masthead.jpg, U3dpdGNo-a25, DIRECT, 14766, RESELLER, 30666, RESELLER, 5d62403b186f2ace, 1117, RESELLER, switchconcepts, RESELLER, switchconceptopenrtb, RESELLER, switchconcepts, RESELLER, 560031, RESELLER, 3160, RESELLER, switch, RESELLER, switchconcepts , RESELLER, 1934627955, RESELLER, switchconcepts, RESELLER, 59, RESELLER, 1356, RESELLER, 96786, RESELLER, fafdf38b16bf6b2b, 180008, RESELLER, 52853, RESELLER, 1058, RESELLER, pub-3515913239267445, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0
June 30, 2010

As I’ve said many times, I don’t follow recruiting that closely. It’s expensive with recruiting site memberships for premium content and remains borderline creepy. And not just because it invovles obsessively following muscular teenage boys with the ardor of media portrayed teenage girls and Twilight.

When there is free content to pass along I do — hence why I probably have more recruiting tidbits with basketball than football — fewer available scholarships, fewer targets,etc. And, naturally, when there is a verbal I’ll offer up the info.

But for the most part, this is not a place that does a lot of traffic in or people come for recruiting rumors and buzz.

One other area I don’t bother with very much any more. Penn State and Joe Paterno. There isn’t much to say that I haven’t said previously. I don’t see the need to waste my time on them. Pitt and PSU aren’t going to be facing each other in football or basketball anytime soon. They likely will never be in the same conference. About the only place where there is competition is in football recruiting. A proxy battle at best, but one that does fire up the message boards.

There, preamble out of the way. Now to try and get to the meat.


Bad Trips in the Past

Filed under: Assistants,Basketball,Coaches,Practice — Chas @ 9:18 am

Probably without intending to,’s Andy Katz managed to make me a little nervous about Pitt’s upcoming trip to Ireland this summer.

The Panthers are the pick to win the Big East with the return of every starter save Jermaine Dixon. The last time Pitt went on a foreign trip it was to Canada in August 2004. Coach Jamie Dixon had just completed his first year and the core of the group was still young with Levon Kendall, Carl Krauser, Chevon Troutman, Ronald Ramon and Chris Taft highlighting the roster. That team finished 20-9 and was a No. 9 seed.

The expectations are even higher for this group. That’s why Dixon wanted to take advantage of the new rule, and the team will be in Ireland from July 29 to Aug. 9.

From a basketball perspective, the practices — like the one the Panthers held last Friday and will again this Friday — are key. The most important issue for Pitt is figuring out the rotation, especially up front.

Pitt has several big men, Nasir Robinson, Gary McGhee, Dante Taylor, J.J. Richardson and Lamar Patterson, who will all have to figure out their roles. In the backcourt, the Panthers will likely go with a three-guard lineup of returnees Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown in place of Jermaine Dixon. But incoming freshmen Isaiah Epps and Cameron Wright could certainly push those three at times. Learning how they handle the road will be key for Jamie Dixon.

Dixon said that when he took the team to Canada in 2004, he was hoping to find an effective 3. He didn’t on the trip and said he was still searching in March.

This roster isn’t devoid of options for him. But he’ll learn quite a bit more on this excursion and he’ll have plenty to ponder come October.

But way to remind what a disappointing season 2004-05 turned out to be, and just how little that trip did to help.

The new rule this year with the trip is that freshman are eligible to go as long as they have taken at least one summer class.

Katz also points out that last year the Pac-10 sought to have the NCAA ban these trips outright — ostensibly to save athletic departments money. This despite the fact that most teams get the funds for the trips from other sources (last year, Vandy coach Kevin Stallings paid for his team’s overseas trip out of his own pocket).

I find this somewhat illustrative, however, of the fact that while the NCAA gets blasted for many things, it is not simply some 3d party monolith that imposes its will capriciously on the helpless schools. The NCAA is made and run by the schools and reflects their own desires and controls. All of those strange, arcane and strange decisions have their basis and genesis usually from the member institutions.

Ray Mernagh has a puff piece on Pitt assistant Brandin Knight.

So when Knight’s phone rang earlier in the spring and former fellow assistant Mike Rice was on the line offering him the associate head coach position at Rutgers, three versions of Knight’s “family” came into play. The fact that it was Rice calling changed the whole scenario for Knight and for the first time since being at Pittsburgh as a coach he really had to consider leaving. Another aspect of the job offer was that it would bring Knight and his family back to their roots in Jersey, and more importantly, back close to Mel and Brenda Knight who are getting older. The job offer was also a chance for Knight to go somewhere else (he’s spent his entire coaching career at Pitt) and to spread his wings a little. It was also a “promotion” in terms of hierarchy, he would be the point man for Rice, working hand in hand trying to bring a program from the depths back to a place that mattered.

Knight thought about it before deciding that he had already been a part of a reclamation project of that scale, and while he thinks Rice is likely to get the job done at Rutgers, things are pretty good at Pitt. Knight knows that when the time comes to leave he’ll know it, and the thought here is that it will be for a head coaching opportunity at a lower level and not an assistant spot. Dixon has become a coach that helps guys get jobs if that’s what they want. For Knight, the situation will have to be right to jump. He’ll need to know he has a really good chance to succeed at whatever job he eventually leaves Pittsburgh for.

