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March 28, 2015

In-Between #6

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Media,Players,Recruiting — Reed @ 5:43 pm

Pitt Spring Practice #7  March 28, 2015

Scrimmage # 2 was held today and below are the videos, stats and quotes from today’s practice session.  This is the last full scrimmage until the Spring Game on April 18th at Highmark Stadium in Station Square.

Video: Saturday Scrimmage Highlights

Some things in that film jumped out at me that might not have been referenced in the quotes below.  You’ll notice that this scrimmage saw a lot of TE use as receivers by both Voytik and Bertke. #81 rsFR Tony Harper is a TE who looks bigger than the listed 6’2” & 220 and who presents a large target and #83 Scott Orndoff is as much like a TE/H-Back hybrid as he is pure TE and I think we’ll see him some more in that H-Back role this season.

Even though Orndoff is 6’5” & 260, the perfect size for a college TE, his ability level and quickness allows a staff to set him back into the backfield (almost) and either act as a alternate Fullback with Parrish, but to also drop into pass block and/or release for swing passes out in the flat.

Anyway, from seeing the videos this spring it looks like we may see some of that in the fall.  Holtz, on the other hand, is a bruiser who is very hard to take down after the catch.  You get him the ball on a 3rd and long anywhere near the sticks and he’ll move them.

I have been touting #37 rsFR RB Quadree Ollison on here since the moment he set foot in fall camp last year.  Watching those practices and scrimmages (ah, the good old days) you could see his talent level was right up there with Chris James. Actually Ollison might have been better in camp but the staff went with James for their own reasons.

In a conversation with RB Coach John Settle in mid-camp last fall he told me that the decision on who to redshirt would go down to the final practice before the season started.  If you look back at Ollison’s offer sheet you see it is pretty impressive with 12 other FBS schools wanting him including PSU and Wisconsin.

I kind of expect to see a lot of Ollison this season because since it is almost automatic that James Conner goes in the draft (short RB shelf life) we need Ollison’s size , he is up to 6’2” and 235 now) and speed to complement James’ semi-bowling ball running style.

There has been a lot of camp talk about #30 JR MLB Mike Caprara lately and apparently this staff likes undersized linebackers who have heart.  Kidding there, he is a kid who set tackling records (350) at his Woodland Hills HS and has a nose for the ball.

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March 27, 2015

In-Between #6

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Players,Recruiting — Reed @ 10:53 am

Pitt Spring Practice #6  March 26, 2015

Thursday’s practice sessions is in the books and below are the transcripts for some interviews with Narduzzi, Coach Hill, and two players from yesterday’s workout. There is some interesting stuff starting to come out of these practices, none totally unexpected but interesting nonetheless.

First off Coach Narduzzi is now more expansive in describing where the players and the team are at this point in practices.  The coaching staff is turning up the heat as far as competition for playing positions go with adjusting the depth chart going into the session’s second scrimmage being held tomorrow.  The difference between a school’s established HC doing this in the spring and a school’s brand newly hired HC doing it is that the players have to really grasp and understand that this staff holds no allegiance to anyone on the depth chart (more on that later). Interesting point  that the depth chart  shuffling doesn’t happen on scrimmage days.

I find two issues in his interview deserve a closer look.  His statement about Tyrique Jarrett doing well during the actual plays and impressing the staff with his work and “then he’ll walk somewhere and make me mad.”  That goes hand in hand with Narduzzi’s prior comments about 100% effort at all times.  I suppose he and his staff demand that you run everywhere.

The second point is that he is now peeling back the curtain a bit on how his staff actually approaches the nuts and bolts of conducting practices and scrimmages.  Both the comment about the limit on which days they installing new “stuff” and then running those new plays / formations only a few times before they break off for a day or two, watch the insertion on film, then correct any flaws during the next practice until it is up to their satisfaction.

