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March 26, 2012

There’s closer to 3 than 2 weeks of spring practices left, but Sunday was the 7th practice and there are only 15 practice days permitted for the spring. There’s going to be some more spacing between practices as scrimmages will take place and more recovery — and time for coaches to review the film — occurs. Time to catch-up after sparing some family time in between the NCAA Tournament watching over the weekend.

The beat writers are taking extra note of the amount of high school coaches in the area that are attending Pitt practices — not to mention ex-PSU DC Tom Bradley — along with a fair amount of recruits and kids who will be here in the fall.

One thing that is clear about Paul Chryst – he is being embraced by the high school coaches in Western Pennsyvlania and the reason is – he is open to them and he wants them to know he values them and values what they mean to Pitt. I’ve seen more high school coaches at these few spring practices than I did all of last year and all of them have said the same thing – they really like and respect Chryst because as one guy put it “he’s a football coach, not a publicity hound” That should help Pitt recruiting locally, though, ultimately Chryst has to win for Pitt to have a chance to win some of these local battles.

That will help, especially given Chryst is not exactly a recruiting dynamo that overwhelms recruits, and everyone else with his personality and sales job. Obviously the hiring of Haering from the local HS ranks helps, but Chryst’s willingness to talk and meet with them is the bigger part. Talking shop with them and treating them as equals goes a long way.


Believe it or not, I’m going to pass on the obvious chance to bash FraudGraham. Why? Because the one thing Graham was doing that really didn’t generate animosity or divisions among fans was his recruiting. The incoming class is solid and Graham did a good job of stroking the local coaches and setting them at some ease. Not exactly the easiest thing given the rather cliquish nature of the WPIAL coaches. Remember how many were bashing Pitt for firing Wannstedt — who they viewed as one of them as a local.

Oh, hell I can’t let it go that simply. Saying anything nice regarding the  FraudGraham tenure leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Let’s clear the palate by noting the guys who helped keep the class together after all that has happened at Pitt in the last year plus.

Speaking of Upper St. Clair guys … On my way home, I walked past director of football relations Bob Junko as he spoke to several young people, welcoming them and regaling them with stories. I wanted to stop and listen, but I didn’t think I’d blend into the group.

When you wonder why the Pitt program didn’t collapse under the weight of three head coaches leaving in 12 months, Junko and assistant athletic director Chris LaSala provide the answers. They diligently and professionally kept in touch with recruits through the transition periods, and Pitt recruited better than anyone had a right to expect. You won’t find two more loyal employees.

FraudGraham put a bunch of loyal Pitt guys out of work — including Matt Dudek who then bounced to Rutgers and now is in Arizona working for DickRod — but even Fraud wasn’t stupid enough (or he wasn’t allowed) to get rid of Junko and LaSala. Thankfully, he also couldn’t/wouldn’t get rid of E.J. Borghetti.

In other weirdness, ex-WVU coach Bill Stewart visited the practice as a dad.

Former West Virginia coach Bill Stewart visited practice with his son Blaine, a receiver at Morgantown (W.Va.) High School. Blaine Stewart, a senior-to-be, is considering Pitt, along with Cincinnati, Harvard, Wake Forest, Duke, William & Mary, and VMI.

The elder Stewart, who resigned as WVU coach last year, said he spends most of his time these days “being a dad.”

While watching practice, he also spoke with former Pitt quarterback Pat Bostick, who helped lead the Panthers to a 13-9 upset of the Mountaineers in 2007. Stewart, an assistant on that WVU team, said, “We couldn’t rattle (Bostick), and we had a defense that could rattle people.”

Among several other visitors at practice were South Park coach Tom Loughlin, freshman-to-be Rushel Shell and Metro Index scout Joe Butler.

Let’s see. We are now rooting for a Hoopie and ex-Hoopie head coach to win games in Arizona. We may be recruiting the son of an ex-WVU head coach to Pitt. We have an ex-PSU DC visiting practices. I don’t know which way is up any longer.

