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August 29, 2014

One More Day

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Media,Players — Reed @ 7:55 am

We get to see the Panthers 2014 version play their first game tomorrow and I’m sure you guys are excited as I am.  Last night I sat in the car while my wife was shopping and I tried to gather all the info I know and all the opinions I have and come out with some sort of handle on what the PITT team will be like this year.

Not an easy thing to do.  You guys have read what I’ve observed and thought about the different segments of the football program and the team itself over the last six weeks.  You’ll formulated your own opinions and will watch each week unfold to see if PITT was “we were what we thought we were’.   That’s what is so much fun about football at this level.  Things change so drastically not only season to season but week to week.

So, this morning I wake up and read Jerry DiPaloa’s opinion piece on the team in his  Pitt Locker Room Blog and I thought – that’s putting a finger on it.  DiPaola is an interesting guy.  He’s not a rah-rah PITT booster but has an edge of cynicism to him  when discussing the team so when I read his thoughts this morning I was surprised at how optimistic he is.

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August 28, 2014

Blue Hens In-Depth

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s),Players,Recruiting — Reed @ 6:02 am

Here’s a bit more background on our first opponent of the 2014 season… the DELAWARE BLUE HENS!!!!

Delaware is a  member of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) which is made up of smaller schools located on the eastern seaboard from Massachusetts to South Carolina.  Included in that list is William and Mary who PITT used to play sometimes back when I was in school in the mid-‘70s.  Great campus there BTW – right in Colonial Williamsburg.

As stated earlier PITT is 9-0 against teams in the CAA so we really shouldn’t have much of a problem with Delaware, but one never knows.  According to the Blue Hens ESPN site the football team went 7-5 on the season and 4-4 in conference.   In their only out of conference ‘big’ game they were beaten by the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy (Navy) 51-7.  Navy was 9-4 last season so factor that in I guess.

Here are last season’s statistics breaking down the details of the season.  It looks like they could run the ball well with a 4.8 ypc and their passing game was impressive with a 62% completion rate, 240 ypg and 27 TDs.  Their starting QB, SR Trent Hurley, played in 10 games last year, completed 64% of his passes for 2207 yds and had 22 TDs to seven INTs.  He also ran the ball 62 times and if you deduct the sack yardage against him he ran for 4.3 ypc which isn’t bad.  It’s something for the defense to think about anyway.

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August 27, 2014

Catching Up On Things

Filed under: Football — Chas @ 1:24 pm

For real media companies and reporters, this past week and this one would be where all the coverage is ramped up and there would be lots of articles. Chasing page views and taking advantage of the growing excitement for the new season. Not at Pitt Blather. Noooo. Instead we take the less is more approach. Letting our pieces breathe, and –

Okay, that’s an obvious load of crap. Sorry folks. Between covering for people trying to squeeze in their final vacations at work. The ramp up to school restarting for my kids. Not to mention a horrid week in between school starting and all summer camps ending — creating a chaotic situation where the wife and I juggle our schedules to ridiculous levels. Then there is just making sure everything is in position so I can take off on Saturday. I’ve barely been on the computer the last couple of weeks.

I really, really look forward to Saturday. Seeing my friends before the game, then abandoning them for the comforts of the press box. This coming season will feature both Reed and myself watching games with the media. Onto some links and thoughts.

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Do you want to know how some of that ACC money is being spent and what dividends we’ll get out of spending it?  Look no further than the growing PITT walk-on program.  Walk-ons are an interesting breed with interesting rules attached to them.

There are two different types of walk-on players; the preferred walk-on and the regular walk-on.

The Preferred Walk-on is usually contacted by the school because they want the kid on standby for whatever reason, maybe because they know a player is leaving school and they want to have the preferred walk-on in place.

But he isn’t offered a scholarship directly out of high school as are regular recruits.  They are given a promise that ‘at some time’ during the kid’s first training camp a spot on the roster will become available in the fall.  Enter the practice of many coaches not inviting back players who are entering their fifth year of eligibility or targeting players they want off the roster for any reason.  Cutting them loose allows those preferred walk-ons’ scholarships to magically appear if the staff wants to offer.

This allows the players a solid opportunity to stay on the roster, practice every day with the team thus staying in the staff’s awareness and also possibly get to travel to away games.  It is a good first step to a scholarship if they can make the grade and prove they are worth the risk.

