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August 6, 2014

Eyes On the Defense to Start

Filed under: Football,Practice — Chas @ 8:46 am

Usually the first couple days of practice, most of the media attention is on the offense. There’s a logic to that. The practice is padless, so there isn’t any hitting or tackling. It’s a chance for skill players to really stand out. Add in when a new QB is taking the reins, the extra attention is there.

Not that the offense hasn’t gotten some notice. Freshman RB Chris James has looked good — and eager.

Yet, that hasn’t been the story in the first two days. It has been about the defense — specifically the secondary for the first two days. The lack of depth with the DBs. The new, energetic and talkative coach of the DBs also helps.

“We need more [depth],” secondary coach Troy Douglas said after Pitt’s first practice Monday. “We need more guys that can play.”

Illustrating Douglas’ point, the man who replaces Howard on the depth chart, redshirt sophomore Trenton Coles, will do so as much by default as anything else. Coles is the only cornerback other than presumed starter Lafayette Pitts on the roster with any experience.

To create some depth behind Coles, the coaches moved safety Ryan Lewis to cornerback on the first day of practice. But that creates a bit of a depth issue at safety, where redshirt senior Ray Vinopal, sophomore Terrish Webb and redshirt sophomore Reggie Mitchell figure to get the bulk of the playing time.

Mitchell also is seeing time as the nickelback in passing situations, and some specialty packages have Vinopal playing linebacker, creating a bit of a void in the secondary.

“Where’s the next one coming from?” Douglas said. “We need to have those [young] guys come as far as they can so we can play the spreads with four wideouts.”

The “young guys” Douglas is referring to might hold the key for the back end of the defense. Freshman cornerback Avonte Maddox made a splash on the first play Monday when he intercepted Trey Anderson’s pass and took it back for a touchdown, but Douglas cautioned that all four freshman defensive backs still have a long way to go.

“Young pup making a play,” Douglas said. “He’s very talented, and so are all the other young kids, but they’ve just got to learn.

“The faster they learn, the faster they adapt, the faster they’ll play. And I’m not scared to play them. I played a freshman last year, I played [NFL cornerback] Tracy Porter when he was a true freshman [at Indiana]. I’ll play a freshman if he’s the best one and coach [Paul] Chryst lets me.”

Even without seeing the practices, just reading his quotes, you can get a sense for what kind of enthusiasm Douglas brings to coaching the DBs. It reads like he is relishing the challenge of getting the kids ready and dealing with the problems.

That enthusiasm allows him to be positive while bluntly stating what players have to do. Like with Trenton Coles.

So far, Douglas likes what he sees from Coles, a redshirt sophomore.

“You draw up an NFL cornerback and that’s what they are supposed to look like,” Douglas said of the 6-foot-3, 175-pound Coles, who was a Pennsylvania sprint champion in high school. “He’s long and fast.

“Teaching him the game, that’s my job. The other stuff you can’t coach, 6-3 and 4.3 (seconds), or whatever he runs. The game is where he has to learn. That’s what’s going to get him on the field.”

Douglas described Coles as “fearless.”

“He probably made as many plays on the ball as anybody, but he got beat as much as anybody. Those are things we have to cut back on, but we have to get him to continue to make plays on the ball.”

That has been Douglas’ rallying cry since he was hired prior to spring drills: attack the football.

“The thing with (Coles) and Lafayette is chasing the ball and playing hard through the whistle,” he said. “We have to get these guys chasing the ball. If we chase the ball, then we have a chance on defense.”

There’s also the battle going on to start at safety between Reggie Mitchell and Terrish Webb.

One of the best competitions to watch this training camp will be between Terrish Webb and Reggie Mitchell for the starting safety spot opposite Ray Vinopal. Mitchell got the first-team snaps today, but Webb had them on Monday. Realistically, both guys will probably see the field a ton because whoever “loses” the position battle will likely be the Panthers’ nickelback. Pitt will see a ton of spread offenses in the ACC this year, meaning the nickel package will get a lot of work.

“Terrish is really, really bright, not that Reggie isn’t, Reggie is too,” defensive coordinator Matt House said. “Terrish loves to compete, Reggie loves to compete. Reggie’s got great quickness. It’s a good battle going on back there. That’s one thing I do feel: Those three guys, Reggie, Terrish and Ray (Vinopal), they’re sponges. They are fun to coach because you go in the meeting room and they’ve got questions and they’re wanting to be coached.”

The issue, of course, is health. The depth is so lacking. It isn’t about a drop-off in talent from starter to back-up. It’s the drop-off because there is practically no one behind them. One of the issues the coaches cited with the O-line injuries last year — and even at the start of the season. That lack of depth on the line meant balancing how to practice the players. There weren’t enough bodies to split the scout, practice and starting squads. You can’t wear the players down in practice, but you need the bodies out there. That is going to be the issue with the secondary all season. (But at least depth won’t be an issue for the O-line this year. Only experience.)

