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March 21, 2007

In the brief moments when my thoughts turn to spring football practice, I really can’t tell you which chills me to the bone more: a completely new, inexperienced set of linebackers starting and being taught and coached directly by Paul Rhoads or the idea of relying more on the D-line.

The Pitt coach placed the onus not on the linebackers but instead the players forming the front four, where seven of the top eight players in the rotation return.

“It’s important for our defensive line to have a big spring,” Wannstedt said. “We’re going to see if this theory that I believe is real comes true: Would you rather be replacing your whole defensive line or your linebackers? I’d rather be replacing the linebackers.

“We’ve gone through that the last couple years where we’ve had real young defensive linemen and All-American linebackers, and it hasn’t been good enough.”

The back room where my home office is very cold in the mornings. So why are my palms sweating? Ah, I know I’m being too hard on them — old habits die hard when the topic of the D-line is mentioned. And really, that was just prelude. The topic really shifts back to the linebacker corp. Where the emphasis seems to be on just having “football players” at the linebacker spots.

The next came when sophomore Dorin Dickerson switched from tailback to weak-side linebacker. Safeties Jemeel Brady and Shane Murray also were moved to outside linebacker spots. Grayshirt Justin Hargrove, recruited as a defensive end, is playing middle linebacker.

And they are being taught, not by a linebacker coach, but by a guy who specializes in the secondary. Damn that stomach virus I have. That must have been why my stomach just sent stuff upwards.

“If we walked next door to the Steelers and said, ‘Draw me your perfect linebacker,’ they’d draw up somebody with his measurements and speed,” Wannstedt said of Dickerson. “Now, we’ve got to get him caught up with experience. I think the want-to is there. It will be interesting to see.”

Dickerson agreed to the move with the promise that if it doesn’t work out he can return to offense. For now, he’s as anxious as everyone else to see how the transition goes.

“We’ll see what happens,” Dickerson said. “I haven’t tackled in a while, since high school. I’ll see if I can get my form back.”

He sounds fully committed to playing the position.

It it at all matters, almost the entire linebacking group comes from the WPIAL.

It’s an eclectic group, as linebackers go. Rhoads mentioned how Dickerson, being converted from tailback, may be the most athletically blessed of the bunch.

Rhoads said Nix may be the most raw — “wrong on two of three snaps, but he’s going to make a play on one.” He likened Murray to Nix, a pure football player who switched from quarterback to safety to linebacker, even though he “isn’t big enough to play linebacker. He’s not fast enough to play anything. But he … makes plays.”

He compared Webster to Blades in regard to being a “natural linebacker,” though Webster is dealing with Crohn’s disease and “isn’t close to being 100 percent.” He spoke of Scott McKillop owning the most experience and size of this crew.

On the bright side, my expectations are real low, so they may actually meet them.

Other position changes include seeing Derrell Jones move from offensive line (guard) to the defensive line (defensive tackle) after dropping 42 pounds. Freshman receiver Aaron Smith is moving to cornerback.

Talking about the corner spot, obviously Pitt needs to replace Darrelle Revis. Aaron Berry hopes to be that guy.

“I like having that kind of pressure put on me,” said Berry, who also could fill Revis’ role as the Panthers’ primary punt returner. “I know I have big shoes to fill but I look at it like this — I want to be just like him, I want to be a first-round draft pick some day, too, and I am glad I had a year to watch and learn from him.”

[Secondary Coach Chris] Ball said Berry likely benefitted from watching Revis play last season.

“As coaches, we can talk about working hard and push them but that only goes so far,” Ball said. “But when you have a guy like a Darrelle Revis as a role model, then as coaches we can say, ‘You want to be in the NFL, you want to be a high pick, look at him, that’s what it takes to get there.’ That makes a big difference and really leaves a big impression on the younger guys.”

Berry was one of those kids from Wannstedt’s first full recruiting class that is supposed to be a very good player.

On a down note, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Dave Weber is on permanent medical redshirt. He has a knee condition that effectively ends his career before it ever started.





The first paragraph of this post contains quite possibly the scariest thought I’ve encountered since Jay Paterno walked across College Avenue in front of my car. We are doomed.

Who the @#*% does Paul Rhoads have pictures of that he gets to keep his job despite failing year after year?

Comment by Lee in State College 03.21.07 @ 9:22 am

What a cluster-F! First, Wannstedt burns Dickerson’s redshirt for absolutely no reason other than to placate him. Then he switches him to linebacker?