In QB news, E.J. Banks is no longer trying to be a QB. He is now working as a running back. Because, clearly there is a wealth of opportunities at that position come the fall. Why, hello Mr. Shel, Mr. Graham and Mr. Bennett.

Chryst said [Isaac] Bennett is not unlike a lot of the players this spring. He occasionally will make a positive impression on the staff, but, then, just as quickly, he will make a negative one.

That was the case Saturday in a scrimmage against the first-team defense. Bennett had the play of the day for the offense, an 80-yard run when he blew past the defensive backs. But later, he fumbled and also failed to pick up a blitzing linebacker in pass protection that raised the coach’s ire.

“He’s getting a lot of chances,” Chryst said. “He does some things. He had a big run, then he does some things that just kill you, like not picking up a backer in pass protection. It’s day 6 of 15 [practices]. He’s like a lot of them. He’s into it and giving effort. Now it’s, ‘Can we learn?’ Are we going to repeat the same mistakes? Or are we going to learn from them?”

Learning the mental aspect of the game is something all young players grasp at different times. Quarterback Tino Sunseri said this is when Bennett has to take advantage of Graham’s expertise.

Skipping the easy joke of Tino Sunseri addressing the need to grasp the mental aspects, and moving on. Not sure what Banks is going to do as a running back other than to take some snaps in spring practice. Apparently no one has an idea of what to do with Banks. DB, QB, RB. Notice a trend? I guess that just leaves LB by the fall.

Other transfers, though, haven’t been moving around. Instead they are running a lot with the first team.

[Ray] Vinopal and redshirt sophomore cornerback Cullen Christian of Penn Hills – also a former Wolverine – have been running with the first defensive unit for much of the spring.

Former Gateway wide receiver Brendon Felder, who transferred from North Carolina to help his father care for his ailing grandmother, caught a long touchdown pass on the first day of his Pitt eligibility. He had been pushing veteran wide receivers for practice time before tweaking a hamstring last week.

All three didn’t especially like working with the scout team and watching football on game day, but they lived with it and learned.

“We used to give (the offense) some headaches,” Vinopal said, recalling last season’s practices. “We took pride in that.

“But having to walk out of the tunnel in a jumpsuit without your chin strap buckled on, it makes you a little hungrier and makes you not take things for granted. We would have given anything to buckle up with our teammates.”

Now, Vinopal and Christian look like contributors, if not fixtures, in the secondary. They have fit in well with veteran safeties Jarred Holley, Jason Hendricks and Andrew Taglianetti and cornerback K’Waun Williams. In fact, if there was a game today, Christian might start opposite Williams.

The secondary now has a little more depth, after being very weak the last couple years. The player more likely to start at corner opposite Williasm will be LaFayette Pitts. Williams has turned out to be a surprising gem at corner, while Pitts was the jewel in in the salvage job of the February  2011 recruiting class (can’t count Ejuan Price, since he didn’t join until after Tressel got canned). So there are a lot of expectations for Pitts. Not to mention, it looks like the defensive scheme — a return to the 4-3 — will be relying on the corners to handle a lot of 1-on-1 matters.

One key difference between the Panthers’ current 4-3 and the way it was played under Wannstedt is that one or even both of the safeties will be asked to play more in run support, so there will be more pressure on the cornerbacks as there will be some plays in which they won’t have help to cover receivers.

Huxtable said he likes to have an eight-man look and sometimes will even drop a ninth man into the box, but it will only work if the corners are able to cover on their own.

He knows he has one of those cover corners in K’Waun Williams, who could be one of the top players at his position in the Big East, and now he is looking for a second.

Redshirt freshman LaFayette Pitts has been running with the first team most often at camp.

“K’Waun is really an excellent player and he can even get better and he is serious about it,” Huxtable said. “LaFayette is a guy who has a lot of potential, he is obviously very athletic, he plays hard and he is learning. So he will be much better at the end of spring than he is now and then with him he will only keep improving.”

