stadium. So we're really breaking in a snapper and a kicker, and we know how important those field goal kickers are in those tight games.

Q. Yesterday there was some conversation about blueprints and where you are on schedule. Like building a house in blueprints, there are going to be change orders, challenges you run into, but the house does get built. Where do you think you are in your blueprint and how do you feel going into your third year?
PAT NARDUZZI: I think every year is different. You inherit -- it takes really five years to really get your entire program in place. But I like where our blueprint is. I like building. I think when you talk about the blueprint, you're talking about the product that you put on the field. You're talking about the facility that you're in and the renovations that we've made in our facility with the help of our chancellor, Pat Gallagher, and obviously our athletic director, Heather Lyke, and previous athletic director, Scott Barnes, we've been given the pieces to make a facility better.

Right now I walked down the hallways yesterday there and there's plastic on the floor everywhere, construction; that's part of the blueprint. And recruiting, which I can't talk in specifics about recruiting but that's part of the blueprint. Again, I think every year we get a little bit closer to making adjustments in our staff, adding some personnel, support staff to make our program one of the top in the ACC.

Q. To follow up on the blueprint question, for years western Pennsylvania, one of the best areas in the country for recruiting, Penn State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, other schools used to come in there and take all the top talent. Now with you being at Pitt, how much is the message changing to these recruits in western Pennsylvania that if you come to Pitt you're going to play top competition week in and week out and you're going to have a chance to beat top competition week in and week out? Is that message resonating better?
PAT NARDUZZI: I think it is. We talked about satellite camps and probably one of the better compliments you can get from a coach in college football, we talked to Urban Meyer at Ohio State about coming to work their camp in the summer, and he's like, I don't know. I don't know if I want you coming into Columbus, Ohio. If it was the old Pitt, maybe, but not with what you guys have done that. To me that's a compliment, and I appreciate Urban saying that. We don't play them so he didn't have to say that. He didn't have to pump me up, pump our tires up. But I think that's the image we have in there. They've come in and they've had a battle, and it's a priority for us to keep our local kids there.

In this class you'll see that there's a few more guys that are staying here, and if we don't get them from western Pennsylvania, we'll go some other places, as well. But we're proud to recruit our backyard, and we want to get the best players to stay home at the University of Pittsburgh, and we've done a great job in the past.

When you look at Aaron Donald, he's a pretty good football player that stayed home and probably one of the best players in the NFL right now, if not the best player, most dominating player. So there's been a lot of great players in the legacy of the University of Pittsburgh. You come walk the hallways there, you talk about tradition, there is no better tradition, and that's our goal to keep that going, and it starts with players and recruiting our backyard.

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