Related. This piece on Reggie Mitchell being ready to go after sitting the year following his transfer from Wisconsin.

In other things, James Conner continues to work both sides of the ball.

The routine for James Conner working at defensive end seems to be that he goes there for the first few individual sessions at the beginning of practice, then shifts to join the running backs for the remainder. We’ll see if that changes once they get in pads, but today he spent the first part of practice going through pass-rushing technique with defensive ends coach John Palermo.

And of course, both position coaches are adjusting to having to share.

Pitt running back coach John Settle has been around football for most of the past three decades, but something happening on the practice fields this summer is new to him: He never has seen a player work on both sides of the ball at this level like James Conner. “This is a first,” said Settle, who said he doesn’t mind sharing Conner with defensive ends coach John Palermo. “I don’t think I can get around that. To (Conner’s) credit, he is doing a heckuva job keeping up with both installs. Right now, he is loving the game because he is able to do something that a lot of guys can’t do. As a coach, you’d be crazy not to take advantage of it.”

Freshman WR Adonis Jennings suffered what appeared to be minor injury and was held out of practice. Tyler Boyd stayed on him during practices to make sure he was still engaged in what the team was doing. Making sure he was learning.

“No one got pushed harder than Tyler last year,” Chryst said, “so he’s not real sympathetic to anybody. He was just making sure (Jennings) stayed on track. And Adonis wanted (Boyd’s attention).”

Boyd continues to impress with his approach to the game and the team.





We’ll have to do a “Blather Pool” bet on whether Conner plays a substantial bit of time at DE. I’m still thinking it’s a bit of a pipedream and that we’ll need him full time at RB.

More and more I like these young kids Chryst is bringing in… really looking forward to the season.

Comment by Reed 08.06.14 @ 9:24 am

For those planning on making the trip for the Virginia game, or really for any experienced road tripper…

Is it better to just buy tickets through the athletic department, or should I wait til the week of the game use Stubhub? I can’t imagine those tickets will be in high demand after already getting beat down by UCLA, Louisville, and BYU

Comment by BostonsCommon 08.06.14 @ 9:27 am

There is very little depth on the defense. Normal wear and tear will require some underclassmen to play quite a bit. A few key injuries could cost a number of games, and another mediocre season. Longer term, defensive recruiting has to improve.

Comment by gc 08.06.14 @ 9:33 am

Ball control / time of possession .. we need to win 14-10 or 13-9 as opposed to 58-55 or 45-44.

Comment by wbb 08.06.14 @ 9:59 am

Stubhub-much easier and can buy tix in visitor section or next to it for dirt cheap

Comment by John 08.06.14 @ 10:26 am

Reed – My vote/guess is that HCPC will play Conner at DE in selective situations, though I would be quite happy if he didn’t play him there at all. If he plays ‘substantially’ at DE, I think it would be a mistake; too much time at DE is a lose-lose proposition, in that it limits his energy at the RB position where he provides great value, and takes time away from development of young DE’s like Maclean. That said, if I am wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time.

Comment by 1618mt 08.06.14 @ 10:32 am

How do I find out the visitors section?

Comment by BostonsCommon 08.06.14 @ 10:37 am

BostonCommons, the visior seating is in the 5th level … however, you may want to try for Sections 121 thru 128 if you want closer to the filed and Pitt bench

link to virginiasports.com

Comment by wbb 08.06.14 @ 10:58 am

BostonsCommon,
Go to Virginia’s official athletic website and they should have a link to buying tickets, showing the layout of the stadium, and which sections are for visitors. Good luck!

Comment by pittman4ever 08.06.14 @ 11:00 am

Pitt’s depth will arrive when most frosh
take a redshirt.

Comment by JR 08.06.14 @ 11:01 am

Interesting take by ACC coaches on other teams.
link to athlonsports.com

Comment by Frank MD 08.06.14 @ 11:39 am

wbb, I agree with ball control and time of possession but it only works if your defense can get off the field. I think our lineman and backers are good enough to stop the run, but with little to no pressure on the QB opposing teams may be able to score often. It helps that we have mostly winnable games, but these are not teams that fear us or will roll over.

I think Douglas wanting more interceptions is telling and it is a great way to get off the field. Without pressure on the QB, there will be fewer balls up for grabs.

Unfortunately I don’t see many low scoring games on the horizon.

Comment by gc 08.06.14 @ 11:42 am

So Pitt gets Chaminade in the 1st round of the Maui Invitational. National writers will find a way to blame Dixon.