 Pitt Live Wire Features

This is a fantastic video,  Pitt’s Dynamic Duo: Tyler Boyd and James Conner, that delves into the on and off the field relationship of our two offensive stars James Conner and Tyler Boyd.  Have fun watching it.  I particularly like the part where they describe their favorite plays of the other kid.  At one point in the film, after showing Conner run around and through defensive players, he talks about his very effective stiff-arm’ move “I think our other guys (RBs) should use it more often, they don’t do it enough… it is what it is.” He says that with a chuckle meaning he beats the crap out of defensive backs with it and has fun while doing it. “

Two great players, two good role models and hopefully, two great leaders for the 2015 season (probably their last in a PITT uniform unless we get lucky).

Here is the web Link for PITT’s Thursday Practice Photo Gallery. Here are a few photos that jumped out at me:  Coach Tom Sim’s Evil Eyes; how big LB Reggie Green looks; the complete Old Testament tattooed on J.P. Holtz’s left arm and the insidious way the coaching staff confuses the defense by having two QB throw the ball two different directions during the same play.

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March 26, 2015

QB Thomas MacVittie has committed to Pitt per Jerry DiPaola and others. MacVittie is a 6’4″ dual threat QB who’s set to be a first time starter this upcoming season. This would normally be a negative, but he’s coming from Ohio powerhouse Archbishop Moeller (Cincinnati) and his physical skills are elite. 6’4 QBs with strong arms and 4.5 speed aren’t common. MacVittie will likely blow up this season, so hopefully this is a commitment that will stick.

The concern regarding MacVittie’s lack of experience isn’t unfounded. However, Pitt is not going to attract proven QBs with elite talent right now. That leaves the coaches the option of taking less talented players or taking talented players who for some reason haven’t had the opportunity to shine. With Voytik here for two more years along with Adam Bertke and Ben DiNucci, the coaches have options if MacVittie doesn’t pan out. Also at 6’4″ with 4.5 speed, another position is certainly an option. But, if MacVittie puts those physical tools to use, Pitt could have a steal.

March 25, 2015

In-Between #5

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Players,Recruiting — Reed @ 9:51 am

Pitt Spring Practice #5  March 24, 2015

Breaking News: DiPaola of the Trib has an article on PITT’s AD search. The ticker-tape news is that four, count them, (4) months after firing the old AD the PITT Chancellor has started looking for a new one!!

One resounding endorsement of the recently hired DHR search firm is that “Both (DHR Reps) were consultants to Colorado State in its recently completed search for a football coach and athletic director. Oh Hell Yes!  If it was good enough for mighty Colorado State with that tough media market they will kick ass for PITT.  Whatever, at least the search committee from PITT members is well represented;  Pitt’s search committee is chaired by acting athletic director Randy Juhl and includes track and field coach Alonzo Webb, women’s basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio and football player Artie Rowell.

Why do I have a weird feeling in my gut that at this point PITT might not be the blue-chip directorship position we fans want it to be?  I’m just hoping the really highly qualified candidates across the country have a very short memory when it comes to PITT athletics.  Either way, it will be interesting to see who gets the final nod – let the speculation begin!

DiPaola also has a nice piece about the possible new starters at LB in Grigsby and Bradley.

The position is vital to the necessary improvement of the Pitt defense after last year’s pair, Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas, exhausted their eligibility after leading the team in tackles. Grigsby, a senior, and Bradley, a junior, are brothers — two of 12 siblings in a family that includes Steelers safety Will Allen and former Dayton basketball player Chris Wright. The athletic genes clearly are there. It’s the job of Narduzzi and linebackers coach Rob Harley to help Grigsby and Bradley make big plays.

“Grigsby has been really good so far, really explosive,” Narduzzi said. “We put in a package today, and it looks like he liked it.” Bradley, who is two years younger than his brother, said he has some bad habits that need to be eliminated.

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March 24, 2015

2015’s Prospective Starters – QB

Filed under: Football,Players — Reed @ 5:09 am

While we are waiting for some real PITT news to come out of the Southside facilities let’s take a look at the prospective 2015 Panther team starters by position and delve into their backgrounds and what they have done so far while playing for PITT.

Quarterback

We’ll start with the offensive field general and perennial lightning rod for criticism, the QB position as that is what the offense starts with.  For 2015 we have the returning starter Chad Voytik who began his starting career as a rsSO last season.

