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April 24, 2007

Revis Interests Steelers

Filed under: Alumni,Draft,Football,Good,NFL,The 'Burgh — Dennis @ 8:44 am

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin held a press conference yesterday and discussed many topics including Alan Faneca’s contract as well as the upcoming draft. Revis is nowhere near a lock to stay in Pittsburgh but the possibility is definitely there.

“He’s got a nice combination of size and speed, and he’s a young guy. You would imagine there’s a lot of football in front of him,” Tomlin said of the Aliquippa native, who declared for the draft after his junior season at Pitt. “He seems to have his head on straight and he’s a sharp young man, so he has a lot of things that are attractive about him.”

The Steelers don’t have a ton of places where they need to bring in a new player (and were probably one of the best 8-8 teams in NFL history) but positions like cornerback and linebacker might be in for some change. Look for both Revis and PSU’s Paul Posluszny to be very possible choices.

I also have a feeling Revis would love the opportunity to stay home and move to the locker room down the hall from Pitt’s.

Rambling on Rhoads

Filed under: Assistants,Coaches,Football,Wannstedt — Chas @ 8:28 am

This bit from Bill Simmons on Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers reminds me of what Defensive Coordinator Paul Rhoads has in Pittsburgh.

I haven’t ventured into the clubhouse. I’m not sitting at a press table typing deadline game stories and ignoring the game that’s happening right in front of me. I haven’t had the distinct pleasure of spending time with Doc after a tough loss and being wowed by his winning charm and humor. I haven’t been spun the same BS excuses that everyone else back home has been spun, and my lips aren’t covered with green Kool-Aid stains.

Should it matter if Doc happens to be a good person and a swell dinner companion? Sure, if he’s a friend or family member. But what if he’s coaching your favorite team and you don’t know him from a hole in the wall? What then? Should it bother you that the team won half as many games as it did two seasons ago? Or that we haven’t been able to defend a high screen since Eric Williams was still alive? Or that we’re consistently sloppy on both ends of the court? Or that opponents routinely shoot 50 percent or better no matter who’s out there?

Seems like all of that can be applied to Pitt and Rhoads running the defense. In his time at Pitt, the fundamentals — player positioning, tackling, footwork — have been bad. The defensive schemes don’t change regardless of their failures. Regardless of the personnel. Rhoads is the DC. As a top assistant, he’s supposed to be helping recruit the players for the team. As the DC, he is supposed to know the players on the defense as well as anybody and how to use them. Yet, there are no consequences.

I see it. All the other fans see it. Even the media acknowledges it, insofar as the defense is bad. Yet it is not Rhoads’ fault.

It’s bad attitudes on the team, a lack of leadership, poor talent, Walt Harris’ fault. Always something else.
Wannstedt’s support of Rhoads has had me baffled. I figured he got to stay because Rhoads was popular with the Athletic Director and Chancellor Nordenberg — not to mention the fact that he was one of the few assistants with a well-compensated contract — but that he now gets into year 3 under Wannstedt has been an ongoing search for the “why”. It leads to theories and trying to figure out why. Maybe it leads to the crazies, but I’m a little scared as I consider the following scenario.

You have a coach who looked good at first with someone else’s talent. Sure, things failed at key points, but the expectations are there.

As time goes on, though, things get worse. The talent is slipping. Yet, because, the guy is so engaging and likable the press and media stay positive and supportive of him. As do the people in charge. The fans who only see and care about what is happening on the field, however, are not so positive. They see a defense getting worse and worse and no one holding the DC responsible — or at least asking questions. Instead they are fed a litany of excuses for the DC. The excuses fail. Feeding instead: further frustration and anger.

Finally, it reaches a point, where even the press can’t excuse it any longer as the problems are so obvious and it all comes down to the coach. Then they have to go after him. And do. Almost with a vengeance and with gusto out of embarrassment that they helped prop him up and undermine their own credibility. In fact, the mocking and invoking his name as a punchline goes on for years after he is gone.

We haven’t reached the “finally” stage — yet.

Now think about Coach Wannstedt’s tenures in the NFL at Chicago and Miami as Head Coach. There is a disturbing parallel. It has me concerned that Wannstedt sees much of himself in Rhoads in that way, and is trying to help/protect him. Even as Rhoads’ tenure as DC continues towards the same outcome.

It’s just a theory, but when it comes to explaining how a DC can survive a steady 8-year slide and be under his second head coach, theories are about the only thing out there.

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”.