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August 25, 2014

Game One Preview: Delaware

Filed under: Football,Media,Opponent(s),Players — Reed @ 4:20 pm

Get your game faces on, it’s almost show time!!  Saturday we host the Blue Hens of Delaware at Heinz Field for the opening game of our 2014 season. Yeah Us!!

Here is the PITT SID’s office’s overview of the match-up.  Here are the much more detailed “PITT vs. Delaware Game Notes” that are distributed by that office to the local and visiting media writers up in the press box.  I find it interesting that we’ve never played them before but then again we have never lost to them before either.  Small blessings.

Pitt is undefeated (9-0) against current members of the CAA, most recently beating Maine, 35-29, in 2011 and New Hampshire, 38-16, in 2010.  I think we’ll easily handle Delaware.  The spread is 27 points and that is doable as I think we’ll run right over them.

Before anyone starts talking about ‘we thought the same thing against YSU‘  let’s remember there are huge differences in the two situations.  With the YSU game Chryst suspended six players including starters Ezell and Gonzalez just hours before the game.  That in itself rocked the team. Combine that disciplinary action with the natural uncertainty the players had about Chryst going into his first game of his first year, especially after they were just burnt so badly by Graham, and you had a perfect storm for a loss.  That isn’t the case at all this week against Delaware.

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August 24, 2014

Now that we are at the halfway mark of Paul Chryst’s contract to be the head football coach at PITT and entering his third season in that position, it is a good point in time to step back and take a semi-detached look at where the football program was, is now and what the future looks like.

There is no real need to get into the details, weeds, swamp or muck about what has transpired at PITT after the 2009 season.  We PITT fans know the history like the back of our hand.  But, for clarity it is important to understand the situation PITT was in, why we were in it and what Chryst stepped into as his first job as a head coach.

The upshot is that when PITT offered Chryst the head job we had just run through four different ‘real’ HCs in the 13 month period after Dave Wannstedt was fired (the slowest firing in the history of football by the way).  Four head coaches in a bit over one year might have been a Guinness World Record.  Granted a couple of those HCs were blips on the radar; Mike Haywood didn’t even have time to buy any PITT gear before he was fired and Todd Graham, he of the “High Octane” offense, lasted one season before he pulled chocks and left in the dead of night. Trey Anderson said it best with this quote “I take a nap for 2 hours; wake up to find out my head coach is gone.”

We can debate forever the wisdom of firing Wannstedt after his run as the most successful coach in the last 25 years.  Then again PITT has a track record of jettisoning and/or not fighting to keep successful head coaches.  The decision making in dealing  with Jackie Sherrill right up through Walt Harris and ending with Dave Wannstedt are examples of PITT’s administration acting in ways some fans don’t understand or agree with.  Whether it isn’t offering a truly competitive salary (Sherrill) or firing for cause including issues external to football itself (Harris and Wannstedt), PITT has danced to the beat of its own drum.

Those decisions angered PITT fans royally when they happened but that antagonism has been tamped down now that we are able to look at them with some distance in our rear view mirror, you know – the rear view mirror you have with the nine national championship mini-trophies dangling from it.

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August 21, 2014

Comings and Goings

Filed under: Football,Recruiting,Transfer — Chas @ 12:09 am

Well, the euphoria of a nice recruiting get lasted all of 24 hours. Is this where we are supposed to gnash our teeth and mutter or whine about not being allowed to have nice things?

Welp, start with the older and positive news. The depth at running back will continue to swell as Pitt got a verbal on Tuesday from Darrin Hall out of Youngstown.

The four-star running back announced his decision in front of a group of 20 family members and friends at Buffalo Wild Wings, where he donned a Pitt hat over that of Michigan State and Kentucky.

“It’s good to get it out of the way and now I can focus on becoming a great leader for my [Fitch] team,” said Hall, who’s beginning his senior year.

Hall said he was leaning toward Pitt last week and after a visit on Sunday, he ultimately decided the Panthers were the best choice for him.

He didn’t talk to the Pitt coaching staff about early playing time and said that wasn’t something he was worried about.

“I know they have some young backs, but I’m ready to work hard and earn my spot,” he said.

Hall’s parents, Camille and Darrin Sr., were seated next to him when he made his announcement, but said that was as close as they got to the decision making process.

“He made it on his own,” said Darrin Sr. “He made the decision and he chose to stay close to home and I was glad of that.

“I’m glad that played a factor in his decision and I love the choice.”

His mom was happy her son made his decision not solely on football.