Voytik

Chad Voytik, #16, Quarterback,6-1 • 205 • JR*, Cleveland, TN

When Voytik came to PITT he wasn’t a drop back and sit in the pocket passer but took every opportunity to scramble out and use his talent as a ball carrier.  Once at PITT and being coached by Brooks Bollinger he turned into a QB who started to understand that in the more detailed college ball, and with more highly talented receivers, a QB called to execute a pass play really had to look at the pass first and escape only if necessary.  That was drummed into him continually after he first set foot on campus.

What that allowed Voytik to do, in the years working up to this starting position, was to become a QB who was equally efficient with both his arm and his legs and he showed that last season.  He started off the season slowly as a new starter but once he became accustom to the pace of the game and the whole overall responsibilities of the position he went on to have a productive year.

What was expressly impressive was that in the second half of the season he threw only one interception in 144 passing attempts. That equates to an interception rate of .006 which is off the charts and would place him #1 in the nation; by contrast Heisman Trophy winner Mariota of Oregon’s rate was .008,  if INT rate was a separate NCAA statistical category.  Great protection of the pass and he also had good control of the football when taking off and running (almost always).

  Voytik’s 2014 Season in Review  – 2014 Season Highlights Video

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March 22, 2015

In-Between Practice Notes #4

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Media,Players — Reed @ 4:52 pm

In-Between Practice Notes #4

Pitt Spring Practice #4, March 21, 2015, Scrimmage Highlights

Video: Saturday scrimmage highlight package

Here some plays, and thoughts on them, that caught my eye as I watched the tape.  Some will be talked about by the coach and players in the interview below. Every time the #1 Offense was out there it was against the #1 Defense.  From watching the short video and listening to the interviews it sounds like Chad Voytik is completing a large amount of his attempts and that OC Jim Cheney has him starting to air out the ball a bit more than the last staff, but that is an inference on my part.

A reverse by Boyd – he was trapped for what looked like a Tackle for Loss (TFL) but worked his way out for a positive gain.

Looks like WR Dontez Ford is making a real play for that open #2 WR position; he had a TD catch in the right corner of the end zone on a 20+ yard pass.

WR Zach Challingsworth was shown with two catches one of which was a longer TD.

WR Chris Wuestner had a couple of big plays – a fade and the 40+ yard reception.

Boyd caught a nicely thrown intermediate pass at the five and went in after beating the defense down the sideline.

DB Terrish Webb intercepted a pass on a tipped ball.

WR Jester Weah had a long TD catch at the end of the scrimmage to put the Offense ahead for the 77-72 win (unknown scoring rules).

 Coach Pat Narduzzi on the scrimmage: Video: Coach Pat Narduzzi

We talk about game day is game day. You can have a good practice; I’ve seen guys that come out and have great practices and then come into a scrimmage and don’t do so well. I think when it’s game day, you need to prepare. I think our coaches did a great job of getting our guys out there. (We) really prepared for a game. That’s what we tried to do and the kids came out with great emotion.

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March 20, 2015

In-Between Practice Notes #3

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Media,Players — Reed @ 2:40 pm

Here are the digs from various media reports on Thursday’s practice.

Something that jumped out at me seems a small bit disturbing, but then I jerk myself back to reality by saying there is still months to go before the opener against YSU (better than last year we hope.)   But we have heard from the minute that these players started working out in the weight room and running early morning drills  couple weeks ago that this new staff ‘brought a whole new level of energy” to the table when it comes to interactions with the players.  Yet this is the third practice in a row where I have heard or read about a PITT coach commenting on periods of lack of energy or emotion from the players themselves (see Narduzzi’s interview below.)

After practice #2 – “There was a lack of focus—tempo might have been a little bit faster. 

After practice #3 – “It’s day three. The pads were on today and we started a little slow. The game of football is a game of emotion and you can’t come without that” The Trib’s blog headline: Pitt starts slow on first day with pads, but ends with `emotion’.