If I were Dickerson, I’d tell Wannstedt to go Cheney himself and transfer. And just to rub it in, I’d see if WVU was interested. Slaton will be gone after this year and Dickerson might fit in very well there.

Comment by Carmen 03.21.07 @ 9:32 am

Guys, we might just have to face the facts that Dickerson wasn’t going to make it as an offensive player on PITT’s current team. I ask you – who would you sit down at this point to start Dickerson? – who is still an unkown commodity on offense in the college ranks (actually didn’t play well enough in practice to break into the lineup). Drop a 900 yard rusher down to second string? Sit Kinder and Turner? Tell DD to bulk up to TE size to replace Byham or Strong? It’s all wishful thinking.

Would you rather DW keep him on the offensive bench another year – thus pretty much ensuring Dickerson’s unhappiness and willingness to transfer?

Give credit to the staff for wanting this kid on the playing field. At least at LB he won’t be competing with players that did well in 2006.

Sometimes, as much as we don’t like it – things don’t always work out the way we planned.

Comment by Reed 03.21.07 @ 9:41 am

This is going to be an aweful year. Once again we will get smoked by WVU and Louisville. I lose more confidence in DW every day. Besides his recruiting, nothing has changed. We arent physical, cant play defense, and overall our team seems un-motivated.

Comment by Rex 03.21.07 @ 10:13 am

Lets not forget that even with motivated players, his “we’ll play ya straight up” defensive philosphy is a disaster at the college ranks. Trying to stop the WVU and Rutgers run game with just your front 4, and refusing to blitz on obvious passing downs gets you what we’ve seen for the last 2 years. Until Wanny learns to stack the line and send some blitzes instead of doing exactly the same thing on every play, nothing will change for this defense. How would you like to game plan against Pitts defense? Its like the other teams know what we’re going to do, and they know we will not change no matter how out of control the game gets. I love Wannstadt, but only if he gets competent coordinators and lets them do their thing will he every have success at any level.

Comment by beapanther 03.21.07 @ 11:43 am

Rex – here’s a quote from you last year after DD’s redshirt was burned…

“I too would have liked to see him redshirt this year but DW did the right thing, he spoke to Dorin and his dad and explained that once he plays thats it. And if they were both comfortable with that then so be it. No need to upset him and his family especially when he can and wants to contribute ight now. He was out biggest recruit we cant just dismiss his desire to play if he has shown he is ready.”

Comment by Rex 10.02.06 @ 9:22 am

How has the situation changed? – DD still wants to play, is willing to switch to get on the field, and DW is accommodating that. Does this move somehow translate into ” This year will be awful…”

Comment by Reed 03.21.07 @ 1:14 pm

I think it is funny to hear someone say the players are “un-motivated”. That is a load of crap. I have been to practice this year and can tell you this team is motivated more than I have seen the last 2 years. A lot of it is coming from the 2006 class. So to call them un-motivated, whats the basis to merit this remark?

People do know that in the first day in pads, Dickerson was more than holding his own. He was not afraid to hit anyone and was actually shedding blocks (things Campbell/Session never learned to do). Hell, he picked off a pass yesterday after jumping a route and took it to the house for a defensive touchdown. All for a guy who is practicing in pads at linebacker for the first time in college.

Comment by pittengineer75 03.21.07 @ 2:06 pm

“He likened Murray to Nix, a pure football player who switched from quarterback to safety to linebacker, even though he “isn’t big enough to play linebacker. He’s not fast enough to play anything. But he … makes plays.””

lol

Not good enough for QB, too white to play safety, and too small for linebacker…but shane murray “makes plays”.

Translation – May not be the fastest or strongest, but he has the grades to be eligible, which is more than we can say for Tommie Campbell.

Comment by Ryan M 03.21.07 @ 2:29 pm

Reed, what changed was we used him one play. I think if you go back and look at when I posted that it was before the season was over. If you are going to burn a redhsirt then get the kid in the lineup – one play is utter stupidity and is very JoePaesque.

Comment by Rex 03.21.07 @ 2:37 pm

pittengineer, I’ll tell you where unmotivated comes from…watch the last 5 games of the year. This team lost before they ever stepped on the field. I would say all of the preseason suspensions also relates to being unmotivated. If you cant stay out of trouble then how motivated are you to actually work hard and win????? Not very in my opinion. This team has a lot to prove to me along with the coaches.