It had to be a tempting offer. Staying for at least this year could be even more beneficial. If Pitt can have the kind of year hoped, then his stock rises higher. It also has to be remembered that Knight is only 28. Still rather young for coaching. He definitely is on a fast track, but there is time.

June 29, 2010

For the last few years, I tried to broach the idea to the wife of letting me go to a night of summer league games. I have yet to succeed.

For some reason she has a hard time seeing the logic in coming home early from work, dealing with the kids for the whole night without me, taking care of their dinner, letting me spend some $40+ in gas and tolls driving nearly 300 miles just to watch what is essentially a few high quality pick-up games.

When I discussed it last week, once more it predictably failed. I followed it up with, “Okay, but this means I definitely get to go to the Thursday night Miami-Pitt game.” A night on the couch is definitely more painful as I get older.

So, it looks like more reliance on other reports will continue.

Can’t wait for a puff piece on Gary McGhee. Seriously. I want to hear from the big guy about getting to go to the Amare Stoudemire Nike Skill Academy. They do measurables of all the players in sneakers. McGhee measured at 6-11 with a wingspan of 7-1.

He got back from the camp and was apparently dominant in his game.

On the opening play of the second half, Pitt center Gary McGhee ran a pick-and-roll with Duquesne guard Eric Evans for PGT and delivered a thunderous dunk after the Evans pass. From the sidelines Gilbert Brown and Brad Wannamaker showed their support by singing the “Sportscenter” theme.It was that kind of night for PGT’s Gary McGhee.

“I had a size advantage. So I tried to make myself available, and then attack the rim,” said McGhee, who scored 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting and grabbed 15 rebounds. When PGT ran their offense through McGhee last night, they were unstoppable.

Have to wonder if he got a little more confidence while at the camp. Hope so.

Gilbert Brown had a good night when he played. Exciting news. That means two games in a row where he had it going. Sure it’s summer games, but he’s gotta start somewhere.

Then there’s Ashton Gibbs doing what he does best. Hitting a buzzer beater for the win.

UPMC was up by as many as 10 in the second half, as they built a 55-45 lead with 10 minutes left. Gibbs went to work, scoring 11 consecutive points, including three consecutive three-pointers. After his scoring spree, Center Court was up 60-59.

Woodall answered, taking a strong drive to the hole, tying the score at 64-64, with two minutes left. From there, both players went back and forth making plays. With under a minute to play, looking to ice the clock, Gibbs was called for a five-second call.

On the ensuing possession, Woodall was fouled, where he connected on both of his free throws. His free throws put UPMC up 72-70 with eight seconds left. That gave Gibbs just enough time to bring the ball up and take a spot three-pointer, which he connected on, with just a second left on the clock.

The final tally–Gibbs with 23 points and one assist, on 8-of-19 shooting. He was perfect on his final seven shots of the game.

Woodall also had a very good shooting night and nailing 2 FTs late, is a good sign. Otherwise, trying to remember that this is summer league so defense is optional for both Woodall and Gibbs.

Not a lot of stuff out there today. Little things to pass along.

Yes, you know it is a dead period when’s football people are talking about ties. Pitt had a few “notable” ties on this list.

Sporting News football writers, Hayes and Curtis, list their top “game-changing receivers.” Jonathon Baldwin is in the top-5 for both writers.

A casual, early look at the best opening game for college football in the Big East: Pitt-Utah.

The Utes should be strong again in 2010, though they have some work to do in replacing several linebackers and safeties. Leading rusher Eddie Wide returns, along with oft-injured Matt Asiata. Three of the team’s top four receivers are gone, including 1,000-yard man David Reed. Quarterback Jordan Wynn made his college debut eight games into the season and went on to become the Poinsettia Bowl MVP.

Utah also brings back four starters on the offensive line and boasts depth on the defensive front. Whittingham’s team figures to make a lot of preseason Top 25 ballots.

Finally, if you need another list of recruits. Chris Dokish has his list of top-25 Pennsylvania recruits for 2011. Yes, it’s a down year.

7 of the 25 of the players have verballed, with Pitt receiving 3 of them.

June 28, 2010

Another From New Jersey

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 11:08 pm

The commits from New Jersey keep piling up. The latest, Defensive Tackle Marquise Wright.

Wright, a 6-foot-3, 270 pound defensive tackle from Paramus Catholic in New Jersey, had several other offers, most notably from from Florida State, Miami, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Maryland and Penn State. His final decision came down to Pitt, Maryland and Penn State.

Now here’s where the vagaries of recruiting rankings come in to play. has him as a 3-star recruit and the 21st best player at his position. Seems solid enough, and when you look a the list of teams pursuing him you have to figure that he is either due for a significant upgrade by the end of the summer or he has a lot of very raw potential., Inc. also has him as a moderately good prospect with a score of 79 (Insider subs.).