“I’m very excited about it,” she said. “I’m more excited about his education, that’s first and football’s secondary, but overall I’m just very happy.

Hall is a near consensus 4-star running back (only 247 has him at 3-stars).

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August 19, 2014

Cleaning Up Some Football Debris

Filed under: Football,Practice — Chas @ 6:03 am

First off, I can’t thank Reed enough for the work he’s done in August. It’s been tremendous having him writing and making the trips for practices and scrimmage. Some fantastic stuff.

There’s not a lot I can add to that part. So I’m just going to clear some tabs, hit the links, and toss a few of my own thoughts in along the way.

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August 17, 2014

There were some nice efforts and results by all the defensive units, and I’ll address those but overall today the defense built “The Great Wall of Water Street” and didn’t let much offense trickle through.

Specifically, the defensive two deep up front against the running game made everyone breathe a little sigh of relief, especially in light of this being “Year 1 Perfectus AD”.  The starting four defensive linemen from left to right were DE Durham, NT Mosley-Smith, DT Render and DE Soto. Those guys overall looked good in the ‘live’ actions, stuffed the run and got good penetration on some passing plays.  Backing them up were MacLean and Blair at DE with Moody and Jarrett in the interior.   All eight kids played solid ball as I saw it and as each day passes the staff should be feeling better about this unit.

One brighter spot was that Darryl Render had some real “wow” moments with his quick off the snap play.  Jerry DiPaola of the Trib hits it on the head in this article about Render and while I wouldn’t say anyone going to forget our award winning Nose Tackle from last season, Render is starting to develop a reputation of his own.  He intercepted a pass on an athletic play and was constantly beating his guy for run stoppage. He’ll be a very good DT for us this season and later on as he’s a JR who had some nice game experience over the last two seasons.  We’ll have a solid two years of him on the line and that is a good, maybe great, thing to have.

Backing him up is Justin Moody, who as a rsFR is 6’3” and 280 (bigger I’d guess) lbs and can move for that size.  He was a solid 3* DE in HS and was the 20th ranked player in the state of PA. He’s fun to watch when he gets in and has a great wing span to get RBs coming through the line.  Hate to say it but he’s the type of talent, to my eye, who could also be a good OL if needed down the road but Chryst does like them taller.   He had a nice sack on Anderson where he got into the backfield in a blink.

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The day’s practice schedule was broken up into warm-up drills, then live full tackle drills, a  scrimmage with the referees calling penalties (and lots of them),  full 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills, finishing up with short yardage situations including red zone plays.  During the punting drills Winslow was getting the ball 40-45 yards downfield consistently and on the two directional punts I watch both went inside the 10 yard line and were downed.

Kevin Weatherspoon was the sole punt returner today as the staff had Boyd only warm-up with some drills early on then sit out the live action parts.  In the kickoff drills Maddox, L. Pitts and Ibrahim were on the receiving end and did OK. Maddox is fast as hell and is turning into a valuable guy for the team this season.   Again, Boyd was our leading KO return man last year and would have been back there this scrimmage also if he wasn’t resting.

Something that jumped out at me during these special team drills is that the kicking and coverage squads were populated mostly with players who are starting at other positions. Apparently Chryst is not screwing around with special teams play this season.

Blewitt was down today with a .500 success rate. He made four FGs, including a 52 yarder and missed four.  Not much to say about that except let’s hope that it was an off day and not the norm for him.

In discussing individual offensive units and players let’s first understand two things;  First  is that a scrimmage is in essence a tryout for the 2nd  and 3rd string positions and secondly,  if the offense doesn’t improve by giant steps in the next 14 days we are going to be some very disappointed fans.  You can point to the old saw that in camp “the defense is always ahead of the offense” but right now that’s an excuse.  What we saw from the sidelines was not pretty and centered on the QB position.

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August 14, 2014

First Scrimmage Question Marks

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Players — Reed @ 4:49 pm

I’m driving up to the camp’s first scrimmage on Saturday morning and here are the issues I’ll be paying close attention to while I’m there:

How consistent are Running Backs Qadree Ollison and James? Because we probably won’t play both freshmen, which one will be redshirted?  More importantly, where in hell is the “U” in Ollison’s first name?

How many reps does Conner get at Defensive End?  Chris Peak is reporting that Conner has been getting snaps on defense in the two minute drills.

How will Voytik respond with full time pressure from the defense? (I hope the scrimmage is full contact to get him ready for reality.)  How much protection is he getting?