April 22, 2007

Mike Cruz seemed like he was more than excited to play for Pitt when he verbally committed at the beginning of April.

“Pitt’s been my dream school,” Cruz said. “It’s always been my favorite school.”

Don’t be too quick to picture him in a Panthers jersey though, since he’s backed out of his verbal.

Johnstown Bishop McCort junior tight end Mike Cruz has reneged on his verbal commitment to Pitt and will reopen his college recruitment.

“Unfortunately, I did,” Cruz said. “I think I rushed my decision.”

The 6-foot-4, 260-pound Cruz was the second player from the Class of 2008 to pick the Panthers. Verbal commitments are non-binding until prospects sign a binding national letter of intent in February.

For more on Cruz, here are other posts about him on Pitt Blather.

The Curse on the 2004 Recruits?

Filed under: Football,History,Recruiting — Chas @ 11:34 am

I don’t know what bitter Pitt fan did it. I just don’t want to end up on his bad side. It just keeps getting stranger. The collapse of one of Pitt’s best recruiting class in a couple decades came with the confluence of the Big East being a complete mess, Pitt’s 2003 bitter disappointment of a season, the questions that began swirling around Walt Harris led to a complete picking off of verbal after verbal.

Yet, aside from being part of what cost Harris his job, Pitt didn’t actually suffer for the lost players the way the players themselves have:

Johnny Peyton, WR: signed with USF, looked good as a freshman, then got in the doghouse and eventually quit football.

Andrew Johnson, RB: changed to Miami, never was able to climb the depth chart and suffered injuries; currently at Akron after transferring.

Anthony Morelli, QB: had his redshirt burned for no apparent reason at PSU, can’t shake the “dumb” label of not being able to read defenses, and played such a lackluster first season as starter that most PSU fans are hanging their high hopes on the fact that he didn’t suck in the Outback Bowl.

James Bryant, LB: moved to fullback because of depth chart issues, against his wishes; has been suspended numerous times; and is now transferring as a senior because he still wants to play linebacker.

Only Alphonso Smith (CB) seems to be doing okay for himself at Wake Forest.

Not that there is much else to see from the 2004 recruiting class. Also transferring: Brandon Mason, Rashad Jennings, Robbie Agnone, Kelvin Chandler, and Tyler Tipton. Special mention to Steven Walker who was kicked off the team and out of school after the first semester, and is now in prison for murder.

There were/are some good ones from the class: Darrelle Revis, Derek Kinder, Scott McKillop, Darrell Strong, Marcel Pestano.

But, wow. It’s stunning to realize that as demoralizing as it was to lose out on all of those players back then, it really wouldn’t make much of a difference now or the past couple years with on the field action.

April 19, 2007

135 Days

Filed under: Fans,Football — Dennis @ 7:06 pm

With our season ticket renewal in the mail, it is officially time that we can start counting down the days until Eastern Michigan. I don’t care if this team had a bunch of blue chip recruits or high school bench warmers playing — there’s nothing better than spending a Saturday afternoon watching Pitt football.

Except for the occasional Wednesday night game…ugh.

Positional Concerns

Filed under: Bloggers,Football,Players,Tactics — Dennis @ 10:12 am

When Kevin Gorman asked for e-mail responses to the question “What position is of greatest concern to you?” on his blog, I wrote him the following.

Dennis from Pittsburgh: I think it’s, by far, the offensive line, and especially at center. It sounds like Mike McGlynn is the answer there because of some of the experience he’s had as well as the problems the other potential centers have seen. We’ll need him and the entire line to be solid to get anything going on offense.

KG: McGlynn just might solve that riddle and, if so, it potentially gives the Panthers their best offensive line in years. McGlynn and left guard C.J. Davis have two seasons as starters in offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh’s system, while left tackle Jeff Otah and right guard Joe Thomas both have one. Jason Pinkston appears to be a fixture at right tackle, and saw spot duty last season.

If McGlynn moves to center, which is becoming a strong possibility, it would allow the Panthers to have solid backups at every position: Chris Vangas at center, Dom Williams at guard and John Bachman, who can now play all three spots.

McGlynn, however, is recovering from surgery for a torn labrum and might not be ready by the season opener against Eastern Michigan Sept. 1. That would leave another Bachman/Vangas battle and could stunt the development of the quarterback competition.

Considering that the center touches the ball on every play, that the starting quarterback is going to inexperienced and the difficulty Bachman had making clean exchanges, it might just be the position of most pressing concern to the Panthers.