He flashes some good raw athleticism, but can tend to get tall out of his stance and needs to keep better pad level to maximize his ability. As a pass rusher he can be active with his weapons, but needs to be sure to not attack the whole man. Wright is kid who could offer some versatility in where he is played on the defensive line. He has some good tools, but needs to work to be more consistent in areas. He is a prospect who shows good upside as a defensive lineman.

Then there is, which has him as a 4-star, but also the #2 prospect out of New Jersey. Naturally, since they have him ranked the highest, and Wright has committed to Pitt their rankings are most accurate in terms of Wright.

Worth noting on the list of top-30 NJ prospects, 4 of the top-14 (Wright #2, Bill Belton #6, Quinton Alston#10, and Gary Nova #14) have verballed to Pitt.

And to think in May, there was concern over when Pitt would get some verbals.

Newest Pitt verbal Lafayette Pitts may have been listed as an athlete or running back on recruiting sites, but Pitts makes no bones about where he wants to and likes to play.

Pitts made a verbal commitment to Pitt Satuday at its team passing camp, where he shined in showing off his coverage skills.

Pitt was the first to offer a scholarship to the 6-foot, 185-pounder, who picked the Panthers over Buffalo, Illinois, Iowa, Kent State, Maryland and West Virginia.

“I bring a little bit of toughness to the cornerback spot because I like to press,” Pitts said. “I want to stay close to home and they all feel like family here.”

Pitts played receiver and running back last season for the WPIAL Class AAAA champions, and also starred in the secondary and as a kick returner.

“He’s like the Energizer Bunny – he’s always on the go,” Woodland Hills coach George Novak said. “He can do a lot of things but he’s very natural at defensive back. He’s very competitive for the ball and a good tackler.”

No question Pitts is a solid player for Pitt and as a DB, fills a need spot. This is recruiting, though, and nothing ever occurs in a vacuum. Everyone wants to see whether this effects other players.

But perhaps, most importantly, Pitts’ commitment could swing a couple other Woodland Hills’ prospects — LB Ejuan Price and DL Quinton Jefferson – to stay closer to home and choose Pitt as their school. Both Price and Jefferson are piling up the scholarship offers — Price has nine offers to date and Jefferson 10.

“That’s what we’re hoping (that Pitts committing to Pitt helps keep Price & Jefferson local),” said Woodland Hills assistant coach Joe Lafferty told me prior to the Wolverines’ first scrimmage Saturday morning against Findlay.

Pitts said he committed to the Panthers to stay closer to his family and to home. He also said Pitt was always his favorite program.

“Pitt has a great program and Dave Wannstedt is one of the top coaches in the nation,” said Woodland Hills head coach George Novak. “Pitts is a very versatile athlete and is one of the best in the WPIAL and the entire state.”

Unanswered (or asked) is just how close Pitts is to Price and Jefferson. That would offer more insight into how much his decision holds any sway. Jefferson might decide on Pitt, but it may have as much to do with 2010 commit and his cousin Brandon Ifill.

Like Pitts, the other two are solid 3-star prospects. All of three of them recevied offers from Iowa and WVU. Price has offers from Michigan State and Ohio State as well. Jefferson holds offers from Illinois, Maryland and Wisconsin.

As a sidebar, you can bet that fans/alum of other schools are less than thrilled to read Gateway coaches openly hoping their players go to Pitt and any fawning given to Coach Wannstedt.

Speaking of fawning. Here’s a solid puff-piece on Coach Wannstedt. Native Pittsburgher. Check. Worked iron mills. Check. Great recruiter. Check. Pro style offense run. Check.

Still, Wannstedt believes he’ll take the Panthers to the Promised Land again. “Nothing has changed since that press conference,” says Wannstedt, whose team finished No. 17 in the final BCS poll last season. “In fact, enough things have happened recently to reaffirm what I said then.”

There is evidence to support Wannstedt’s beliefs. First, Pittsburgh is winning regularly. After three seasons in which the program went a combined 16–19, the Panthers went 9–4 in 2008, then produced that 10–3 mark last season. The Panthers were seconds away from the Big East title and a BCS bowl berth in the regular-season finale, but a one-point loss to Cincinnati foiled those hopes. That setback was followed by a victory over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Small steps, yet vital, according to one college football historian. “I thought 2009 confirmed that the program is moving forward,” says Beano Cook, the venerated analyst. “Now, the question is: Can they go from this point to a national championship? It would be difficult, but feasible. Things are more challenging today because they don’t have the high school players in Pennsylvania that they used to have. And, Pitt has to play a tough non-conference schedule. That’s imperative. And, to their credit, they are playing tough non-conference games.”

A pleasant enough read.

June 26, 2010

Athletic Pitts Commits

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 1:30 pm

A verbal before all attention joyfully turns to the spectacle of USA-Ghana in the World Cup.

Lafayette Pitts, out of Woodland Hills, has given his verbal.

Pitts is a solid 3-star athlete. He plays running back, but could be moved to cornerback in time. At 5-11 and around 175 to 180 pounds he has versatility to play at either spot. He had offers from WVU, Maryland, Iowa and lllinois.

At the very least we can expect him to be showing up on special teams where he already contributes a great deal (Insider subs.).