Comment by Nick 08.06.14 @ 11:43 am

Here’s a short piece I wrote about Conner and had e-mailed to the pittblather over the weekend. I realize it needs a lot more beef and supporting sentences in order to be a decent article, which is probably why Chas and Reed didn’t comment to me on it after I had sent it. So I figured I would just post it here. Happy Reading – Brian

To state that James Conner is already an elite running back in the college football landscape would be a fallacy. Yet, for anyone who saw him run during the 2013 football season, how could he not be considered one? On Friday, ESPN voted Georgia running back Todd Gurly the top player in the SEC. Not just the top running back, but the top player.. In the entire SEC..
After having watched his highlight tape (link to youtu.be) and comparing it to Conner’s (link to youtube.com) fundamentally, there is very little difference between the two backs. Gurly is listed as 6-1, 232 lbs. Conner 6-2, 250. The only noticeable difference is that Gurly tends to show more finesse in his game, while Conner tends to show more maneuverability. Statistically speaking, they match up quite well:

Conner Gurly
ATT YDS AVG LNG TD ATT YDS AVG LNG TD
146 799 5.5 45 8 165 989 6.0 75 10

After watching both of them, on an individual level, there is very little parody. Sure you could argue that at times, the level of defensive competition Gurly faced was better than what Conner had to run against. But then you would have to also take into account how much better Georgia’s offensive line was than Pitt’s was last year..

And speaking of SEC competition: I’m still not sold on them being the best conference in the country. The conference with the highest rated players on their rosters? Sure. But a teams rank should be based on their production rather than their perception or potential. I look to Missouri, a former middle of the pack Big 12 team who, in only 2 years, finished atop the SEC East, with a 7-1 conference record (12-2 overall,) having lost only to South Carolina in the regular season, and Auburn (who likes to steal their opponents play calling) in the SEC Championship game. Missouri’s performance alone was enough to show me how close the BIG 12 and the SEC conferences are.
Couple that with Oklahoma’s beat down of Alabama in the AllState Sugar Bowl, Bama being an SEC team who likes to schedule their opening game with a big conference opponent in what they call a neutral location (read as: Their opponent travels 800+ miles south to what amounts to a home game for the tide) and I just can’t find validity in any statement that the SEC is the hands down best conference in the nation.

Which brings me back to Conner. If Todd Gurly, who is supposedly playing in the best conference in the country, is the best player in all of the SEC, then Conner has got to be the 2nd or 3rd best running back in the country. Realistically looking at Conner and Gurly’s athletic ability, and what they accomplish when they touch the football, they really are identical.
Maybe I’ve quenched my thirst one too many times with the kool-aid. Maybe I’m only seeing what I want to see. But come this fall, I suspect James Conner’s name will be mentioned in tandem with Todd Gurly on more than one occasion, in a way that tells the nation just how great both of these running backs are.

Comment by PittFan28 08.06.14 @ 11:50 am

Playing Conner at DE not only helps a depleted position but our defensive backfield needs help badly by a good pass rush, all the more reason for playing him on defense.

IMO, RB which requires only one to be on the field per play is much deeper than DE which requires two:

RB — Bennett, James, Ibrahim, Ollison

DE — Soto, Durham, Cook, Blair, Maclean, Trahan

Comment by wbb 08.06.14 @ 11:58 am

Also, RB apparently requires less collegiate experience to contribute than RB.

In recent years … Shady, Dion, Rushell and Conner all greatly contributed in their natural freshman year … as did Graham when he saw action the same year Dion was a frosh

Comment by wbb 08.06.14 @ 12:02 pm

Thanks guys.. Looking forward to it. Can’t think of a better time of year to take a drive from Pittsburgh down through Appalachia.

Only road games I’ve been to were at the concrete dump in Morganhole, a half empty Papa Johns Stadium, and Rutgers… And there’s nothing special about Louisville in November, or a rainy October Friday night in Piscataway.

Again… So nice to be out of the Big East.

Comment by BostonsCommon 08.06.14 @ 12:02 pm

… less collegiateexperience than ‘DE’

Comment by wbb 08.06.14 @ 12:03 pm

also, BC, never been there but I hear Charlottesville (or is it Chancellorsville) is supposed to be very scenic

Comment by wbb 08.06.14 @ 12:06 pm

Charlottesville is a nice little city. I ended up there after Pitt. Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello is there and an incredible place to visit. The international food store has more than its fair share of fine, imported and domestic liquid bread. If I were making the drive from the burgh to C’ville I’d hop on Skyline Drive at Front Royal near Rt. 66 and 340. It’s a toll road that ends at 64 that you can take straight to C’ville. Nice views and some restaurants along the way will make for a nice, leisure drive to and or from the game.

