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August 5, 2014

   Now that we have the player personnel issues discussed we need to talk about what I consider one of the most important aspects of a football team; the Special teams play.  Let’s look at the defensive (punting) special teams first.

   There are no other plays, save maybe a deep pass completion, that either gain or lose big yardage in one fell swoop than the kicking game.  A good punt and coverage can switch the field position of the opponent just as a deep kickoff and coverage can pin an opponent back in its own territory.  If a team can do that on a regular basis it has a huge advantage in-game and can even negate whatever talent shortcomings it might have as compared to the other team’s players.

   PITT didn’t do that last year and it hurt us. Our departed punter, Matt Yoklic, was pretty effective with his leg averaging a 20th nationally 43.0 yards per punt.  He shanked one or two kicks but overall he hid a good job as our punter both last year and seasons before.  It wasn’t his punting that hurt; it was the porous punt coverage by the punting team.  We gave up 16.25 yards per punt return which is way below the punting “Mendoza Line” and left us smack dab at 118th in the country.

   That has to change and fast. This year we’ll have highly rated rsFR Ryan Winslow as the punter. He was recruited specifically to be put on scholarship and I think that is just the way to build a key component of our defense.  Winslow came out of high school as the #4 nationally rated punter and had a chance to spend a year with Yoklic learning the college game.  I don’t recall how good Yoklic was at directional punting but I seem to remember that Winslow was doing that pretty well in camp last year. We need that skill so I’ll pay attention to it when I go up to the Southside next week.  One nice thing is that we didn’t have any punts blocked last year and that was because Yoklic was quick on the draw.

   As to the Punt Return team; rsSR WR Kevin Weatherspoon, Boyd and L. Pitts did all the work there, with Weatherspoon leading with 12 returns and as a group they did an OK good job in averaging 10.1 ypr (35th).   However, if you look more closely into that stat Boyd greatly bolsters the average with his two returns for 69 yards.  I really hope we don’t put Boyd back there more often but we may be forced to unless someone else really steps up.  A disturbing note is that we only had 16 punt returns during the whole 13 game season. That sucks and shows how poor our defense was in giving up 1st down.

   Maybe looking at our place kicking game will make us feel better. SO Chris Blewitt, a HS 6th ranked kicker and also on scholarship, lived up to his billing with a great true freshman season.  He set a FR scoring record for a PITT kicker with 82 points and had a 14/18 success rate including a game winning kick at the end of the bowl game.  I remember meeting him and his Dad at the Somerset rest area during the 2013 camp and his Father made some pretty bold boasts about what his son could and would do… “50, 60, 65 yards – Bring it on!!”  It was in jest, sort of, and was pretty funny actually. Then his son said “Hey dad, cut it out.  I’m the one who’s going to be kicking it, not you”. Nice family and we had another good conversation during a camp practice also.  Blewitt will be a real strength for us again this year.

   On the other hand our kickoff return defense wasn’t so hot in giving up 21.4 ypk.  Considering that Blewitt was kicking off at the PITT 35 yard line and he averaged putting it down to the opponent’s five yard line, that’s an average opponent’s starting spot at the 26 yard line.  Not terrible but let’s hope we better that in 2014.  A bit of better news was that we still retain both our main KO returners in L. Pitts and Boyd and they alone averaged a pretty decent 22.7 ypr for us.

   Add the four other KO returners, Ibrahim, Weatherspoon, Garner and Felder and our total average dropped a tiny bit to 22.0 ypr. All those guys return save Brendon Felder I can’t seem to remember why and how Felder left the team but here is a Twit that says he’s gone.  That’s too bad because I had a nice relationship with his Dad who is an interesting guy in his own right.

   That about covers the Special Teams with one last item.  Last season PITT didn’t have a dedicated ST coach, no one even was listed as having it as a collateral duty except for GA Taylor Mehlhaff as a Special Teams Assistant, and I think it showed up on the field.  This has been somewhat rectified for the 2014 season in Chryst’s naming an actual paid staff coach, Chris Haering, as  both Special Teams Coordinator and Outside Linebackers.