Bringing up the safeties in run support — and dare we suggest some safety blitzing? Overall, this is not going to be the Wannstedt-dictated 4-3 that only wants to contain and control. There is a much more aggressive tone.

The Panthers’ strength is again on the defensive line despite the graduation of Myles Caragein, Brandon Lindsey and Chas Alecxih. There is a younger group of talented players, led by Aaron Donald, ready to step in and contribute.

Huxtable said that group will play a big role in the defense because they will be asked to make plays in the backfield.

“No, no — we don’t want them just eating up blocks, we want to them to move, we want them to be active and we have guys who are capable of that,” Huxtable said. “We want them to make plays and get off the ball. I think that is what is so exciting to me, we have some guys up there who have a lot of explosiveness and if they can attack, that gives us a chance to be very successful.”

Dave Huxtable is not a free-wheeling, gambling DC. But he is willing to take chances and risk giving up some big plays to be aggressive on defense. That should play well with the fans and the players.

We often opined that the big issue with Wanny was his conservative, pro approach. Now, we again have a run-oriented offense and pro-style 4-3 defense … only with a college mentality.

This could work!

Comment by wbb 03.26.12 @ 10:52 am

The South Park HS coach is Tom Loughran.

Comment by Pitt70 03.26.12 @ 10:54 am

It all sounds very good i cant wait for football season i have good vibes this year last year i raged on TG from day one saying he had to win at least 9 games.
but this year i have faith and want to give the coach every chance things will be good this year i just know that they will.
thanks for the news keep it comeing and how are the QBs looking how is myers looking and are they all geting a shot at playing time.

Comment by Frankcan 03.26.12 @ 10:58 am

wbb – that is a good take on the new staff and one I hadn’t thought of. Even though some staff coaches have had time in the NFL these guys are really college oriented. Excellent point.

I wonder if Banks won’t be used in the Wildcat a little this season much like Jones was last year. I think he’s got some talent but as Chas says the staff can’t really find a home for him. Apparently Gonzalez will be staying at QB for the near future. Sounds to me like we have enough TE talent to allow him to be QB3 and redshirt Voytik.

You know, looking at the offense as a whole we are going to have some very good talent in the skill position with the question marks of QB and OL outstanding. I’ve a gut feeling the OL will be better than we think right now.

Comment by Reed 03.26.12 @ 11:24 am

Change of subject – latest update on Steve Adams. Adams, originally from New Zealand, is a 7 foot, multi-talented and dominating big man that will be playing for Jaime Dixon at Pitt next season. He played at Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts this past season and regularly got the best of top American big men Kaleb Tarczewski and Chris Walker at the 2011 Adidas Nations Camp. Case in point his 20 point, 24 rebound effort against Arizona commit Tarczewski.
This year’s Jordan Brand Classic will be held at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, NC on April 14th, 2012 and will be broadcast live on ESPN at 7 PM.

Comment by drw 03.26.12 @ 12:05 pm

@Reed, redshirting Votik is an interesting idea. I wonder if that decision will be made at the end of Spring Practice (after Chryst sees what talent he has at the QB position).

*If* Votik is deemed to be a redshirt, how will the youngster (or better yet, the fan base, which is known to be immature at times) handle it?

Comment by Ghost of Pete Gonzalez 03.26.12 @ 12:07 pm

wbb, college mentality is the operative word. Amen to that.

Comment by Tossing Thabeets 03.26.12 @ 12:07 pm

so Chas can get drunk during Pitt afternoon scrimmage which ends at 4, sleep a couple hours while his DD takes him back to OH in time to watch Adams play

Comment by wbb 03.26.12 @ 12:09 pm

Gonzo has a lot of Bollinger in him as an athletic QB that is a threat to run … I can see him in short yardage and goalline situations

Comment by wbb 03.26.12 @ 12:15 pm

I have a gut feeling that Tino’s play can’t get any worse.

With a slower pace and more emphasis on ball control, Tino just needs to manage games and not win them. But, Pitt will need to have good leads in games or an opportunistic defense and special teams because Tino just isn’t capable of sustaining drives himself and leading the team on a long march down the field. A field general he is not.