Hands and polished receiving skills may be his best asset; capable of lining up in the slot and creating mismatches versus less mobile and athletic linebackers. As a returner he sees the field well and the open lane develop, can change gears to get through and separate. While a homerun threat at the high school level; his speed and elusiveness do not project as high at the major college level.

June 25, 2010

Pitt Seeks Drunken Irish Dad

Filed under: Basketball,Players,Practice — Chas @ 3:13 pm

Yes, it had to be done.

Amusing and disturbing at the same time are the number of people who have taken the time to re-set the lyrics to various anime. Haunting.

Anyways, back to the main point. Pitt put out a press release on the basketball’s summer trip to Ireland.

Pitt will play six games on the tour including two contests in Cork at Neptune Stadium (July 31 and Aug. 1), two in Dublin at the Dublin City University (Aug. 3 and Aug. 4) and two in Belfast, Northern Ireland at the Odyssey Arena (Aug. 6 and Aug. 7). Pitt will face Australia’s oldest and most respected basketball club, the Melbourne Tigers, on August 6 in Belfast. The Tigers, which feature former Syracuse guard Eric Devendorf and former Utah center Luke Nevill, have claimed four Australian NBL championships including two recent titles in both 2006 and 2008. The Panthers will take on the English National Team the following day on August 7 in Belfast and the Irish National Team two times (July 31 and Aug. 3) in Dublin. Pitt will also face the Dart Kilester Basketball Club team in Dublin on August 4. Dart Kilester won the Irish national title in 2007.

In addition, Pitt has been invited to join Pittsburgh Steelers owner and United States Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney for a reception on Monday, Aug. 2. Rooney was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Ireland by President Barack Obama on March 17, 2009.

“As a lifelong Pittsburgher, it will be very special for me personally to host the Pitt Basketball team here in Dublin during its tour to Ireland,” Rooney said in a statement. “Coach Dixon, his staff and players will also visit the UPMC Children’s Hospital here in Dublin as well as spend time with the Peace Players, who have used the game of basketball as a vehicle toward achieving peace and understanding in Belfast and universally. It is an honor to represent President Obama and the American people here in Ireland. It will be such a pleasure having these fine young men from Pittsburgh and all of their traveling party be a part of all things ‘Irish.'”

The NCAA allows a team to take an out-of-the-country summer trip once every 4 years. In addition to the perk for the players, it allows the team to get some 10 team practices under the direct supervision of all the coaches. Something that otherwise is not permitted in the offseason.

And don’t think Coach Dixon isn’t looking forward to that part.

“From a basketball perspective, this is an outstanding opportunity for our team to get an early start on the season,” Dixon said. “It is also a chance for the players, coaches, support staff, administration and families to experience Ireland.”

Everyone except for Isiah Epps should make the trip.

Dante Taylor has been looking good in summer games, and wants to perform far better than he did in his first year.

The baby fat is gone, replaced by a new and improved muscular frame. His confidence is sky high, and he has learned to live with the expectations that come with being a McDonald’s All-American.

Taylor has been one of the most impressive players in the early going of the Pittsburgh Basketball Club Pro-Am. He had 19 points and 13 rebounds in his team’s summer league opener Monday night and followed that up with 21 points and seven rebounds Wednesday.

What does it all mean? That won’t be determined until the season starts in November, but Taylor at the very least has put himself in better position to succeed as a sophomore.

“You see Dante getting it,” senior guard Brad Wanamaker said. “He’s a hard worker. Coming in as a freshman you could see him sometimes get a little nervous. Maybe he worried too much. This summer something has been going on. Dante has been improving. He’s finishing around the basket better. He’s been in the weight room working hard.

“He’s a very different player. After that freshman year a lot of people change. You’re more mature. You know what’s going on. You know the system better. His confidence is on another level right now. He’s taking people off the dribble, rebounding. But he’s not doing too much. He’s doing what he’s capable of doing and he’s doing it well. I feel like Dante can have a great year for us.”

Starting center Gary McGhee agrees. When McGhee and Taylor went against each other in practice last season, McGhee bullied Taylor and pushed him all over the court. That has not been the case this summer.

With better conditioning, more confidence, and knowing Pitt’s system better Taylor should also get to see some time at the power forward spot. Perhaps fulfilling many fans’ hopes of being paired with McGhee at times.

That becomes a higher probability if Zanna is developing as hoped and J.J. Richardson can be counted on as a quality sub.

The exciting thing right now is the possibilities of how many looks Pitt can throw at teams in the upcoming year. Obviously Pitt will be able to go big with McGhee and Taylor.

They can also consider a small and fast team using Nasir Robinson as the primary guy inside, but surrounding him a combination of small forwards and guards from Brown, Patterson, Moore, Gibbs, Woodall, Wright and Epps. May not happen, but I do like thinking about it.

Coach Dave Wannstedt spoke yesterday. There are, apparently, expectations.

The Panthers are being billed as a Big East favorite, thanks to the return of conference offensive and defensive players of the year in tailback Dion Lewis and end Greg Romeus as well as fellow All-America candidates in receiver Jon Baldwin and left tackle Jason Pinkston. They are being counted on to lead a team that has only nine scholarship seniors — including starters Romeus, Pinkston, end Jabaal Sheard and safety Dom DeCicco — but has as much depth and talent as any since Wannstedt took over in 2005.