Comment by JD 08.06.14 @ 12:32 pm

@wbb

C’ville is great. Sort of like State College, but with smarter people and real historical assets. Remember that C’ville was there before there was a UVA. What would be in State College if there was no PSU?

H2P

Comment by pmdH2P 08.06.14 @ 12:33 pm

The UVA campus is very beautiful, all white columns and brick everywhere, even at the stadium!

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.06.14 @ 12:40 pm

There’s really no discussion on where Conner plays at this point. The coaches have made it crystal clear that he is the 1st string running back, and on occasion when a pass rush is needed he will be inserted into the game as a DE – for up to around 8 plays a game. Chryst compared it to what they did in the Pizza Bowl game.

Comment by pittman4ever 08.06.14 @ 12:51 pm

Last night my wife asked me what I was spending so much time on the computer for. I told her Pitt’s fall practices have started and there’s much to read. Her response was:”Oh no, another year of heartache, pain, and disappoint! Why do you keep doing it?” I responded that rooting for our Pitt Panthers builds character and by golly this is the year we break out of mediocrity! I love this time of the year – we’re undefeated and have great hope!!! H2P

Comment by pittman4ever 08.06.14 @ 12:59 pm

@Comment by JD 08.06.14 @ 12:32 pm

Already planning on spending a couple days in Shenandoah prior, whether permitting.

Comment by BostonsCommon 08.06.14 @ 1:05 pm

We have another running back that just might end up being a “not so bad DE” for the Panthers this season, Trent Neavin. Who, you may ask, is he?

Well, he’s a “preferred” walk on with a story, not unlike Rori Blair’s, his injury although not life threatening as Blair’s stroke was, just as devistating however, concerning his football future.

Neavin blew out his Achilles tendon his Senior season in HS to bring his very active college recruiting to a standstill quickly.

Trent played both ways at Martins Ferry HS and was a steamroller blocker at fullback his Junior season while remaining a solid third down converter when called upon to run the ball.

This guy should not be overlooked and considered simply as a scout team blocking dummy. He has sub 5 40 yard dash speed, even after his injury, and has put on an additional 20 lbs since getting here to weigh in at 260. Plus, the kid is smart! A typical Chryst “under the radar” diamond in the rough type recruit who in this case was invited to walk on to a Div. 1 school to make a name for himself by putting in the hard work necessary to do so.

Read his story below.

link to timesleaderonline.com

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.06.14 @ 1:50 pm

@BostonCommon, have used stub hub for over 20 sporting events and concerts.

Have never had one problem. You need to gauge the event.

If tickets are not at a premium, as I would imagine Pitt-UVA will not be, the longer you wait to get closer to the game, the cheaper the tickets are.

Something like Pitt-PSU or Pitt-ND, they get more expensive as game time looms.

In your case, I don’t think there will be much fluctuation, you should be able to get some good seats at a good price.

Comment by Dan 08.06.14 @ 1:50 pm

pittman4ever, I agree that Conner will start at #1 RB … my prediction (first post above) is for later in the season as our young talented RBs (espeically James) get assimilated

Comment by wbb 08.06.14 @ 1:50 pm

actually, it’s the 1st post of the previous blog

Comment by wbb 08.06.14 @ 1:52 pm

Also, when you get tickets on SH, they will have a interactive photo of the seating venue, and show you what’s available.

Like someone said, pull up the opposing teams website, check where the visitors sit.

Some of the views, if you go on the icon, will even show you the view of the field or stage from the different seats.

Also keep in mind, give a couple days for the tix to get sent to you. They have a form for sellers to fill out, have their info, I don’t think they run into too many problems with tix not being sent.

One time, I even had the guy leave the tix at willcall for a Stones concert.

Like I said, never had a problem.

Bring home a winner!!

Comment by Dan 08.06.14 @ 1:57 pm

@ pittman4ever, little do the wives of the male Panther Faithful realize how well conditioned and resilient they have made us to be able to sustain the abuse of being Panther football fans. If you’ve been married for more than a couple years, then you know already that all husbands live daily with the trials and tribulations of “another year of heartache, pain, and disappointment” just in order to keep that union intact. At least in the Panther’s case we get the consolation of watching football for a few hours a week.LOL!

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.06.14 @ 1:59 pm

about the only ticket office I have had issues with is the University of Pittsburgh ….. on 3 different occasions!

Comment by wbb 08.06.14 @ 2:01 pm

@pittman4ever – I guess that’s why this board is full of characters!

H2P!!!

