March 22, 2007

Okay football fixated, here’s the one post you will see today on spring practices and/or anything related to football. After that, expect nothing but basketball. Really not too much.

H.B. Blades gets a nice piece in USA Today. Focused mainly on his relationship with his late Uncle Al Blades.

Blades plays a tenacious style reminiscent of another undersized overachieving linebacker who played under current Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt when he was the Miami Dolphins head coach from 2000 to 2004. Blades is projected as an early second-day prospect similar to the Dolphins’ 1996 fifth-round choice, 5-11, 230 Zach Thomas, a six-time Pro Bowler.

“When you watch Blades on tape, you see a tough, relentless football player,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock says.

“The problem is he’s somewhat limited athletically. When you talk about inside linebackers, there’s a premium on guys who can play all three downs.

“He’ll have an opportunity to be a core special-teams player initially. And that will be his chance to work into linebacker reps as a between-the-tackles thumper because he’s so tough and the game really matters to him.”

Blades apparently ran the 40 at Pitt’s pro-day better than expected so that should help.

I’m starting to think of LaRod Stephens-Howling as the Antonio Graves of the football team. Underrecruited, questionable as to the impact and almost a last-minute throw-in when recruited. Yet, he keeps working harder. Keeps working to be in better shape and becoming an impact player. Looks like another hard, off-season conditioning regimen has him looking stronger then before. And last year he looked stronger and bigger then the year before.

The Panthers had to work out in shorts the first two days, per NCAA regulations, but they get a chance to see how things go when the action heats up at Tuesday afternoon’s practice. Then, they’ll be able to tell how much a vigorous offseason under new strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris has paid off.

“I just pretty much went all out,” Stephens-Howling said. “I figured that since it’s my junior year, it’s time for me to get as big as I can. So, I went all out in the weight room. Buddy’s really on us. He’s really changed the program around, so I think I really changed my mind-set.

“I know I have to work more in the weight room, to get bigger and stronger, so that’s what I’ve been doing. And I feel a lot stronger in my legs, but that’s what I needed, because I came here with little legs and a bigger body. So, I feel more powerful in my legs now.”

Stephens-Howling also noted that his conditioning has improved under Morris’ tutelage. When he returns to the huddle after a long run or pass route, he doesn’t have tired legs. This should keep him healthier during the season as well.

There should be real depth at the running back (whether there will be an O-line to block for them…) and hopefully the coaches will use that depth to wear teams down and keep them off-balance. I’m hoping that with the pro influences, they’ll jump on the present trend in the NFL to look to have more than one back all the time. Still, an issue because Wannstedt seems to treasure the idea of an every down back, even as that traditional approach is on the wane.

Down in Washington, PA there are a couple linebackers being recruited by Pitt and plenty of others.

Trinity junior Andrew Sweat will visit Gainesville, Fla. this weekend when he gets a chance to check out the University of Florida and its national championship football team.

Florida is one of several schools to offer a scholarship to Sweat, an all-state linebacker. Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Connecticut and Pitt are among the others.

Teammate and fellow linebacker Michael Yancich has offers from Connecticut, Duke, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Vanderbilt, Miami (Ohio) and Pitt.

It’s too soon for the major recruiting sites to have evaluation and star rankings up for players. Safe to observe from the offers that Sweat will is definitely the bigger star. Yancich appears to be a decent player with very good grades and SATs.

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