“We have a lot of potential,” Wannstedt said. “A year ago at this time, nobody would have been talking about Dorin Dickerson, no one would have been talking about Billy Stull breaking records and no one knew who Dion Lewis was. The encouraging thing is that who they are no one knows but there are three or four guys on our team right now that have the potential to step up and have an impact on our football team. …

“To have a good team, any year, the guys that are capable of making a difference have to step up and make a difference.”

Coach Wannstedt also went on record to state again that Todd Thomas will play WR, calling him a “playmaker” at the position. There did to be some wiggle-room, so the chance still remains that he could go to play safety/linebacker. Kind of the athletic passing downs defender that everyone envisioned Elijah Fields would fill.

Some things have not changed since the spring.

Dave Wannstedt today: “The whole interior offensive line is still, in my mind, up for grabs.”

That will remain a source of great anxiety.

Pitt has been recruiting New Jersey well the last couple of years. A lot of the credit has been going to assistant Jeff Hafley. That’s not entirely the case. O-line coach Tony Wise has also been a significant reason.

Wise handles the southern part of the state; he’s already landed commitments from Winslow Township (Atco, N.J.) athlete Bill Belton and Timber Creek Regional (Erial, N.J.) linebacker Quinton Alston for the class of 2011.

Timber Creek head coach Rob Hinson said that Wise has done an excellent job developing relationships with area coaches and players.

“Coach Wise does a fantastic job recruiting this area,” Hinson said. “He makes it his business to extend himself to you and anything that you might need from Pitt. That goes a long way when you have kids they are actively recruiting.”

According to Hinson, Wise’s reputation is well-established around South Jersey.

“Coach Wise is genuinely a great guy. The coaches down here in South Jersey all feel real comfortable talking to him.”

The Panthers are also targeting Alston’s teammate Damiere Byrd, a versatile athlete with incredible speed.

The buzz around the area is that nearby Willingboro (N.J.) standouts Kyle George and Brandon Bennett are also very high on Pitt.

I admit to being surprised to learn Wise has been doing recruiting — and doing so well for Pitt. My belief was that the ex-NFL assistant was simply an old Wannstedt buddy. And coupled with his age, made him more of a teaching/adviser type of coach on the staff.

Another reason, Pitt is hitting NJ especially hard this year. Pennsylvania is not having a great year for talent.

“For me, it’s the worst I’ve seen since I’ve been doing this,” said National Recruiting Analyst Mike Farrell, who has covered the region since 1999, of the Pa. crop. “There are some talented players for sure, don’t get me wrong, but the top-end talent is a bit down from past years and beyond the first seven or eight prospects, there is a huge drop. In years past we would almost always have at least three-stars at the bottom of the Pennsylvania top 40 but this year we hit two-stars near 30.”

However, Farrell feels that players will emerge and admits that a cautious approach is being taken towards rankings in the state this year.

“Because there are players out there we haven’t fully evaluated or really want to see more of, some of the three-star guys could jump up to four and some of the twos could become threes,” he said. “But the one thing I don’t see this year, not even close to be honest, is a five-star candidate. Even though Sharrif Floyd didn’t start off as a five-star kid in the rankings, you could see that potential based on his size, ability and rarity at his position. Right now I don’t see anyone who could make that kind of leap, but I guess you never know.”

(Hattip to On the Banks)

Here’s the list. I know, recruiting rankings aren’t perfect. It’s about developing the talent. Flaws, biases, etc. They do serve as rough sketches, though, and it definitely is a down year for PA talent. It is cyclical and does not mean a permanent shift.

Finally, the stat wonks of Football Outsiders have added a college section. They have a preseason top-25. Pitt comes in at #22.

2009 Record (Conference): 10-3 (5-2 Big East)
2009 Ranks: 19th F/+ | 11th FEI | 24th S&P+
2009 Offensive Ranks: 16th F/+ | 17th FEI | 20th S&P+
2009 Defensive Ranks: 28th F/+ | 26th FEI | 35th S&P+
Proj. 2010 Offensive F/+ Rank: 27th
Proj. 2010 Defensive F/+ Rank: 24th
Top 25 Opponents: 1 (home)

Two Signs for Optimism

1. The right players return. Pittsburgh fewer than a dozen starters, but most of their marquee players are among that group. Star running back Dion Lewis is a sophomore, and receiver Jon Baldwin returns as well. The defense has a pair of star ends (Greg Romeus, Jabaal Sheard) and safeties (Dom DeCicco, Jarred Holley), and they return their best linebacker (Max Gruder) to boot.

2. Run, run, run. While a team’s passing game can fluctuate from year to year, depending on who returns and how well a team stays out of passing downs, the running game tends to be a bit more stable. That’s a plus for the Panthers, who got 1,799 rushing yards (5.5 per carry) from Dion Lewis last season. Only two starters return on the offensive line, but they will likely start four upper-classmen, which helps. This should once again be a good running attack, and that will take pressure off of whoever wins the battle to replace quarterback Bill Stull.