Hmmm, let’s hope it doesn’t continue into what the team was experiencing back in the latter part of the 2011 season under HC Beelzebub Graham when the players were  mailing in their effort during the between-game practices.  Of course, that is an exaggeration and these players are on the cusp of practicing under and learning from whole new set of coaches and trying to understand the new coaching philosophies being instituted, but I wanted to get another jab in at Graham… it makes me feel good when I’m down.  Next week it will be different I’m sure, being in pads now will help.  Now the coaches can tie raw meat to the walk-on’s belts and tell the scholarship guys to Go get ‘em boys!!!”.

Here are the Post-Practice Video Interviews with three coaches and a player.

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March 18, 2015

In-Between Practice Notes #2

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Media,Players — Reed @ 2:37 pm

Pitt Spring Practice #2 is in the books and here are some links and quotes to get the fan blood running.

One common theme we are hearing from the players is that these practice sessions are more “energetic” than the ones under Paul Chryst…  “As a whole, it’s extremely energetic. The way they approach practice, lifting, is different. Not to say that our last staff didn’t bring energy, this is just a whole different level”.  I think that is great although I am a bit wary of too much ‘pumping up’ of players (or workers or students, etc…) in preparation for something because the more you try to infuse that higher level of energy and attention the more susceptible you are of seeming phony and losing your target’s trust.

Let’s hope that things go as planned and the team plays with some extra spring in their step.  At points last year it looked as if they might have been going thru the motions as we were losing the game.  A fresh start all around in the name of the game this year and with it comes new approaches.

DiPaola of the Trib comes in with a nice article on Chad Voytik and then follows it up with a short piece on his blog with “a couple notes”:

After two practices of a scheduled 15-session spring, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has a lot of work to do and decisions to make. Some won’t be finalized until August, and maybe not even then.

But Dontez Ford and Zach Challingsworth are stepping up as the wide receivers lining up opposite Tyler Boyd with the first team. Don’t read too much into it, but it’s worth noting. “Those are the two guys I have to rely on to free me up out of double coverage,” Boyd said.  At least in the spring.

On defense, coordinator Josh Conklin likes what he has seen from safety Reggie Mitchell and cornerbacks Avonte Maddox, Malik Henderson and Phillipie Motley.
Mitchell, a junior, can play both positions. Henderson is an early-enrollee freshman and Motley was redshirted last year during his freshman season.

Conklin said he was impressed with how three-year starting cornerback Lafayette Pitts, a senior, stayed after practice Tuesday to work with some wide receivers on his footwork at the line of scrimmage.

“Those are the things you want to see from that kid,” Conklin said. “He has a lot of experience. We are challenging him every day to come out and be consistent. The corners can’t hide. What we ask them to do, every rep they have to be on.”
What’s interesting to note is that Jordan Whitehead arrives from Central Valley this summer, and will add to the competition at cornerback. Maybe there actually will be some depth in the secondary.

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March 16, 2015

I’ve started getting the media releases from the PITT media department (they are pretty quick) and will share and discuss those informational nuggets about practices and interviews along with links to the other media sites and what they are talking about this spring.

PITT held its first NCAA sanctioned spring practice on March 15th in no-pads and a helmet and as all spring practice sessions start off it was acclimation and simple run through drills.  Here are the PITT Program notes:

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March 15, 2015

The day is upon us.  The day when it becomes plainly clear that PITT is a football school.

PITT’s long awaited Spring Practices begin today and this is the point in the off-season when we can start talking about actualities when it comes to the football team itself.  We have been discussing the football program and the athletic department in depth since ex-Head Coach Paul Chryst left for his alma mater back in December but until now it has been speculations about the new coaching staff and the last recruiting class… both of which statuses we won’t be able to really gauge until the season starts in September.

But now it is the players’ turn to be in the main spotlight and time for us fans to start getting some serious questions answered about what we’ll see on the field this year.   Whether or not individual units; offense, defense, special teams, etc. will do well or not isn’t going to be evident during these 15 practices including the scrimmages and the spring game.  I say start because we won’t know anything for sure until the two deep is set in mid-August. That is what the fall camp is for.