I think there was too much pressure on Tino last year and he was asked to do too much (and Fraud only supposedly opened 20% of the playbook). Tino’s line also didn’t do him any favors. I’m not being a Tino apologist but I can understand why things turned out the way they did. I think Chryst is smart enough to realize Tino’s limitations on day 1 and build a scheme to minimize his weaknesses and exploit the few if any strengths he has.

For all you Tino haters (I lump myself in that camp), Tino will be the starter and it will continue that way until he completely comes off the tracks. Don’t pine for Myers or Voytik. Not gonna happen.

Comment by TX Panther 03.26.12 @ 12:21 pm

@TX Panther If Tino isn’t capable of sustaining drives, what did he do in the USF game? I will give you that he did not do it enough last year, but to say that he is incapable of doing it is going too far.

In addition, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that Tino is the starter. Let’s wait and see and regardless of the result, let’s support our QB.

I know that it hard to do, since most of the naysayers on this list were world class college recruits, but give whatever kid is chosen to be our starter a chance. After all, he received a scholarship to play QB at a D1 school and almost all of us did not.

Comment by Ghost of Pete Gonzalez 03.26.12 @ 12:46 pm

QB zarie from ohio the one who loved our coachs
commited to ND. that is ok but i thought we had a real shot at him .

Comment by Frankcan 03.26.12 @ 12:50 pm

There will be competition for the job this year like last, but the realist in me sees Tino winning the starting job and it isn’t even close. He’ll be a 5th year senior. Look at who he is competing against and Voytik needs to be redshirted anyway. Despite Tino having a line that made him look bad at times last year, he did have Ray in that USF game.

Comment by TX Panther 03.26.12 @ 12:52 pm

A question I’d love a writer to ask Chryst, but will likely not happen:

“How does what you see so far stack up to Wisconsin? Grades, please.”

Comment by steve1 03.26.12 @ 12:55 pm

He also had Ray in that Utah game … didn’t help Tino or Trey

Comment by wbb 03.26.12 @ 12:57 pm

Wow, I can’t believe years from now, when we look back, we’ll see that Tino Sunseri was a 3 year starter at Pitt. LOL

Comment by Dan 03.26.12 @ 12:57 pm

I’m curious to see what happens with Anderson — despite the shaky stats and bad games (apparently mostly after he had a season ending injury go undetected), the kid showed me some athleticism, character, and not shabby arm strength. All and all, he gave me a much better gut feeling…as a true, walk-on freshman…than four year guy Tino did.

Gonzo clearly was athletic but didn’t seem to have much of an arm, and Jones looked great in the very limited chances he got. In my best of all possible worlds scenario:

Tino is exposed as the average, at best, talent he is and self-promoting head case, and rightfully gets shelved by Chryst; Myers, Anderson, Gonzo and Jones duke it out for top gun, with the three best becoming our game day QB’s; Voytik gets a redshirt and chance to watch the college game for a year and hit the weights; Sal puts a contract out on Chryst, who has an unfortunate ‘accident’ while retrieving a pizza on lower Murray, and the new head coach quickly ‘decides’ to install Tino at starter, leading a 5-1, 17th ranked Panthers squad to a demoralizing, mistake laden 1-5 finish and subsequent spirit crushing 45-9 humiliation at the hands of Northern Illinois in the January 7th Spanks/Cheetos bowl. Ohh, just woke up drenched in sweat from a turrible dream.

Comment by Matt N. 03.26.12 @ 1:16 pm

Matt N that was a nightmare not a dream
a dream is when tino transfers to point park or some were else any were else.

Comment by Frankcan 03.26.12 @ 1:37 pm

Is Ronald Jones still with the team?

As has been stated and I’m sure most of you agree, Banks to RB?? What? The secondary seems deep also so maybe it is pick your poison at this point. Was he better with the ball in his hands in high school?