How is Isaac Bennett coming along from his injury?  In the last practice I attended he was getting his share of reps.  Also, how many snaps does Ibrahim get?  I think Bennett’s becoming an afterthought in our fan’s minds but he’ll most probably be in the top three RBs.

Who will be our top three RBs going into the opening game against the Delaware Blue Hens?  Will one kid separate from the others?

How well is Offensive Line doing in their run blocking?  The young RBs are breaking some big rushing plays in practice so it has been pretty good so far.  Do they have the speed as some of our past RBs?

How are all the DE’s competing and who will be rotating in there on the two-deep, who gets dizzy and who doesn’t?

How are Caprara & Bradley positioning themselves for that MLB spot behind Galambos? Are they tough enough for that position?

Are the DBs playing more aggressively now?  Are they giving up big plays if they miss an INT or breaking up a pass?

How is our new punter Ryan Winslow doing with his directional punts and hang time?  Along with that, who are the personnel on our punt coverage team and how effective are they?

Those are the main issues for me.  Let me know in the comments section if there is anything you’d specifically like me to address and I’ll try to remember to do it.

 

August 12, 2014

Now that we have finished the Spring Drills and are a third of the way through Fall Training Camp it is about the right time to start wondering, with some intelligence in our folders, about how well the program, the coaching staff and players as a team will do this upcoming season.

Moving back to the East Coast after many overseas duty stations I started following PITT football closely again with the Walt Harris firing and Dave Wannstedt hiring as I agreed with both decisions.  One thing I have noticed over the last decade is that a lot of PITT fans make their season predictions based on emotion, more specifically on whether they like or dislike certain people in certain positions in the program.

A great example of this is those who couldn’t stand the “Slingin’ Sicilian” felt strongly that he’d never lead the team to a strong winning season, and with that they were pretty much on the mark as he always seemed to muddle through each year.  Along with that, fans who don’t agree with the Paul Chryst hire can’t see him coaching the team to an ACC championship; those who hate the Matt House hire as DC can’t see him ever molding our defense into a game winning unit, fans who think we can’t replace a superstar player like  Aaron Donald feel that whoever tries will fall way short of the level at which Donald played, and on and on and on…

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August 11, 2014

To start, and because you are already bored at work, here is a good piece from the NCAA website onFR Chris James’ introduction to college football and how he’s approaching it.  Watch the video on that page also, its a fun look at the freshman.  Pay attention to LB Brian Popp and DL Connor Dintino and tell me they don’t look like football players.

A little ‘look behind the scenes’ at some rules that are pertinent this time of the season…

Even though readers of The PITT Blather are already the most intelligent college football fans there is always something else to learn.  I was wondering the other day about exactly how a university’s athletic department and football staff strike a balance between what is required by the NCAA and how to best make use of the limited allowed time they can use to impose football preparations onto the players.

It is almost like rocket science when you look at everything that has to take place to maintain the athletic and academic career of the student-athlete.  But, to me, it is something that has to be formalized to ensure college football doesn’t lose its basic traditions.  Here is an basic overview of the rules.

If you are interested in the minutia of the NCAA regulations regarding what is required and allowed for college football programs this website explains it well.  You’ll have a headache after reading it.

Here is a nice companion piece for those of us who wonder what really goes on with the players between the football seasons, this is a great article written by a guy who was an All-SEC tight end.  It’s informative and entertaining.

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August 10, 2014

Earlier we discussed the overall feel and looks of the offensive players, staff and program at the first full pads practice.  Now I’ll try to give you my impressions of the defensive side of the ball.

I always think it’s a bit crazy to say “The Xs are ahead of the Ys so far” because in limited time, and watching from ground level, it is hard to make that call so I won’t do that.  What I will do is address the separate units and some specific players’ production and results, and make some opinionated predictions.

Defensive Ends – I paid more attention to the DEs than the interior DL during this practice, mostly because the idea of moving Conner over to fill in any talent gap we may have there is in rampant discussion.  My feeling now is that we might be fine at that position as is because I think we have some really good raw talent there.  Dave Durham is Dave Durham and he’ll be no better this season than last; he has a skill ceiling that has been reached.  But the other DEs we have are looking pretty good and that’s encouraging.