Comment by Pitt Dad 08.06.14 @ 2:24 pm

IMHO he was robbed in the Heisman voting

From ESPN.com

The Season: The best defensive years

DE Hugh Green, Pittsburgh, 1980

Green was such a force that opposing offenses would come to the line and yell, “Where’s Green?” It didn’t matter where he lined up — end or any of the linebacker spots — he found a way to get to the ball and make plays. The Panthers gave up only 205 yards and 10 points per game that season en route to an 11-1 record, and Green spearheaded that unit with 123 tackles, including 17 sacks, and forced seven fumbles. He became the first defensive player in history to win the Walter Camp Award as the top player in college football and was runner-up to George Rogers in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

Comment by Pitt Dad 08.06.14 @ 2:56 pm

The Season: The 10 toughest calls

Pittsburgh

It’s hard to argue that Tony Dorsett’s performance in 1976 wasn’t the best in Pitt history, but has any school produced more electrifying single seasons by individual players? Dorsett led the Panthers to the 1976 national championship, running for 2,150 yards (the first NCAA player to surpass the 2,000-yard mark in a season) with 22 touchdowns, and won the Heisman Trophy.

If not for Dorsett, Pitt defensive end Hugh Green would have been an obvious choice. He had one of the greatest seasons ever by a defensive player in 1980, finishing with 123 tackles, 17 sacks, 4 fumble recoveries and 6 pass breakups. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald finished runner-up for the Heisman in 2003, catching 92 passes for 1,672 yards with 22 touchdowns, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald had 28½ tackles for loss, 11 sacks and 4 forced fumbles in 2013. Any of those seasons would have been worthy as the greatest in Pitt history.

ESPN’s pick: Dorsett

Comment by Pitt Dad 08.06.14 @ 2:57 pm

Re: Conner at DE. We all may be jumping the gun a little here with the assumption that’s he’s going to be a right off the bat success at that position and ‘give us the speed’ for pressuring the QB.

It could very well happen. My assertion is that we start him out very sparingly at DE while using him as the known quality starter he is at RB. I get that we’ve had some FR RBs break out their 1st year. But we’ve also had some highly rated and highly recruited RBs never pan out for us at all.

How can we forget Kevin Collier, who was a 4* and… “Was the top running back in the state of New York… averaged 215.8 rushing yards per game as a senior… rushed for 1,942 yards and 20 touchdowns his final year, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.” If you remember he burnt up his first training camp also and we all expected big things his FR year.

Or, Chris Burns, a 4* RB who was… “Prolific rusher widely considered the top running back in Pennsylvania…was a two-time member of The Associated Press Pennsylvania Class AA All-State Team…named first team all-state at running back as a senior after rushing for 2,234 yards on 257 carries (8.7 avg.) and scoring 38 total touchdowns..” Another phenom in HS who never translated to college.

Or, Rushel Shell, our hometown hero who… “One of the country’s most sought-after running backs…rated the nation’s No. 3 running back and No. 26 overall prospect on the ESPNU 150 list…rated the country’s No. 4 running back by Scout and No. 6 by Rivals…rated the nation’s No. 10 overall prospect by Tom Lemming…USA TODAY first team All-USA…Sports Illustrated and ESPNHS All-American…finished his career as the most prolific rusher in Pennsylvania history…

Each of those kids had the same or better HS pedigrees than does Chris James yet they did basically nothing in their time at PITT let alone their true FR years.

Point is? It is a big jump to assume that both these kids, Conner at DE and James at RB and going to have great years in 2013. As stated above – could happen but I’d play Conner at RB until he wasn’t producing there then I’d move him to DE… but only then. A couple snaps fine but some PITT fans have it all charted out a different way.

Comment by Reed 08.06.14 @ 3:25 pm

Reed – Agreed on Conner, very unproven at DE, only spot duty there to start. He’s too valuable as a RB right now, especially without a proven threat behind him. That said, none us would be shocked if James turns out to be a good one.

Comment by 1618mt 08.06.14 @ 3:54 pm

I certainly can’t be sure that Conner would be a great D-End, I do know we really, really need one or more. If Bennett and James cannot get the job done, by all means Conner needs to stay put.

I also know that Conner’s stock as “The” running back is based on his performance in the Bowl game and he still needs to prove he and the line (Emel) can do it against bigger and better competition.

You have to admit that having him play both ways is drastic, which tells me they really need a pass rusher and he has some talent (he was recruited as a D-End) and in fact was moved to running back, based on need, which was made much more dire when Shell pulled his stunt.

The bottom line is unfortunately we don’t have enough high quality players yet.

By the way, there have been plenty of guys, Lewis, Graham, McCoy and others who did pan out.

Adding Shell to your list is premature, let’s see how he does this year.

