April 23, 2007

The second annual Pittsburgh Jam Fest seemed to have attracted a number of top players, not to mention just about every Big East coach was there to watch. This is as much about recruiting for 2009 and 2010, as it is for 2008. I get dizzy thinking about it and feeling a little creepy when I stop and think that this is about evaluating 14 to 16 year-old kids.

The nation’s top football prospect Terrelle Pryor will switch gears and play for the hometown Pittsburgh JOTS in the Steel City Division. Other local stars include Aliquippa two-sport star Jonathan Baldwin and area guard Brian Walsh. Nasir Robinson, a Pitt commitment, will be a welcomed guest to the Panther faithful this weekend. He was outstanding at the Boo Williams Invitational.Other notable players in the field include Florida teammates Kenny Boynton, a 2009 five-star guard, and Eloy Vargas, a top Pitt target.

The Friday report mentions Jonathon Baldwin having a good night. Baldwin appears to have Pitt in the overall mix for football/basketball.

Another Pitt target, Sarmando Samuels had a good Saturday.

Samuels has been outstanding all spring, as you’d expect from a player in the top 10 in the nation. His hands and power are his best strengths. This season is all about progression and the Jamaican is on the fast track to instant impact status as a college freshman.

It was a who’s who coaching crowd at Samuels’s games. Norm Roberts of St. John’s and Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh watched the big man in the afternoon action while assistant coaches from Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Rutgers were all front and center for his games on Saturday. John Thomson, III and Jay Wright also took peeks. Samuels said he’s “just enjoying the experience” of being recruited. He never seems to really tip his hand about his next recruiting move.

A power forward on the Providence team, by the name of Kevin Jones, listed Pitt as one of the teams offering him. Apparently Pitt was scouting further into the future, a kid from Georgia by the name of Tony Mitchell.

Pitt target Eloy Vargas is getting a good look at one of his top suitors this weekend. The big man is also playing well in the Steel City. He was good in a blowout win on Saturday afternoon and gave Jamie Dixon something to smile about. Miami, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Maryland and NC State all took a good look at the Miami area star.

Playing on his future home court, Travon Woodall had to impress the Panther fans that came out to see him play. He was aggressive on the defensive end of the floor frustrated those that lined up against him. The 6-foot-1 guard used his quick hands to spark the transition offense and opened the floor up with steals that turned into lay-ups.

On the Sunday report, a couple members of the incoming freshman class at Pitt looked good.

Pittsburgh fans had plenty to smile about this weekend. 2007 signees Dejuan Blair and Bradley Wannamaker both played in the event and both players got it done. Blair is his usual tough guy self, bullying teams around for blue collar points and man sized rebounds. Wannamaker was really good, leading his Positive Image team deep into the championship bracket. He’ll be a fine player for the Panthers and fit right into to their style of play.

Vargas got special mention last week in the Trib.

Vargas, who plays for Team Breakdown (Fla.), is one of the Pitt’s leading recruiting priorities from the Class of 2008. Ranked among the nation’s top 20 junior power forwards, Vargas has nearly a dozen Division I offers from Big East, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 12 schools.

“Miami, Florida, Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Maryland,” Vargas said Wednesday with a heavy Spanish accent. “They have called me.”

Pitt, with one scholarship remaining for the Class of 2008, is considered the leader for Vargas’ services based on an early start in the recruiting battle and a close relationship with Antigua, who speaks fluent Spanish and hails from the same region of the Dominican Republic.

Vargas moved from the Dominican Republic to Florida two years ago. His stock soared after eye-opening efforts in the AAU circuit last summer and then a high school season in which he averaged 21 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots for American Heritage, a Class AA-sized school outside Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He also added 20 pounds of muscle to his frame.

“Pitt has been there from the very beginning,” said coach Kenny Gillion of Team Breakdown, which opens with Positive Image at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Petersen Events Center. “They have recruited him the hardest, and Eloy is looking favorably upon them. He can tell the schools that are putting forth the effort.”

We’ll see. I’m hoping Pitt lands him. With Pitt’s de-emphasis on NYC at the moment, Orlando Antigua hasn’t had as much of an impact in recruiting yet.

Paul Zeise revealed something very interesting in his Q&A this past week.

Q: Last year a lot of fans wondered about why Pitt didn’t blitz more and we read that Paul Rhoads and Dave Wannstedt didn’t want to. Now I read that the Panthers are adding the safety blitz. I’m just wondering, if it was so obvious to me and so many other fans last year that the Panthers needed to blitz more, why didn’t Wannstedt and Rhoads make the adjustment during the season, why did they wait until now?

Chris Tabay, Hamilton, N.J.

ZEISE: Oh no, not this again. I knew that as soon as Wannstedt talked about doing some blitzes with the safeties this spring all of the second-guessers who think the blitz is a cure-all would come out of the woodwork again.

Give me a break with this, please.

I’ll give you the short version one more time as to why Pitt didn’t — and couldn’t — blitz very much.

Pitt’s safeties STUNK last year. Period. They weren’t good enough to make the plays, they weren’t fast enough to get to the point of attack and the evidence was that just about every time the Panthers tried to blitz, they got burned.