Two Red Flags

1. Poor leverage. Despite their star power, the Panthers defense ranked only 46th in Standard Downs S&P+, meaning they weren’t able to leverage teams into awkward situations. Star ends can’t thrive if they can’t pin their ears back and attack the passer much. With two new starters at defensive tackle and a new middle linebacker, they could be vulnerable again in this regard.

2. New to success. While the Panthers have been good running the ball for a while now, thanks to both Lewis and his predecessor LeSean McCoy, they still haven’t been successful as a team in a while. It takes a while to prove that you can survive a lot of turnover in personnel and still thrive, and Pitt is not there yet.

Not sure about red flag #2, but #1 is a really good point. There were a lot of points last year, where the defense just couldn’t make the big stops. That really was exposed in the Cinci game. Just no way they could get that stop in the second half to end the drive and get off the field.

June 24, 2010

Fair and balanced came to mind when I took a look at Pitt’s home-away split and the home-and-homes.

Obviously WVU is one of the home-and-homes. In addition Pitt has a home-and-home with Villanova. Not a surprise since Pitt and ‘Nova are the really early picks to win the conference this coming season. The third is USF. Not a cupcake, but not a complete toss-up either. Dominique Jones is gone, so it will be interesting to see what JUCOs Stan Heath can develop this year.

HOME: Cinci, UConn, Syracuse, Seton Hall, Marquette, Notre Dame

AWAY: Rutgers, Louisville, St. John’s, Georgetown, Providence


Eyeballing that, the toughest road games will be Louisville and Georgetown. I think St. John’s could be a lot tougher under their new coach. The Johnnies have a lot of veteran talent going for their final chance.

It’s kind of hard to be exactly sure who got the hardest or easiest schedule at this point. If you assume that Pitt, ‘Nova, Syracuse and Georgetown will be the top teams. Plus WVU, Marquette, UConn, ND and Louisville will all be in the mix, it isn’t easy to really give any team a true cupcake schedule.

A lot will depend on which teams beat expectations and which flop. The wildcard teams (teams that could be surprisingly good or disappointing) appear to be Seton Hall, St. John’s, Cinci and USF.

Based on home-and-homes I would guess USF caught the biggest break. While they have Pitt, they also have Providence and DePaul on the home-and-home.

Georgetown could well end up with the easiest schedule depending on the wildcards. Somehow they ended up with St. John’s and Cinci as home-and-homes — along with Syracuse. Plus they get WVU, Louisville, Marquette and Pitt at home. They do have road games at UConn, ND and ‘Nova

I think Marquette and Louisville seem to have the toughest roads. They have home-and-homes with UConn. Louisville does get Providence twice but also WVU. They also have road games at ND, Georgetown and ‘Nova.

Marquette has UConn along with ND and the possibly dangerous Seton Hall in the home-and-home. Their road schedule has G-town, Louisville, Pitt and ‘Nova.

Syracuse also has a good case for tough schedule. Home-and-homes with Seton Hall, G-town and ‘Nova. They also have to go to UConn, Louisville, Marquette and Pitt. Plus St. John’s and USF are on the road.

Summer League 2010, Day 2

Filed under: Basketball — Chas @ 11:07 am

The value of summer league games always comes up for debate. To some it is little more than a bunch of glorified pick-up games. To others it is deep insights into the players and team.

Will it be as important to the team as the trip to Ireland and the 10 practices as a team under the watchful eyes of the coaches this summer? Not a chance.

From the perspective of continuing to generate fan interest and build team chemistry, I think the summer league is a fantastic thing. Extra bonus this year is the fact that former players like Levance Fields and Aaron Gray are showing up.

More than any other time in Pitt’s basketball history, there is sustained excellence, continuity and a connection between the past players and the present  just not seen before.

I do find it amusing/odd/annoying that there is more easily available (i.e., free) and consumable material on the summer league via the Pitt News, Pitt Script and than there was over football spring practice — even with beat writers supposedly covering that.

So, here are the Wednesday reports from Bryan at Pitt Script and Pantherlair.

Things I am taking from the reports to this point.

Zanna appears to be making real progress and may well turn out to have the value recruiting sites put on him despite being a project.

Ashton Gibbs appears to be even more confident in himself. Not in an egotistical way, but knowing he can make shots and score.

There will be inconsistent play, but the best thing to see is which players are consistent with their performance and effort each night.

June 23, 2010

Requisite Strength

Filed under: Assistants,Coaches,Football — Chas @ 2:13 pm

It is the long, hot, offseason. There is a requirement, perhaps even a rule somewhere for college football media folks doing a feature on strength and conditioning coaches. is covering it this year. They talk about its genesis in Nebraska in 1969 or so and along the way with Buddy Morris.

[Boyd] Epley, albeit in an indirect way, begat men like Buddy Morris, the self-proclaimed head coach of “physical preparation” at the University of Pittsburgh ever since the Panthers had script Pitt on their helmets. After being “thrown the keys” to Pitt’s strength program by then-coach Jackie Sherrill after his graduation from Pitt in 1980, Morris applied his strict disciplinarian personality, infectious enthusiasm and blue-collar, steel-town work ethic to his job, dubbing the Panthers’ facilities the “Pitt Iron Works.”