Comment by gc 08.06.14 @ 4:44 pm

Where’s the next one coming from?” Douglas said. “We need to have those [young] guys come as far as they can so we can play the spreads with four wideouts.”

We’re going to get hit with the Spread, coming right out of the shute. As Delaware runs the Spread offense.

If we’re really thin in the Defensive backfield, I would suggest moving Ibrahim back there, as I don’t see him getting much PT at RB, if as a lot of blatherites believe, Chris James is going to be a factor this year. A lot mind depend on the health of Bennett.

Comment by Emel 08.06.14 @ 4:47 pm

As far as moving Connor,

the best defense is a strong ball control run oriented offense. Which keeps the defense off the field and punishes, wears down the opposing defense.

Connor is a punishing runner, when he is totally healthy and gets some blocking. He is not a Ray Graham, Shady type who only needed a crack to get thru or had the shake and bake moves when there was little blocking.

So his playing time at RB, might be very dependent on what kind of blocking the O-line can or can’t do. And of course how fast James learns the offense and his pass blocking on blitzes. It was encouraging to hear Coach Settle talk of James’ willingness to ‘mix it up’ in the pass blocking category.

The combination of Connor and James, should be fun to watch as we know, PC liked to use several feature backs in Wisconsin’s power run offense.

And hopefully Sir Isaac gets back to 100%.

Comment by Emel 08.06.14 @ 4:59 pm

Yep, I’d think of moving Ibrahim to DB as well — not a lot of reps for a 4th team RB but definitely for a 2nd team safety. Also, we seem to have a stockpile of WRs with all the red-shirt and transfer guys, so why not move a few of them over to D as well. WRs don’t usually get banged up as much as DBs, so can probably get away with less depth over there…and I’d like to see us use our TEs more anyway.

Comment by Matt N. 08.06.14 @ 5:15 pm

I think the QB race will be a lot tighter this year than last, even though one of the PGH columnists described them as similar. Savage was clearly ahead of Voytik last year but I don’t think Anderson is that far behind Voytik this year — I look for Voytik to start the season, but would not be surprised if he got the hook after 2-3 games if he doesn’t look good. Curious to see who throws the better deep ball.

Comment by Matt N. 08.06.14 @ 5:19 pm

When you have no pass rush, good qb’s become great, average qb’s become good, less than average have a chance. This is a major problem, probably more than Conner could solve. Even great defensive backs can cover for a limited time. You can’t outscore good passing teams with ball control, even the Steelers have had a pass rush and great linebackers.

Last year the great AD minimized our lack of ability at the ends. This year they will be exposed. Soto has the size and speed but he is the only guy and has to play all four downs. Durham can hold his ground, but won’t get pressure on the QB. Grigsby has speed but when a 325 lb tackle gets his hands on him, game over, Maclean is an unknown commodity. This is the major criticism, I have on recruiting. We have been picking up two or more quality O-linemen each of the last three classes, but no D-Ends or linebackers.

Reed, have any of your sources told you what happened regarding Bryan Murphy? It just seems like a missed opportunity for him and the team.

Comment by gc 08.06.14 @ 5:20 pm

Love our WR depth too — think we might have some budding stars over there behind Boyd, which will help mightily.

Comment by Matt N. 08.06.14 @ 5:22 pm

Well the way you get to the QB, is just like how the Steelers do it, you have to have more rushers than blockers, via the blitz. Steelers get very few sacks from down linemen, usually a LB (think Joey Porter, Kevin Green) or from a blitzing DB (think Polamalu)

Grigsby got his 3 sacks last year this way. Whether they’re coming from the DE or LB spot is almost irrelevant. I really think Todd Thomas could excel in this area with his speed and athleticism.

If a couple DE’s don’t standout in camp, I really think going to 3-4 type alignment might work out far better.

Comment by Emel 08.06.14 @ 5:57 pm

One thing for James… he doesn’t look like your typical Freshman Runningback.

In fact, looks more like a BODY BUILDER than a Runningback.

Still not convinced he’s destined for Stardom or even Starting-Dom as many here apparently are.

Looks can be deceiving. Looking at James without pads, you would think he would have run for a TD every time he touched the ball in High School.

At 6.9 yards per carry, that was obviously not the case.

Do see him getting the TOUGH yards when called upon.

Comment by PittofDreams 08.06.14 @ 5:58 pm

Shell was behind Graham but still made an impact especially against VT.

Collier was behind Shady; Burns was behind Shady and then Dion and Graham before transferring. Not saying they were stars but my guess is that James will turn out to be more like Shady or Dion than Collier or Burns.

Connor was recruited as a DE, and I assure you that if he was just average at that position, the coaches wouldn’t have dared to compromise his RB stature.