What we’ll see transpire over the next four weeks are basically tryouts run by the staff for both returning personnel and the class of 2015 recruits.  Last year it was pretty much a continuation of what we had in Chryst’s first two year with some new issues; how would our QB play turnout, who would replace Aaron Donald and would James Conner play both ways?  I still can’t believe that that last issue is still being talked about.  It is the stupidest idea ever and if this staff can’t see that, like the last staff eventually did, then we have a big problem.

All these standard springtime questions are magnified when you have a complete coaching staff change because of two things:

One is that the new staff has a different approach to football than the old one did.  That happens even if there are theoretical similarities among the staffs and thus the new staff comes in with their own set of expectations.

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March 12, 2015

PITT’s Spring Practices are right around the corner and starting on Sunday the 15th at the university’s Southside facility.  The NCAA permits 15 practices of which three have to be ‘no pads’.  Here is the actual guidance on exactly what a coaching staff can ask of their players:

For days in which institutions schedule a two-a-day practice, live contact practices are only allowed in one practice.  A maximum four (4) live contact practices may occur in a given week, and a maximum of 12 total may occur in preseason.  Only three practices (scrimmages) would allow for live contact in greater than 50 percent of the practice schedule.

In PITT’s case this season the practices will be on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the two scrimmages being on the Saturdays and the Spring Game played on Saturday, April 18th at 1:00pm on the field at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh’s Station Square area.  Highmark holds 3,500 seats so any photos taken at the game will at least look somewhat crowded.

One real problem, and this is a huge difference and a big negative I think, is that Pat Narduzzi is limiting media access to a designated 30 minute time period.  After that the rest of the practice will be closed to all but staff and admin personnel.  This is an 180 degree change from Paul Chryst’s policies where the practices were fully open.

I’ll be honest here, there is no way I’ll drive 450 miles round trip for a 30 minute look-in at the practices.  Perhaps Chas or Justin will choose to do so but I’ll break my tradition of attending in person every year if the practices remain closed like this.  I have to assume at this point that the scrimmages will be under the same restraints so I’ll get no eyeballs on the kids in the spring or the Fall Camp if policies don’t change by then and, in turn, The Blather won’t get 1st hand reports.

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March 8, 2015

(This is part two of a two part series looking at PITT’s chances of having both a Heisman Trophy and a Biletnikoff Award winner in the 2015 season.  Part I was posted earlier)

THE BILETNIKOFF AWARD

Let’s discuss Tyler Boyd and his chances to win the Biletnikoff award.  As we saw in Part I of this article this award has a more narrow criteria for voters than does the Heisman.  It is dedicated to the ‘outstanding’ college receiver of the current season and is announced at a banquet and ceremony in early December.  As described “The Biletnikoff Award is presented annually to the nation’s outstanding college football receiver (the award defines receiver as any player who catches a pass) by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation, Inc.”  That said, the only winners have been Wide Receivers; Tight Ends, H-Backs and RBs have not truly been considered.  As a matter of fact I can’t find any players other than WRs who finished in the top of the voting for any year.

Why did the Club choose receivers to be honored?

Receiver has become the glamor position and focus in college football, as high-octane passing schemes have become the equalizer and college football team rosters are filled with significant numbers of exceptional athletes who play receiver. The 2013 Biletnikoff Award Watch List, the longest in its history, reflected this talent abundance and the 2013 play of the watch list members merited their designation as the finest receivers in college football.

So that makes more sense in the voting mandates then just having a popularity contest among good players. Here are the actual criteria for the award voting and you can see that the fans’ choice for #1 gets the equivalent of one vote in the final tally.

1. The Biletnikoff Award candidate must be an active collegiate football receiver (any player who receives a thrown pass regardless of position) at an NCAA Division 1 (FBS) institution.
2. The candidate, to remain a candidate, must not have been declared ineligible to participate in Division l (FBS) football by the NCAA at the time of any vote of the Biletnikoff Award National Selection Committee.
3. The candidate, to remain a candidate, must not have been declared ineligible to participate in Division l (FBS) football by the candidate’s institution at the time of any vote of the Biletnikoff Award National Selection Committee.
4. An ineligible player cannot be placed on the watch list and cannot remain on the watch list during that ineligibility; he can be added to or reestablished to the watch list based on proper conduct and on-field performance when his eligibility is restored at the discretion of the Foundation.
5. The candidate must display leadership and self-discipline; and he must have a significant, positive impact on his team’s success.
6. The candidate must display a commitment to be the best player he can be.