In the opinion of Morris, one of the most respected strength coaches in the business and an icon revered by former players, the thinking of old-school coaches and the myths concerning strength and conditioning could not have been more wrong. The weight room — not the film room, not the recruiting trail and not the huddle — was where preparation takes place and where championships were really won.

“If you look at the calendar year, 65 to 67 percent of your time is spent on preparation,” Morris said, “and only about 3 to 5 percent on actual game time, the rest being other responsibilities, so if you don’t enjoy the process, you’re in the wrong sport.”

Morris, like Epley decades ago, is on to something. Examples of both sustained and mini-dynasties in college football that have roots in strength training lore abound.

Big East writer Brian Bennet alsohas a little interview with Coach Buddy Morris.

What is your philosophy when it comes to strength and conditioning football players?

Buddy Morris: We don’t refer to ourselves as strength and conditioning coaches, and that’s not being arrogant. We’re coaches of physical preparation. What we do encompasses more than just conditioning and strength. There are a lot of variables we have to look at it with each individual athlete and each individual group. In this country, I think if anything, we place too much emphasis on strength. I’m not downplaying the importance of strength, but I think we put too much emphasis on it and too much volume.

Our program looks very simple, and it’s very simplistic-oriented. But don’t mistake simple for being easy. It’s a very demanding program.

So are you saying you don’t lift a lot of weights?

BM: It depends on the position because of the way we run our program. What makes our program unique and a little different than anybody else across this country is, I’m responsible for all the offensive and defensive linemen, the tight ends and the linebackers who we deem need more strength. My assistant James [Smith] is responsible for the preparation of our skill guys. …

We look at it as a long-term process, so we slow cook it based on position requirements. They’re not all the same. I still don’t understand why some people train their skill guys like they do their big guys. We don’t do that.

Dan Mason, Chaz Alecxih, Myles Caragain and Henry Hynoski come in for workout warrior praise. The interview also has Morris expressing an opinion glossed over in the first piece about the preparation. When it comes to playing the game, all the conditioning and working out does not matter without the ability to actually play.

How much does weight-room performance translate into on-field performance?

BM: In my opinion, the most important criteria and the most overlooked is the ability to play the game. I’ve seen guys who are built like Tarzan but play like Jane. The best athlete is not going to put up the greatest numbers in the weight room. They’re going to be kind of right in the middle, which is where we want all our guys to be, right in middle of everything. Because then we know we’re developing the strength of entire human body and preparing them for the sporting demands.

He also has a former player still working out with him this offseason.

The other two players who missed all the voluntary/involuntary workouts, cornerbacks Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer, reported to minicamp as well after spending their off-seasons in Arizona and Pittsburgh, respectively. … Spencer has worked in Pittsburgh in the past with trainer Buddy Morris, so his absence from previous workouts was not a surprise…

Then there are the quirks of various weight rooms nationally.

If you visit the “Pitt Iron Works,” the weight room lair of 30-year strength and conditioning veteran Buddy Morris, don’t let him catch you sitting down — sitting is prohibited and punishable by extra work. Don’t expect to hear any music during your workout — tunes are a privilege left solely to Morris’ discretion. And, heaven forbid, don’t yawn. Rumor is that offense is punishable by death.

As usual, the Flagstaff Hill runs are an annual summer challenge.

Tuesdays and Fridays are all about running and improving endurance, and according to the players, no drill has been harder than running the dreaded Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park for the first several Fridays.

“The hill is the rough one because it’s not that you’re out of breath — it’s just that your legs go into meltdown,” senior guard Chris Jacobson said.

Now that the hill runs are over, the team does a workout called “one minute-two minute” every Friday.

In that drill, players have to run anywhere from 230 to 315 yards, depending on their position, in less than a minute and then get a two-minute break before repeating it.

Because of NCAA regulations, position coaches can’t be present at these offseason workouts, leaving strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris in charge of preparing the team for training camp in August.

“I really think he’s preparing us for the season,” senior receiver Greg Cross said. “In the fourth quarter and overtime, when we’re well conditioned, we won’t think about being tired. We’ll just go out and play and perform.”

I almost feel guilty that my time on Flagstaff Hill was mainly spent tossing a disc, watching girls sunbathe, drinking and stuff. Odds are, though, I have more favorable memories of that place than the players.

Pitt Script Blog is taking in summer league games, and providing a recap. So, definitely check it out, as that provides yet another perspective on what is happening there and how the players look. It’s good stuff, so make sure you go read it.

Meanwhile Cardiac Hill provides the link round-up from Pantherlair/ as well as the Pitt News. The popularity of the summer league and interest in how the players look is obviously reflected in the coverage it is generating. One more thing that has been built in the last 4 years as Coach Dixon has helped to foster a culture that generates interest and supports Pitt basketball.

As a brief aside, if you don’t have Cardiac Hill and Pitt Script on your daily reads for Pitt info, then you are doing yourself a disservice. Both Bryan and Anson are doing some great work.


June 22, 2010

Sorry for going beyond the usual weekend shutdown. Daughter’s birthday, family, the usual. Never even cracked open the laptop after a quick look-around and e-mails on Saturday morning.