The DE two deep yesterday was as follows:  Soto with rsFR Luke MacLean as his back up on one side with Durham and Blair on the other.  At first glance that isn’t murder’s row.  Durham and Soto, who was 2nd string last year, are returning guys with game experience.  The two we lost from DE last year,  Murphy and Lippert are certainly replaceable by even average players and not to be rude but “see you later”.  Soto has moved over to the right side as a starter and it looks like both Luke MacLean and Rori Blair will get early playing time as the 2nd stringers.

They are both very young and not super rated recruits.  MacLean was a 3* and Blair was a 2*. However, if you look back at a couple of our past DEs who played as freshmen; 2* Greg Romeus and 3* Jabaal Sheard, and watched them play you can see how things could work out now.  Both those veterans excelled as soon as they got to PITT and each progressed to being a star DE here. Here’s a taste of how MacLean played in HS.  Also some Rori Blair highlights,  along with his position coach Palermo on Blair’s recruitment.

Let me say this about FR Rori Blair; make no mistake, the only reason he was listed as a 2* recruit was because of the stroke he had  prior to his senior year in high school.  He’s a 6’3” kid who is a solid 230+ pounds; is bull strong and quick as hell. He was impressive during his reps yesterday and I’ll go out on a limb and say he’ll surpass Devon Cook or anyone else to be Durham’s back-up at some point during the season.  I also wouldn’t be shocked if he even bettered that and started at one point.   He’s one of those players who the chatter about his play will keep getting stronger and stronger the more camp and the season progress.

Luke MacLean made some great plays out there also and he’s another DE youngster, a rsFR who checks in at 6’5” and 260 lbs; a readymade monster waiting to be unleashed! What I noticed about him yesterday was his good strength in forcing his way through blocks on one play, then using technique and speed in beating his Offensive Tackle to apply outside pressure on the QB on another.

3* FR Shane Roy is another kid who had us scrambling around to find his name on the roster after he made some fine plays.  He’s another big kid at 6’4” and 245 pounds and I was impressed with his speed off the ball.  He’ll probably redshirt this year but he’ll be a big part of the defense in the future.  So, I really think we’ll see a lot of PT from MacLean and Blair this season along with rsJR Devon Cook getting equal time in the field also.  I’m not down on Cook, I think he’s played well in spots in the past and he’s a pretty good ballplayer but I’m just very impressed with Blair and MacLean.

rsJR Nick Grigsby was getting reps at both LB and DE so he might be one who the staff feels his experience will help at the DE position.   At 6’1” and 220 he’s undersized for DE though and that might be a problem, especially if the coaches want more muscle at the position, but he’s got the speed and tackling ability to be successful also.  His will be an interesting issue to watch. (more…)

August 9, 2014

This is going to be a long 1st of two articles so pour yourself a drink and get comfortable… I know its morning so make it a Bloody Mary, Screwdriver or Baileys in your coffee… Yinz guys are drunks anyway so just embrace that and enjoy.

I drove up to the Southside complex today, leaving at 5:00 am and getting there at 9:30 so I had 45 minutes to kill before the practice started at 10:15.  With that I had a chance to sit around, drink coffee and watch the players and coaches get out of their cars and walk into the sports complex. I tried to guess who was who but no one was wearing their jerseys… lack of pride in the program I think!

The local media outlets were well represented with Peak from rivals, Flinn from 24/7, Werner from the P-G and Jerry DiPaola from the Trib along with Pat Bostick of CBS – The Fan radio and Borghetti and Ted Feely from the SID department.  That made for some really interesting conversations regarding the staff and players that I’ll paraphrase later on in the article.   Interestingly enough though there weren’t many of the player’s family members at this practice, just a handful and a big difference from other practices.

I got into a nice conversation with Inoke Breckterfield while walking over to the practice fields, mostly about Hawai’i and the HS football there.  I mentioned to him my wife grew up on the Big Island and that I lived in Kailua and watched the Kailua HS team play every chance I could.  That is where Taleni hails from and when I asked how Jeremiah Taleni and the DL were doing he cracked a big smile and said “Doing well”.   I know Taleni’s a favorite of mine because of the Island connection and he rotated in for a good amount of reps but I think we’ll see him contribute a lot in 2015 and beyond rather than this season.

New additions to the sports admin staff is “The Drone & Drone Wrangler”.  PITT has a small concrete circle near the clubhouse that is kitted out as the Drone Pad.  They use the drone to film overhead shots of the formations and the mini-scrimmages.  At one point I saw two young guys looking all around the sky saying “Where the hell is it?”  The drone also comes in handy for missile strikes on the players dogging it out there.

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