They didn’t blitz because they weren’t good enough and they didn’t have much faith in about nine of the 11 guys on the field, particularly by midseason when they were hit with some injuries.

And it was worse when they’d blitz a linebacker because not only were Pitt’s safeties not quick enough to get to a point where they could make a play on the ball, the linebackers who blitzed — the outside ones — didn’t usually make the play either, which was a double disaster.

Further, the defensive line didn’t dominate anyone and there wasn’t one lineman who the other team had to worry about double-teaming, which meant the other team always had plenty of free blockers to pick up the blitzers.

That’s a fact. I asked Dave Wannstedt about blitzing several times because I wondered some of the same things that some fans were wondering but rather than get defensive — like many coaches would — he took me into the film room late in the season and showed me on film what happened on the plays that Pitt did blitz — and it wasn’t usually a very good outcome. The film does not lie.

Pitt did not have enough good players at the right positions to take many chances or to be very successful stopping anyone. Their defense needed better players, not better schemes.

And to compare that situation, to the situation right now when the Panthers appear to have much better players at safety, when it looks like Gus Mustakas and Joe Clermond have progressed to the point where teams will have to focus on stopping them, is trying to compare apples to oranges.

Eric Thatcher is healthy now. Mike Phillips is healthy now. Elijah Fields has more upside and athletic ability than anyone they’ve had in a long, long time. When they blitz, they made things happen.

Coaches feel far more comfortable taking a few chances with this group than they did last year. Good coaches know their personnel and also know their limitations and try to put them in the best position to make plays.

Rutgers, Louisville, West Virginia — they all had the right personnel, the right kind of athletes and the one or two studs up front to pull off a lot of blitzes that the Panthers couldn’t even have dreamed of trying. They all had at least one and in the case of Rutgers and Louisville, two, defensive linemen that required double teaming, which helped create mismatches for the extra attacker be it a safety or a linebacker.

You must put in a system that fits your personnel and Pitt’s coaches finally feel like they are starting to get the right kind of personnel to take a few chances. Last year, they didn’t.

I haven’t always agreed with Paul Rhoads philosophy on defense and there are times I think he could be a little more creative and times when I think criticism of him was fair. On this one, this whole blitzing thing, however, I have no problem at all with how they approached it last year given what they had to work with.

[Emphasis added.]

That would have been very interesting to learn — last year!!!

Here you have the Pitt beat writer getting really interesting stuff about why Pitt wasn’t capable of blitzing. Knowledge gained thanks to the access to the Head Coach and being part of the media. Something many of the fans were dying to know/understand.

When do we read about it? In an online Q&A? In April? Why?

There are only two reasonable explanations. The first is that Coach Wannstedt didn’t want to make it known — even late in the year — that the team was incapable of  pulling off a safety blitz. I could almost excuse that, except he gave the information and even broke it down for a beat writer.

The other reason is that Zeise didn’t want to humiliate some of the players like Sam Bryant. After all, if he made it known that players on the team simply couldn’t get the job done, Bryant and other safeties might be a little ticked. Then other members of the team might rally to them and some of the precious access to the players could be diminished.

Which of course begs the question of what is the purpose of the access? Zeise can feel good about knowing the reason, but  what was the point of holding onto to the info past it’s useful point? He admits he was wondering about the lack of blitzing before talking to Wannstedt. Apparently it wasn’t as obvious as he contends until he sat down with Wannstedt and had game tape broken down for him.

Look, I think Zeise is a good beat writer. I like reading him. His biggest problem, though, is protecting his access to the detriment of actually reporting.

He Said What?

Filed under: Football,Recruiting,The 'Burgh — Dennis @ 6:57 pm

Everyone knows that Mike Cruz backed off his verbal and there are plenty of factors that you can sit back and say, “Okay, I can sort of see where he’s coming from.” Maybe it was that we were pretty set at the tight end position, or that we’d switch him to another position, or that his mom doesn’t want him at a city school. This was not what I was expecting to hear from him though.

“It was kind of an 80-20 thing,” Cruz said, “80 percent wanting to keep my options open and 20 percent seeing that they really don’t have a great fan base.”

What kind of idiot says that kind of thing? Having it in your mind is one thing, maybe saying that to your parents in a closed meeting is in there too, but to publicly say that? Even if he ends up recommitting here, I’ll always remember that comment.

Also, saying we “don’t have a great fan base” based on the fact that not a ton of people showed up for a scrimmage doesn’t sound very intelligent to me. That same afternoon there happened to be a Penguins playoff game that I’m sure people would have rather stayed home (out of the rain/cold) to watch. LeSean McCoy seemed to think we had a good enough fan base to commit after seeing fans at the Pete for College Gameday, but obviously Cruz wasn’t pleased enough with what he saw.

I guess when you’re trying to live the life of a rapper, beating your wife/girlfriend is just part of the road to stardom. Keith “KB” Benjamin took care of that but could have the charges dropped and get off the hook if he can keep his hands off his former girlfriend (and vice versa).

“All parties agreed to go 30 days. If there are no incidents, all charges will be dropped.”

I’ll bet any money that if you asked Jamie Dixon to make a comment on it, he’d make the most positive comment possible. That would simply be “Dixon being Dixon”.

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