Next Up: Coaching Staff .





Trenton Coles was our ‘gunner’ last year on punts and was noticeably missed in the UNC game which he missed due to injury. You may recall we were burnt twice by the UNC punt returner (who was very good at his craft.)

The freshman Maddox (CB from MI) has a pretty good rep as a returner and maybe will give us a boost.

Lastly, stats smetimes are unreliable .. just because a punter has a good YP average doesn’t necessarily mean he was good … if he didn’t provide sufficient hang time, it may have been the reason for the poor average on punt returns. Just a thought.

Comment by wbb 08.05.14 @ 9:02 am

I know it is way too early but do you see a true freshman like Maddox taking the role of return man?

Comment by Bowling Green Panther 08.05.14 @ 9:12 am

FWIW, in his 2nd game in his freshman year, LaRod Stephens Howling returned the opening kickoff for a TD.

Comment by wbb 08.05.14 @ 9:21 am

Bad special teams will kill any team. Kudos to HCPC for fixing the coaching side of the problem.

Comment by Dan 72 08.05.14 @ 9:22 am

I will never, EVER forget that N.Carolina game last year…..

…BURNED into my memory. :-(

Comment by The TRUTH 08.05.14 @ 11:04 am

I’d love to see Maddox or anyone else other than Boyd back there returning kicks because I’m superstitious about injuries on special teams play.

I know, I know … injuries can happen on any play but as a returner those are head on collisions as opposed to regular tackles. Perhaps Ronald Jones could contribute there?

wbb – I couldn’t find Yoklic’s exact hang time but here is an entry (from the link provided) that lists the Top 10 punters in the last NFL draft… His Fair Catch % was high at 28% so that leads me to believe his hang time was pretty good.

Player School HT WT Foot Punts AVG NET% TB% FC% inside 20yd

Matt Yoklic Pitt 6’3 220 R 70 42.9 34.5 12.9% 28.6% 27.1%

link to crmsportsmanagement.com

Comment by Reed 08.05.14 @ 11:14 am

The Truth – that was scary bad coverage but the fact is that Yoklic was booming his four punts at a 49+ average in that game. The return coverage was abysmal on that 50 yard punt (2nd TD).

Comment by Reed 08.05.14 @ 11:21 am

Outkicked his coverage. Damn.

Comment by Atlanta Panther 08.05.14 @ 11:30 am

Outkicked his coverage or stupidly failed to kick it out of bounds? I am looking forward to Winslow. Yoklic may be a great guy—but I was not a fan of his performances.

H2Punting

Comment by pmdH2P 08.05.14 @ 11:41 am

Wow. Chris James looks like a linebacker in his post-practice interview.

Comment by JJ 08.05.14 @ 1:49 pm

OK – this is getting interesting… The PITT DB coach said this yesterday, “Suspended cornerback Titus Howard was present at Pitt’s practice, wearing his new No. 21. As part of his year-long suspension, Howard is allowed to practice with the team and defensive backs coach Troy Douglas referred to it as essentially a “redshirt” year for him.”

In another article Douglas said that ‘he (Howard) has to get his academics up a little bit’ which would lead one to believe this was an academic suspension – which could be used as a redshirt year.

That is the second reference I’ve read in the media stating it is “essentially” a redshirt year being used for this suspension. I wonder what is actually happening because whether or not it is a true redshirt year is very important to Howard and the PITT team. If it isn’t a formal redshirt year then Howard has only three years to play for PITT. If it is, then he has four.

Mosely-Smith and Jones were both granted redshirt years for their transgressions prior to last season so they couldn’t have failed a NCAA mandated drug test. If PITT gives Howard a redshirt year then that their situation would apply to Howard also.

Let’s hope it is an actual redshirt year because we need talented kids to come in and play a solid three or four years for us.