Comment by wbb 08.06.14 @ 5:59 pm

Chaminade!! Of course we open with Chaminade!!

LMAO!!

Comment by Dan 08.06.14 @ 5:59 pm

#1 pick Jon Baldwin after being dropped by 49ers, could not pass his physical with the Lions.

The ultimate definition of a million dollar body with a 2 cent brain

Comment by wbb 08.06.14 @ 6:08 pm

omg Dan

I still remember when they shocked the college basketball world and defeated #1 Virginia with 3 time player of the year, 7’4″ Ralph Sampson.

Comment by Emel 08.06.14 @ 6:09 pm

Well hopefully Baldwin gets his knee in order, get’s his confidence back and at only 25 years old, he can still get another shot or two.

As we all know he would if he went to one of the ‘brand name’ football schools.

Comment by Emel 08.06.14 @ 6:33 pm

Lamar Patterson signed with a pro team in Turkey.

Comment by Nick 08.06.14 @ 6:46 pm

Re: Defense. This quote says a lot about Aaron Donald, but it also says out about our defensive tackles coach. Need a couple of the guys to step up with this kind of work ethic this year.

“He’s absolutely a very polished rookie in pass rush,” said Chris Long, a monster pass rusher himself. “One of the most polished rookies I’ve ever seen as far as his technique. Somebody along the line coached him up pretty well. We were sitting in the room the other day watching film, and I said to him, ‘Who taught you to watch film and play with technique?’ Not all kids coming in have that.”

link to cbssports.com

Comment by Atlanta Panther 08.06.14 @ 6:52 pm

I like the idea of a 3-4 but don’t think it is that simple a change. Also, although you are right about Thomas and Grigsby fitting well, I think we have 3 nose tackles and no one like Aaron Smith or Brett Kiesel, maybe Soto. In the 4-3 we did have some ends that could rush in Romeus and Sheard, those are the kind of guys that make the 4-3 work.

I never thought Baldwin lived up to his abilities, he has the body but not the athleticism to be really good. Don’t remember him making the tough catches.

Comment by gc 08.06.14 @ 7:01 pm

Nice article about Donald, sounds like he landed in a great situation too.

Comment by gc 08.06.14 @ 7:06 pm

In 2010 Baldwin made some incredible catches of horribly thrown tiny passes.

Passes that were basically thrown, ‘up for grabs’.

Which is why he was a #1 pick.

Agree with you about needing good DE’s in the 4-3.

I just believe if you’re going against spread offenses the 3-4 is more flexible than the 4-3.

Especially if you don’t have those quality type DE’s you’re talking about.

With that being said, if they play Grigsby as a rush DE, it would almost like playing a 3-4.

Comment by Emel 08.06.14 @ 7:20 pm

Too bad about Baldwin — with that size and speed, hard to imagine he’d be out of the league that long if his knee heals.

My guess is Chryst will install more rollout pass/run options for Voytik, so could see more passes to TEs…and I think we have some good ones.

Comment by Matt N. 08.06.14 @ 8:40 pm

good point about the TEs .. and now at 270 lbs, Jaymar Parrish is like a TE, although I readthe he still can fun preety fast for his size.

Pitt may run that play that they used to when they fake a handoff to the RB folowing the FB off-tackle, then the QB hits the FB in the flat. The Giants still run that play when Hyno is on the field

Comment by wbb 08.07.14 @ 6:15 am

Pitt’s extra work for the Bahamas should pay big dividends. Like summer league, don’t know what will translate to ACC games, but so good so far.

Comment by gc 08.07.14 @ 6:39 am

Reports of yesterdays 11 on 11 sound like the offense had a pretty easy time throwing the ball.

Soto got into the backfield once and broke up a play.

Comment by gc 08.07.14 @ 6:49 am

PITTFan28 – I don’t get any emails sent to the PITT Blather site – they go straight to Chas. He’s the owner/moderator, I’m just a contributing writer.

That was a great bit of info though.

Comment by Reed 08.07.14 @ 7:13 am

gc – I t doesn’t matter what Shell does this season.

I only listed those three in reference to the many PITT fan’s expectations that James comes in, blows up and grabs a starting spot in his true FR year.

wbb – you are correct that those I listed had other returning RBs in front of them… just like James does with Conner.

I don’t base my preference for Conner at RB only on that bowl game. He was a tough and productive runner when he was healthy and had to run behind an average at best OL. I really believe that if he’s the established #1 RB going into the season and is written into the gameplans as the guy who advances the ball on the ground – we’ll see very good production out of him.

The reason he did so well in the Bowl game is that all those variables I listed above were met. He was 100% healthy after a full month of rest and the coaching staff gave him carries right off the bat.