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March 6, 2015

(This is part one of a two part series looking at PITT’s chances of having both a Heisman Trophy and a Biletnikoff Award winner in the 2015 season. Part II will be posted tomorrow)

There was a topic on the Rival.com pay board the other day talking about the idea that PITT might have both a Heisman Trophy and a Bliletnikoff Award winner on the 2015 team in RB James Conner and WR Tyler Boyd.  I chipped in my two cents then realized that this would be a good topic for some off-season football discussion on this blog.  So here it is. An interesting thing is that when I responded to the message board topic I had done minimal fact checking but while writing this I delved into both awards and see that I was rather mistaken when it came to my thoughts regarding Boyd and the Biletnikoff Award.  At first I thought he had no shot at all but maybe he does… (later article).

We PITT fans love these two valuable and star players but sometimes do tend to look at them through our Blue & Old Gold colored glasses, especially when mentally comparing them to other candidates for prestigious awards.  Here is a breakdown of how realistic our chances are to have those two major awards sitting in the PITT clubhouse at the end of the 2015 season.  Both players are in consideration for the awards; Conner is on the Heisman list (at 33-1 odds) and Tyler Boyd is among 75 players on the preliminary Biletnikoff ‘watch list’.  Let’s take a closer look at Conner and the Heisman first.

THE HEISMAN MEMORIAL TROPHY

Just for background, the Heisman Trophy as stated  “annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. “  The Heisman selection committee is comprised of sports journalists who have been selected from six broad geographical areas covering the US. There was 929 voters last year including one ‘at-large’ vote cast by the American public football fans.

It is usually awarded to offensive players (all but one, DB Charles Woodson) who play on winning teams although every player in college football is actually an eligible candidate…. sure!  There is hope for Chris Blewitt then.  Here are the winners in ‘modern times’. I started at 1975 because that was right before The Hawk won it for the home team. Yea Us!!  It is a a long list but the names are linked so it it nice to be able to see what each winner actually did.  Plus in the linked info you can see the runner-ups and their voting point totals.

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March 4, 2015

Senior Night for Three

Filed under: Basketball,Honors,Players — Chas @ 8:48 am

I’ll toss up the open thread closer to game time. For now, just a focus on the players that move on after this year.

Senior night still matters. It gives us a chance to be reminded that the kids that have been wearing the blue-and-gold are more than the names on the jerseys. They are more than the victories and losses. The successes and failures. The way we support our school through their play.

They have their own stories. They have their own futures. While their playing career for Pitt is ending, so much more of their life is just beginning.

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February 26, 2015

No PITT fan likes it when a young man, who mutually agreed with PITT to enroll as a student athlete leaves the program. Whether it is on his own, he gets moved on by the staff or can’t handle the disciplinary requirements and are dismissed before they have a chance to complete their full four years toward a degree, it always seems a disappointment to all concerned.  We fans get attached to these players as early as their recruitment and then we’re sometimes surprised and disappointed when players are here one minute and gone the next.  Poof!

Since the recent, not totally surprising, news of rising rsSO DB Titus Howard being dismissed by the Narduzzi for cause, and the departures of rsSR QB Trey Anderson, SO OL Conner Hayes, rsSR DE Devin Cook (transferred to the Richmond Spiders) and rsSR Luke Maclean this may be a good point in time to look at what kind of attrition we have had in the past and what we may see coming out of this year’s spring practices and fall camp.

Addressing the four players above it seems as if at least two of them who played their HS football in Michigan, Conner Hayes and Luke Maclean, may have designs to join their old coach Paul Chryst. That will be an interesting thing to keep an eye on as neither was recruited by Wisconsin or by Narduzzi’s Michigan State before signing with PITT.

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