Comment by Reed 08.05.14 @ 2:09 pm

Reed, you seem to be the only one here who implies that Howard failed a drug test .. I have not read anywhere else where this was the case.

The inital tweet from Chris Dokish was that he was suspended for ‘disciplinary reasons’ .. again which does not necessarily mean drugs

Comment by wbb 08.05.14 @ 2:36 pm

Drop the failed drug test rumor, it’s total speculation and only gains substance the more it’s rehashed.

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.05.14 @ 2:44 pm

Douglas spilled the beans re: academics.

Comment by steve1 08.05.14 @ 4:54 pm

Doc you did it again. You are my idol.

Comment by steve1 08.05.14 @ 4:55 pm

substance? re-hashed? Dr. Tom you are on a roll!

Comment by Atlanta Panther 08.05.14 @ 4:57 pm

forgot to add “drop”

Comment by Atlanta Panther 08.05.14 @ 4:57 pm

Thanks, I’m here all week.

BTW, just watched my 1st spontaneous Chris James interview after today’s practice and two things impressed me. First he is very well spoken for a kid coming right out of HS thrown into such a situation where he is being interviewed by a bunch of sports writers right off the bat, and two, this kid looks built like a Brick House.

link to youtube.com

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.05.14 @ 5:28 pm

Titus will be a redshirt sophomore upon his reinstatement next season giving him 3 years of playing time eligibiltity upon his return

Comment by Duke 08.05.14 @ 6:05 pm

Sounds like Boyd is filling in for Street in a leadership role. He was making sure Jennings was focused & learning everything he could while sitting out most of practice with a lower body injury. He wanted to be sure he was getting mental reps while missing out on the physical ones. Good to see some leaders developing. Jennings injury isn’t serious & being held out was more precautionary.

Comment by Nick 08.05.14 @ 6:15 pm

The speedsters Jester Weah and Avonte Maddox would seem to be natural kick return candidates.

Only 16 punt returns last year seems unbelievably low. I guess that doesn’t count fair catches, of which there were plenty.

The defense had to have forced more than 16 punts.

They couldn’t have been that bad, or were they ?

If indeed they only forced 16 punts, House should have been ……out the door !

Comment by Emel 08.05.14 @ 6:21 pm

The Clairton kids aren’t use to losing, after winning 4 WPIAL titles & 4 PIAA state titles.

So it would seem natural for those guys to become some of the leaders of the team.

In their years at Clairton they went and outstanding 48-0 over 3 years and an amazing 63-1 over 4 years.

Maybe we should have recruited some more kids off those teams ! :-)

Comment by Emel 08.05.14 @ 6:42 pm

Guys – perhaps I should have made things clearer in my writing – maybe by using “If Player X did this, and the school does Y then Z happens”.

These comments and the post I wrote are really intended to be only about the nature and details of suspensions themselves than about Titus Howard personally. But, I’ll also admit that because I am really high on what Howard brings to the team and program I would like to hear someone at PITT say that this actually will be a formal redshirt year for him because, as a pencilled in starter as a true SO, I want Howard to be able to give us a full fours years of his good play and talent.

Truly, that’s all I’m interested in, I’m not trying disparaging young Mr. Howard himself at all. If I get punched out on the sideline during a practice I’ll know he took offense. Don’t laugh, five years ago when I was pretty critical of Tino S. getting the starting job without competition he whipped an ‘errant’ pass at me during a practice… looked right at me when he did it also. Of course, because I was standing over 20 yards away and it went awry and smacked someone else :)

Comment by Reed 08.05.14 @ 8:03 pm

Too funny Reed. Probably was his best thrown pass of the year too ! lmao

Comment by Emel 08.06.14 @ 1:00 am

Yoklic kicked everything into the endzone. One of the worst directional kickers I’ve ever seen.

Comment by DL 08.06.14 @ 7:44 am

DL – I’ll pay attention to how well Winslow does with his directional punts in the camp.

Comment by Reed 08.06.14 @ 9:05 am

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