So, just going to get some stuff out of the browser tabs.

Let’s start with that which everyone is sick of hearing. The Big 12 survival and Big East stuff.


June 18, 2010

Past and Future Player Stuff

Filed under: Alumni,Football,Good,Recruiting — Chas @ 9:49 am

Taking a moment from conference realignment angst. How about some good things.

Like LaRod Stephens-Howling doing good back in Johnstown.

“I was really nervous coming in, and LaRod was nervous,” [Artrell] Hawkins said. “We talked (Thursday) morning. We were both like, ‘Did you go to sleep last night?’ Aw, I couldn’t go to sleep last night, either.’ We wanted it to be something that was effective and fun for the kids. I stayed up all night double-checking everything, and LaRod said he did the same thing.”

The free camp features 100 players from eight local schools, but it focuses on more than just football. Hawkins and Stephens-Howling also work with the players on community involvement and leadership skills.

“They’re learning a lot of things out here,” Stephens-Howling said. “We’re just trying to be as positive as we can be and be great role models for them.”

So working with some local high school players at a camp in their hometown should be no problem, right?

But Hawkins, who played 10 years in the NFL before retiring in 2008, and Stephens-Howling, who is about to begin his second season with the Arizona Cardinals, had some nerves before their three-day camp started at Trojan Stadium on Thursday.

They are also participating in further community service by helping to clear an area for a trail.

The extension will connect the trail from its current head near the Ferndale Bridge in Moxham to the city by building approximately 1.5 miles of trail through Moxham and Hornerstown.

Hawkins and Stephens-Howling, along with the high school athletes attending their football camp this weekend, will help clear the overgrown planned trail area along the Stonycreek River opposite Greater Johnstown High School and will help create a veterans memorial along the Sandyvale Memorial Gardens section of the trail.

Stephens-Howling has been very active in Johnstown, despite playing in Arizona.

Now, stop me if you have heard this before. Dorin Dickerson is going to be playing a new position.

Dickerson hasn’t played wide receiver since his freshman year at Pitt, but he has the benefit of learning a new position from the NFL’s best.

Dickerson is the living, breathing example of what a seventh-round draft pick is supposed to be. He has an impressive package of skills, is smart and has a terrific attitude. That said, there’s no way of knowing when or if he’ll be a productive player. He understands that special teams may be his path onto the roster for at least a year or two.

He jumped onto the radar screen at the scouting combine with a 431/2 -inch vertical leap and 4.38 clocking in the 40. All the Texans had to figure out was if they could find a way to use those skills.

Dickerson played wide receiver, fullback, linebacker and tight end during four years at Pitt. He played tight end his senior year, but his speed and 6-4 height prompted Kubiak to think wide receiver was a possibility.

“His coaches at Pitt loved the kid but were never able to find him a home,” Kubiak said. “There’s a risk there, but the athlete is not a risk. He’s very athletic. Moving around has been hard on him. Hopefully, we’ll settle him down, and he’ll be the best he can be.”

Cardiac Hill notes he has to lose some more weight.

In future news, the Big 33 game is this weekend. As usual, a fair amount of players won’t make it.

Future Nittany Lions weren’t the only stars who won’t shine in Hershey on Saturday.

Penn Hills teammates Cullen Christian, a four-star defensive back prospect headed to Michigan, and Aaron Donald, a defensive tackle who is bound for Pitt, both chose not to play in the game, as did Gateway wide receiver Brendon Felder, who will play for North Carolina.

Injuries play a part every year as well. Sam Bergen, the Rutgers-bound linebacker from East Stroudsberg South, will miss the game with an injury, as will Bishop Canevin’s Drake Greer, a kicker who is headed to Pitt.

Add it all up, and that’s a significant amount of star power that won’t be on the field Saturday. And you could very easily argue that, as has often been the case since the game was moved from late July to mid-June in 2006, the dwindling number of marquee names has less to do with a lack of enthusiasm for the game than with the increasing number of players enrolling early.

One of the players who was tabbed to take a spot after the injuries and early enrollments turned them down because he was already committed to another all-star HS game (hattip to PittScript).

That means Penn Hills’ Brandon Ifill was effectively No. 35.

The star WPIAL defensive back had an opportunity earlier this week to move up to what most would consider to be the bigger game because of an injury to a Big 33 player. Instead, he told the Big 33 thanks but no thanks and decided to stay in Blair County and play at Mansion Park on Friday in the 10th annual Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association East West All-Star Game.

Ifill’s decision brought a smile to the face of game director John Hayes in the parking lot between Tiger Stadium the Hollidaysburg Area Junior High School.

“I’m here. I’m dedicated to this game,” Ifill said calmly of his choice. “Why would I change up?

“They [the East West Game] wanted me for me, not just because they needed someone replaced. They wanted me for me.”

Pitt Script also has a link-filled, video-clip embedded feature on Anthony Gonzalez.

Despite all the angst and uncertainty about what conference Pitt will eventually play and how much money they get, the present and future for Pitt football looks pretty damn good.

Powered by WordPress ©

Site Meter