Just one of many things to think about for this upcoming season. Other responses included punter, linebacker, and leadership.

April 18, 2007

Down Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chas @ 3:06 pm

Posting may get sporadic for the next week or so as I get reacquainted with sleep deprivation. My wife just delivered our second child. Our son, Kian Derek was born today. He clocked in at 8 pounds, 8 ounces and 20 inches long.
Back in December we found out the gender and started working on figuring out a name. Funny thing as you get older. You start running out of names as you don’t want to name them after ex’s or just people in your past who have pissed you off. And as you get older, the list of people you don’t like, gets longer. So, we were driving back from the ultrasound tossing out names (and shooting them down). As we went, I just couldn’t help but suggest, “Aaron Tyler.” The wife actually started thinking about it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep a straight face. When I told her who they were, she sighed and crossed the names off the list.

Good news, the hospital has wi-fi.

If you thought it was early for top 25 basketball polls, then this is going to seem like talking about something way too early. Almost as bad as playing holiday music in early November.

Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s “expert” bracketologist, has Pitt in the #7 seed slot.

Nope, it’s not to early for this garbage at all.

April 17, 2007

Ranking Coaches

Filed under: Big East,Coaches,Conference,Football,Wannstedt — Chas @ 10:59 pm

For what ever it’s worth, Tom Deinhart of The Sporting News has been ranking the football coaches in each conference. He finally got to the Big East. WVU’s Rich Rodriguez was 1st, and given his success it is hard to argue against (damn).

6. Dave Wannstedt, Pitt. Wanny finally looks like he’s home. Of course, he is, coaching at the school and in the town that forged that crooked grin. He knows defense, and he has infused talent into the program. But it’s time to start delivering the goods with West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers stealing the headlines. Pitt is a proud program that ALWAYS should be good.

Only Randy Edsall at UConn and Greg Robinson at Syaracuse are behind Wannstedt. I want to argue against him already behind Steve Kragthorpe at Louisville and Brian Kelly at Cinci. The problem, of course, is that so far Coach Wannstedt hasn’t really done much as a coach to say he should be ahead. The only argument available, is that the other two haven’t done anything in the Big East yet.

Revis Steady in the Draft

Filed under: Draft,Football,NFL,Players — Chas @ 10:08 am

While the NFL draft stock of most Pitt players are for the second day:  H.B. Blades has him anywhere from round 3-5, Tyler Palko maybe 5-7, Adam Graessle 6-free agent and Clint Session as a free agent. Darrelle Revis has remained consistently ranked in the teens to low-20s. I previewed him for AOL today. Let me know what I got dead wrong.

Peter King at SI.com sees little difference between the top-two corners in the draft.

6. Darrelle Revis (VIDEO), Leon Hall (VIDEO). Leon Hall, Darrelle Revis. Pick a corner, any corner. I bet NFL teams would be 17-15 in some order or 16-16 if you asked which corner they had rated higher, Pitts’ Revis or Michigan’s Hall. Opening-day 2007: Hall’s your man. Reliable, big-game-tested. Opening-day 2009: Maybe Revis, who’s slightly bigger with a little more potential. They are so similar, in fact, that Hall was .01 faster in dashing 10 yards (1.45 to 1.46) and Revis .01 faster in the 40- (4.38 to 4.39).

Kind of surprising that there’s been virtually no movement, other then a slight uptick after the WVU-NFL contingent found itself looking at some 24 combined games of unpaid leave. High character will matter a little more in this draft and Revis has never even had a whiff of problems.

Backup Guard Keith Benjamin and his girlfriend were arrested and charged with simple assault after a domestic dispute. They were apparently arguing over car keys. The girlfriend had some scratches on her face neck and her knee was bloody. Both refused medical treatment. Both claimed to have been hit by the other.

They were arraigned and released. The preliminary hearing is on Thursday. Call it a hunch, but I suspect neither will be pressing charges.

It’s stupid and wrong on so many levels, but I don’t think it’s a huge deal. Benjamin has never been in trouble before this. It’s not good.

I’ll defer to those who know the Allegheny County Criminal Court and Police system far better than I (go ahead, Pat), so correct me if I’m wrong. It is probably standard procedure to take both into police custody and file charges in cases of domestic disputes. Then let things be sorted out.

UPDATE: This story makes it a bigger deal. That detail of “Officers observed swelling and a bruise on Olczak’s right cheek,” makes this much more serious. The earlier story made no mention of this injury.

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