Comment by Rex 03.21.07 @ 2:39 pm

rex,

Difference between motivation and durability. The team was motivated for most of those games (USF and Rutgers were stinkers though, no doubt). In WVU and Louisville though, Pitt was in both games and in fact was leading the Brawl at half time. The players were poorly conditioned last year and you could see that trend as the games continued. It hurt even more when you lose players to injury like Fulmer, Simonitis (Thomas was worn down be the end of the year), Thatcher, etc. There is more that one reason why Morris was brought in this year.

Comment by pittengineer75 03.21.07 @ 2:57 pm

Pittengineer,

I don’t have a comment on the motivation argument, but the stories coming out of spring practice this year don’t change my opinion a bit. All we heard about last year was how Tommie Cambell was excelling in spring ball, and the stories were actually quite similar to the early storeies on DD. I am not comparing DD to TC because they are not even close, and I think DD will be a much better line backer. The point I’m trying to make is that we need to seen it in football games and not in practice to change our minds. I persnally don’t think that we will see much from this defense on game day because of the coaching scheme. If the philosophy is the same as years past, our line backers will be playing 5-6 yards off the line of scrimage on obvious running plays, and against good running teams. If this happens again this year, it won’t matter who is playing line backer. We’ll be a door mat again.

Comment by beapanther 03.21.07 @ 3:46 pm

I predict a win over WVU this year. Mark my words. I’m not saying we’re gonna be good overall, but I am saying we beat those hoopleheads down in Morgantown.

Unrelated: It looks like the athletic dept./university might be hearing the call to bring back the old Pitt script and colors. The bookstore has Ts, sweatshirts, etc. that are block PITT, but the old colors. It’s a start. Just please, GOD, do not submit us to those ridiculous all-gold unis that we saw against Louisville.

Comment by Danster 03.21.07 @ 5:17 pm

I watched Aaron Berry play a number of times at Bishop McDevitt HS. He is a very special player. For the record, he was equally good at WR as DB, and if Pitt needed WR’s that’s where he would be playing. The kid is a football player and he is tough as nails. I love the move of DD to LB. Please, no comparisons of Campbell to DD, the former was a fast guy playing football, the latter is a football player who is really fast. I also like the moves of Hargrove and Murray to LB. Both of those guys are hard nosed football players. We need more guys on defense with their type of personality. Some of the few fond memories that I have of last season were provided by Shane Murray in the USF game, that guy was hitting people like a run-away train. Speed and agility are necessary, but you also need guys that love to play tough, hard-nosed, football. Hopefully, these changes will bring some of that to our defense.

Comment by HbgFrank 03.21.07 @ 5:33 pm

Chas, how dare you. Why open up old (ok, current) wounds by bringing up the football team? Can’t you see what you have done! This is the one time of year we should be able to not have to think about the debacle that will be the upcoming football season.

Comment by Jon C 03.21.07 @ 7:44 pm

Engineer, to me the team looked motivated against USF and Rutgers – just got beaten on the field. Both were close in score, but not in actual play – but not because the team gave up. Last year we got beaten by better teams, this year I think we’ll match up better talent wise.

IMO there was a very real coaching change hangover with the returning Harris recruits, and whether that’s due to the player’s not being mature enough to accept it – or the fault of the new regime not being able to lead convincingly, I don’t know. But, I believe we’ll see more team orientated kids on the field and in practice than before.

Anyway, pre-season is for watching how the kids are actually doing in the drills and play practice – not for intangible issues such as motivation. We’ll find out from September to December whether or not they are motivated.

Rex – re: DD’s one play. I agree he could have been used more, but I also have the feeling there was more behind the scenes than was let on. But, it goes back to my contention that if your going to put a true freshman in as an experiment (meaning he hadn’t earned the starting job, or even playing time in practice) then you have to sit someone down. That sends a message to the kids that did earn the right to be on the field by their hard work. I don’t know the particulars, but it’s water over the dam at this point. I like the move to LB, think it will work out well for DD and the team, and also think that the light bulb might have gone on for DD in that this might be his best chance to see playing time. Bottom line: sometimes, no matter how good you are in HS – it doesn’t guarantee success in college.

Comment by Reed 03.22.07 @ 5:21 am

HbgFrank – my best defense memories from last year involved Eric Thatcher crushing people going over the middle in the Virginia game, prompting me to say “who is this kid?” It’ll be good to have him back too.

Comment by Kevin 03.22.07 @ 7:38 am

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