I’d love it if James stepped in and played so well the staff had to give him the ball, but that would be the about only time I’d contemplate moving Conner to DE. One thing we all are discounting is Isaac Bennett’s role in the backfield. There no reason he can’t jump up and grab that RB1 spot either. He played well last year and given starting slot he could be 1000+ yard easily this year.

Chryst like multiple RBs to play dur a game. What we might see is a committee of Bennett, Ibrahim and possibly James at RB, then Conner moving to defense. But again, I’d have to see some really excellent production out of a Conner-less backfield before I moved him.

Comment by Reed 08.07.14 @ 7:38 am

understood …. but you also has to consider the needs of the defense. Everyone always seems so concerned about the offense, but this team is overloaded on the offensive side … both for now, and the forseeable future. The quality and quantity of recent commits definitely tilt towards the offense.

Last year, Pitt rated low in QB sacks and hurries, and that was with the most decorated DL in the NCAA. Now, not only is the DE depleted with a lack of experience, the very same goes for the DB … and there is nothing that helps the DB more than an effective pass rush.

Also, a point I made before … the noise of Conner playing DE was not something initiated by the fans or the media … it came from the horses mouths themselves. PC never denied and it and in fact had him practice there in the spring as well as currently. Further, Conner has said on many occasions that he looks forward to playing on the defense .. and there was even an article a couple of months ago where he admitted that he thought his long term future was on defense.

Lastly, you take away the bowl game and the game vs Duke (which was not defensively last year), that cuts Conner’s 800 yard output last year in half … which means he gained approx 400 yards in the other 10 games he played.

He is currently the best RB we have right now (no doubt) but, barring certain injuries, I truly believe we will see him more on defense in the future

Comment by wbb 08.07.14 @ 9:33 am

@Emel, I too remember that!!! I remember seeing their name, and thinking it was pronounced
Sham-ee-nade or something, like lemonade.
No idea who they were then even more so than today.

Hey, remember the UVA v. UNC battles??
That damn Dean Smith and that 4 corner offense??

Finals of 28-26, 36-34 etc. etc. ha ha!!

Would hold the ball for 5 minutes at a time, if the defense didn’t go out and play them, they just kept passing the ball to each other.

Heck, I think they may of held the ball for almost the entire first half against some team, like a half time score of 10-8????

Comment by Dan 08.07.14 @ 9:49 am

The reason UVA had some battles, for the younger fellas on here, they had Ralph Sampson and Jeff Lamp, but more importantly, they were good enough to get the lead on UNC.

UNC, couldn’t play the 4 corners so much when down.

I can’t be specific, but I remember a time, and I believe it was against UVA, the UVA had the lead by like 4 or so, well into the 2nd half, and UNC pulled the pull out and went into the 4 corners.

The UVA coach, instead of waving his guys up to play defense, emphatically waved back to just stay away from them.

The whole crowd erupted tremendously loud, the UVA coach with the wave was like saying..

“screw you, keep the effin’ ball, we’re up”!!!

Comment by Dan 08.07.14 @ 9:54 am

Terry Holland the coach I believe.

Another important player, Jeff Jones.

Comment by Dan 08.07.14 @ 9:59 am

Othell Wilson

Comment by wbb 08.07.14 @ 10:06 am

wbb – with Conner’s role this season really does depend on how the other’s play vice how he plays, with both the RBs and the DEs.

Should Bennett, Ibrahim and James step up and fill the Conner-void rushing the ball then fine. On the flip side should Durham, Soto, MacLean and Blair produce at DE then there is no need to move Conner.

But here is the one scenario no one is talking about – whether or not Conner is a legit D1 starting RB. As you stated half of his yards came in two games against relatively mediocre defenses. As much as I hate to type this it could be that he’s just not the guy to get 25 carries a game for 12 games and still be effective.

In that case then move him anyway onto the DE two-deep because there wouldn’t be a place for him elsewhere.

Comment by Reed 08.07.14 @ 5:27 pm

^^^ Didn’t want to post that here.

Comment by Reed 08.07.14 @ 5:27 pm

I will have two tickets to the Iowa game and a Casino parking pass which I can sell separately. Do you guys recommend StubHub for sellers, too?

Comment by OhHowIHateOhioState 08.07.14 @ 10:55 pm

@Comment by OhHowIHateOhioState 08.07.14 @ 10:55 pm

I’ve sold on SH before, no problems or issues. They do hit you with a fee though. I think it was pretty nominal though, small percentage of the sale price, or something.

I’ve always had pretty good fortune on Craigslist too. Although there’s more effort involve with haggling and responding to emails… If it’s worth your time and effort, you’d probably make a few extra dollars going that route.

Comment by BostonsCommon 08.08.14 @ 9:08 am

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