Comment by JAM 05 Pitt 03.26.12 @ 1:41 pm

You’re right Frank. With this whole talk of going back to a ‘pro-style’ system better suited to Tino’s “talents”…let me say I’m all for it…really didn’t like the spread, hurry up, hot pistol, whatever the hell its called now system — feels like sandlot to me. But for the Tino apologists, let’s all conjure up the memories of lo those many dying quails he chucked in the general vicinity of Jon Baldwin two years ago — with Baldwin streaking five yards behind the deepest DB only to have to stop, turn around, and fight like hell to keep the DB from the easy interception…hence his early departure to the pros and not scoring TDs for Pitt. Aside from a very very few mid-range slants, his misleading completion percentage was made up nearly entirely of 4-5 yard swing passes or quick outs…if you’re going to go that direction, might as well put in a faster, more elusive runner like Gonzo or Jones, but I really hope Chryst doesn’t go with the pop-gun approach.

Comment by Matt N. 03.26.12 @ 2:05 pm

I’m sure Chryst and his staff had to reset expections based on the talent he had at Wiscy and what he inherited here. I like his approach to recruiting though – come see us practice – see how our coaches ‘coach’, we’ll make you a better player.

Comment by markp 03.26.12 @ 2:59 pm

10 TD’s & 11 interceptions in a spread offense, which is nothing but pitch & catch. Texas Tech had at least 20 guys in the last 10 years who could do it. Even Nevada-Reno University had QB’s that could do it. Bring Bostick back for his final year of eligibility as he was royally screwed and ‘passed over’ in favor of you know who.
Unless of course you all want another return trip to the BVA Compass Bowl in beautiful Birmingham.
Plus this putz will be listed more than Marino, Cavenaugh, Havern, Van Pelt, Gonzalez, Rutherford, & Palko in the Pitt record books, if he’s handed the job again.
Can we please start a new era without the curse of Santino.

Comment by Emel 03.26.12 @ 3:09 pm

I think Pitt wins the BE this year. Weak league, Pitt has some superior skill position talent, and I don’t mean Tino. Watch it happen.

Comment by velvil 03.26.12 @ 3:34 pm

Pitt will be difficult to scout next year. Both on offense and defense. Wisconsin just smashed mouth alot of people and buried them once they showed weakness…to the point where I thought they ran up the score.
I don’t want to make predictions but there are a bunch of good football players on this team…guys who have seen damn near everything. Those kind of guys don’t get rattled easily.
I will be at the spring game even if it rains….

Comment by SFPitt 03.26.12 @ 5:34 pm

Is Murphy back practicing with the defense?

Comment by WLAT and the Big Beat 03.26.12 @ 5:44 pm

Best Chryst quote of the day when asked how he is acclimating to his role of Head Coach, “well, you know, I’m kind of a work in progress”.
What can you say about a guy like that? No ego problems there that is for sure.

Comment by Dr. Tom 03.26.12 @ 6:09 pm

Can’t help but notice that Chryst and Company seems a class or two above the group calling the shots last year.

Like Professionals compared to amateurs.

It’s got to pay dividends on the field.

Comment by PittofDreams 03.27.12 @ 6:48 am

@ Matt N. When you say, “with Baldwin streaking five yards behind the deepest DB only to have to stop, turn around, and fight like hell to keep the DB from the easy interception”, just how often did Baldwin actually try to break up an interception? I remember three games specifically (especially Tino’s first start against Utah) when the play by play announcer blamed Baldwin for giving up on the pass and not trying to fight for the ball or break up the interception. I realize that Tino is to blame for everything, even the high gas prices, but please don’t make it out like Baldwin was “fighting like hell” to break up all of Tino’s poor passes. That would be disingenuous.

Comment by Ghost of Pete Gonzalez 03.27.12 @ 10:13 am

Ghost — think my obvious point was Tino woefully underthrew the ball repeatedly, which caused Baldwin to realize it didn’t matter how open he was…it seems disingenuous of you to ignore that.

Comment by Matt N. 03.27.12 @ 5:02 pm

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