As spring practice continues for the Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt Panthers, we get a look at a few guys making position switches.
One of those guys could make a big impact in 2016 is sophomore Elijah Zeise.
Zeise received a text message from Narduzzi earlier in week as the North Allegheny graduate found out he will be making the switch from wide receiver to linebacker for the upcoming season.
“Coach texted me earlier this morning and told me to come in,” Zeise said. “Honestly, I thought I might have been in trouble for something. I didn’t understand but when I went up he told me he sees a real opportunity for me at linebacker. It’s basically up to me if I want to do it or not and I said I’d give it a try.”
For now the move is a temporary thing, but Zeise has the athletic ability to make a big impact on the Pitt defense.
“I’m going to try and be all-in with it,” said Zeise. “I think that’s the best way to do it. If you’re going to do it, do it 100 percent. I don’t want to have to be thinking about receiver, plays, or routes in the back of my head.”
The move is being made to get the best athletes on the field at all times and there is no doubting Zeise’s athletic ability.
Zeise impressed last season when he practiced at linebacker prior to Pitt’s Military Bowl loss against Navy.
“He’s a good athlete and I think we need him on defense,” Narduzzi said. “He’s a guy that can come in and play quality reps for us. We want the best 11 players from offense and defense on the field, so we have a chance to try it and we’ll see how it goes. We tried it out in bowl practice and knew he could do it. He actually had three straight tackles in a bowl practice period. He has a nose for the football, you see that on kickoffs and special teams. So we’re going to try it out. I think it’ll go well and you’re going to like it.”
Zeise will be looked at to potentially replace Nicholas Grigsby at the star linebacker spot, which requires a player that can act like a safety. Zeise played wide receiver, cornerback and safety in high school at North Allegheny.
“It was a collaborative effort from Coach Narduzzi and me,” said Pitt linebacker coach Rob Harley. “We want to get the best eleven players on the field. He’s athletically gifted and a smart player. He’s going to try and come in and fill the hybrid role and give us some athleticism in the middle of the field. We’re getting him started early and I think it’ll be a good decision.”
A potential concern though for the Panthers is moving an athletic receiver from a core of wide outs with something to prove.
Not only do the Panthers have to replace Tyler Boyd, who skipped his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, but Pitt now has only two wide receivers among its current group who caught passes last season.
But Narduzzi says he is happy with his current group, which features senior Dontez Ford. South Fayette’s Zach Challingsworth is still dealing with a shoulder injury, which leaves holdovers Jester Weah, Quadree Henderson and Tre Tipton along with incoming freshmen Maurice Ffrench, Ruben Flowers and Clairton’s Aaron Mathews.
At the end of the day though, Narduzzi is a defensive coach and the goal is to get your best players on the defensive side of the ball.
Zeise could help the Pitt defense in a big way and is a story that is certainly worth following.
“We told him to just go out and play,” Harley said. “He has a knack for the football. It’s not that much different than what he was doing at wide receiver. There are some traits that translate over. He needs to go get the football, it’s not day and night. There’s some differences but a lot of it is terminology and plays. The injuries we’ve had have led to opportunities for other players.”
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