August 25, 2007

Rounding Up the Rest

Filed under: Coaches,Players,Wannstedt — Chas @ 11:49 pm

Always good when walk-ons earn their way to full scholarship.

Pitt rewarded redshirt junior walk-ons Frank Kochin and Austin Ransom on Friday by giving them scholarships for the 2007 football season, Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt announced.

Kochin, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound offensive tackle from Keystone Oaks, played in all 12 games last season as a member of the point-after and field-goal units. Ransom, a 5-11, 210-pound receiver from Williamsville, N.Y., is a special teams star who had three tackles in 12 games last season.

The calculating, cynical, cold-hearted part of me, though, worries about whether Pitt can afford to give up those scholarship spots.

This might be worth remembering in the first game or two.

Q: How has Bill Stull looked at practice compared to the other quarterbacks of the past?

Zeise: That’s a tough question, to compare players who aren’t much alike. To be honest, Rod Rutherford and Tyler Palko had more similarities than either has similarities with Stull. He is a different kind of quarterback than those two. He has improved greatly since the beginning of camp and he seems to have a good command of the offense. The key for him will be getting off to a good start and finding his confidence quickly. If you remember, it all clicked for both Rutherford and Palko in their second or third career starts.

[Emphasis added.]

Of course, both were under a different offensive system, but it took both until the second-half of their second game as starters (2002, Texas A&M; 2004, Nebraska). Getting comfortable under center in real game situations for more than a couple snaps for the first time since he was playing high school ball in 2004 is still going to be very different.

Either someone asked him about it or Coach Wannstedt was feeling a little defensive about his job performance and the so-called “hot seat.”

Wannstedt believes the Panthers will take the next step soon and start winning at a higher level, but he isn’t going to cut corners to achieve that success. He said he knows he has the full support of the decision-makers at Pitt as well as his players and that he will get things turned around in the very near future.

“I’m just doing things the way I believe they should be done and, whether people believe it is the right way or the wrong way, I don’t really care,” Wannstedt said. “I’m to the point where I know that I am representing this university right, I know how to build a program and what it takes [to win] and I know that our chancellor is on board with that, our athletic director is on board with that and I know our football players are on board with that.

“End of discussion.”

I’m guessing it was a mix of the AP article and all the preview mags that have used the words “disappointing” and “underachieving” to describe the team’s performance the last couple of years that prompted this kind of response.

I don’t find the AP article particularly upsetting since it does reflect a good deal of fan feelings. The feeling that things should be further along and there better be something to show for this season; contrasted with the sense that it will happen and that things are getting closer.

He has several strong recruiting classes on hand, more depth and more speed than in the last two seasons. What Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt hasn’t yet enjoyed as he enters his third season at his alma mater is improvement — in the offense, in the defense, in special teams.

Most of all, in the won-lost record.

Despite Pitt’s lack of success the lack two seasons, it’s evident Wannstedt still has strong support among those who hired him, athletic director Jeff Long and chancellor Mark Nordenberg. His players appear to respect him, and the struggles of the last two seasons mostly created cries for patience from top boosters, rather than cries to oust him.

But this is a pivotal season for Wannstedt, and he knows it. Harris’ third season was the one that propelled him and the Panthers to a string of five consecutive winning seasons and bowl appearances. But this third season was the one that proved the undoing of Majors his second time around; of Hackett in 1992, of Foge Fazio in 1984.

It is a big season. Everything that is talked about — whether amongst fans, from the media, the athletic department — it is either explicit or implied that 2008 is the year. That’s the year everything will come together. All the frustrations, losses, bad stuff will all be worth it as 2008 unfolds as Pitt ascends. Not a national championship, but challenging for the Big East. Showing that a lot will continue beyond that season and that it has all been worth it.

2007, though, is about showing that Pitt is getting to that point. That the defense is actually better. That the lines are improving. That Pitt can have a running game. I think most fans are trying to be patient. Wanting to believe in Wannstedt and what he is doing. We see the recruiting rankings and have to be encouraged. On the field, though, has been different.
Regardless of what happens in 2007, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Wannstedt and Pitt for 2008. The difference is that if 2007 goes in the tank, the mood from the fans going into the 2008 season will be with an “..or else.”

Clearing Clermond

Filed under: Football,Players,Police Blotter — Chas @ 10:02 pm

Finally, back online. Not that anyone really cares, but school starts on Monday for my kid and apparently (according to the wife) we didn’t have absolutely everything we should for her first day of kindergarten (a flask of bourbon for me apparently wasn’t on the list. So, it took ’til this point to have some quiet time and a chance for me to get away.

Joe Clermond deals — somewhat with his arrest and subsequent dismissal of marijuana possession charges.

Pitt junior quarterback Bill Stull said Clermond had the unwavering support of his teammates all along.

“We know Joe Joe,” Stull said. “He’s not that type of person.”

That’s what mattered most to Clermond.

“That really felt good, that they had faith in me,” he said, “that they believed I was innocent even before I was proven innocent.”

Vindication came nine days later, after Clermond showed proof that he wasn’t the owner of the SUV in question. The charges were withdrawn before a scheduled hearing in Pittsburgh Municipal Court.

It was a valuable lesson for Clermond, who is being held as a different example to Panthers players: Beware not only of what you do but the company you keep.

“They already know what type of person I am, and they know it could happen to them,” Clermond said. “They know they better watch out. Just being a ballplayer, it could be with other ballplayers, with friends or family. You’ve just got to try to put yourself in the right situation.”

What impressed Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt was Clermond’s character in reacting to the arrest. He showed up at Wannstedt’s office at 6:30 a.m. that Monday and volunteered to do whatever it took to clear his good name.

“Joe dealt with an unfortunate situation the way we would hope that any of our players would deal with,” Wannstedt said. “You’re not doing anything wrong, not committing any crime. You get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people, and you handle yourself the right way. That’s what he did.

“During that whole episode, he handled everything the way we would have wanted him to. It didn’t affect anything he was doing as far as the football goes.”

I’m very glad the charges were dropped. And the rumors of how Clermond did anything he could to clear even the perception to the coaches that he was  smoking is great.

I’m also glad that he gets that the bigger lesson, may be to beware of with whom you hang and what they are doing. It happens far too often — and not just with the Michael Vicks and those extremes. It happens with hanger-ons even with potential 3d or 4th round draft picks.

I’m still a little troubled by the whole thing. I don’t know what team punishments were given — if any.  Maybe there shouldn’t be any. I don’t know. I’m really undecided at this point.
Clermond, though, is a 23-year old redshirt senior. A presumed team leader and captain. I can’t shake the feeling that there should be some consequences.

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