Two weeks ago, the Pitt football program played its Blue-Gold spring game, a chance to give fans a glimpse of what the 2017 team will look like.
Now, a player who figured to be a key cog on the field and in the locker room is no longer part of the equation.
Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi has dismissed redshirt senior defensive tackle Jeremiah Taleni because of disciplinary reasons, the school announced Friday afternoon. Narduzzi offered no further comment in the release.
Taleni, who played in seven games last season and started three, excelled down the stretch and was expected to be not just a major contributor for the defense this year, but also a team leader. He was even the first player Narduzzi singled out as a veteran taking on more responsibility before spring camp began last month.
“We have a group of guys on the defensive line who are inexperienced,” Taleni, who was credited with a quarterback hurry in the spring game, said after the first spring practice. “We have a younger group. I feel like I need to step up and try and help teach.”
While experience is lacking at Taleni’s position, there may be enough talent to withstand his departure. Sophomore defensive tackle Amir Watts played in seven games and started one last season as a freshman, coaches spoke highly of redshirt freshman Keyshon Camp this spring and Mike Herndon and Shane Roy enter their redshirt junior seasons as potential contributors. Pitt will also add junior-college transfer Kamonte Carter, who could be a candidate for immediate playing time.
But the damage of Taleni’s loss is also one of perception. New defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said last month that Taleni was practicing and acting like a senior, setting the standard for the rest of the defensive linemen..
“He is the new leader of that group,” Narduzzi said March 21. “Last year, you had Ejuan Price, but if I had to say there’s a leader of the front four, I would say Jeremiah is the leader.”
As far as production goes, Taleni had by far his best season as Panther in 2016 with 24 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks, after not seeing the field much his first two years upon redshirting.
A native of Kanoehe, Hawaii, Taleni might best be remembered in Pitt lore for helping Matt Galambos bring down running back Wayne Gallman to stop Clemson on fourth down late in last season’s 43-42 upset of the eventual national champion Tigers. He also had four tackles and 1.5 sacks in that game.
Brian Batko: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrianBatko.