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April 19, 2015

Let’s get the general atmospheric stuff out of the way first.  It was a fantastic weather day at 80o and sunny with enough breeze to cool the skin and blow away the scent of the bullshit being thrown around in conversations… in other words a perfect football day for a Spring Game.

The Station Square Riverhound stadium was jammed packed with fans wearing Blue & Gold and who were very involved in the day’s events.  PITT officials had said that they would allow the first 4,000 fans into the venue, a number which I was a bit skeptical of seeing, but the reality is they squeezed 5,300+ into the seats, standing room only spots and under the bleachers where a lot of moms and kids ended up because of the shade.

You guys know I don’t go off the deep end with positivity or expressing things in bold stokes but I will say this in all honesty, of all the scrimmages and spring games I have attended this was the only one with a true electric atmosphere in the alumni rooms, the sidelines, the media areas, the stands and most importantly with the coaches and players involved.  It buzzed all afternoon.

This wasn’t a case of just great logistics and advertising the football program for more season ticket sales, although it served that purpose also I’m sure, but it created a genuine excitement in the fans due to the numerous changes we have had since last Dec 26th when Narduzzi was hired. Interestingly enough the students and the fans in the stands actually stayed put until almost the end of the game and then left early only because the parking lots were jammed and there was a traffic jam in store.

Also, and maybe more importantly, there were beers to be had in the bars nearby afterward.  The athletic Media Department has done a very good job of highlighting the changes and using its resources to drum up interest and excitement for the 2015 season.

No, fans wanted every bit of PITT football they could get yesterday and PITT gave it to them.

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April 17, 2015

Spring Game: What to Watch For

Filed under: Football,Narduzzi,Players — Justin @ 7:24 am

The rosters are set. Blue vs. Gold. Fitz vs. AD. Voytik, Boyd, and Conner vs. everyone else…wait, huh? The setup of the teams is a bit odd. The seniors were divided into two teams and they took turns drafting from each position group in a snake style draft. For example, at WR, Team Fitz took Tyler Boyd, then Team AD took Dontez Ford and Zach Challingsworth, then it continued on from there. Basically, it’s a bunch of mini-fantasy football drafts. By drafting this way, it ensures one team doesn’t end up with 3 QBs and 1 WR like it could if they did it straight up. The downside is we won’t see the first team offense or defense in one piece. That will make evaluating results a lot more difficult because a starter could be up against a walk-on and thus the result may not be indicative of much. Will this be fun? Yes.  The football nerd in me prefers to evaluate though.

It’s odd, but I’m not eager to see Tyler Boyd or James Conner. I know what those guys bring to the table. I don’t now what Reggie Mitchell can do at safety in the new scheme. I don’t know how much the offensive line will miss Rotheram and Clemmings on the right side. There are a few big position battles like WR and the entire LB corps. These are the types of things I’m eager to have answered, but some of them will be hard to see in the game.

There’s still a lot to look for even if the focus needs to be on individuals instead of units. Here are the things I’ll be watching: (more…)

April 16, 2015

In-Between #14 and Other Notes

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Players — Reed @ 9:30 pm

Pitt Spring Practice #14;  April 16, 2015

It seems a bit like a broken record but the fact that after each practice Mike Caprara figures prominently in the discussion is pretty surprising.  At this time last April he wasn’t on anyone’s radar for playing time at all let alone being a starter.  Let’s keep an eye on him and Bradley during the game and see if we get any hints as to what shakes out at the beginning of Fall Camp with those two.

Neither the P-G or the Trib have any coverage of the last actual practice up yet but here are the links to their PITT Football pages so you all can check it first thing at work tomorrow, and remember to check the beat writer’s blogs also..  I’ll be on the road so this will be my last coverage also until the after-game report is done.

Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Also, here is a nice older article from the university’s Pitt News on the relationship between Chaney and Voytik.  I can’t remember if I had posted this before or not.

Pitt Live Wire Feature

Prior to Saturday’s Pitt spring football game, Coach Pat Narduzzi held the First Annual Blue-Gold Game Draft. See all the “highlights” and reaction in the following video:  Blue-Gold Spring Game Draft.  It truly looks like everyone had a blast doing it and I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall there. Good team bonding and a great culinary incentive.

A reminder that Pitt greats—and NFL stars—Larry Fitzgerald and Aaron Donald will serve as honorary coaches on Saturday. “Team Fitz” is the Blue squad, while “Team A.D.” will be in Gold.

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Spring Game Roll Call & Notes

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Players — Reed @ 8:22 am

First, the Panther Spring Game Draft has been completed and here is a set of photos proving that even a .500 ball team can still have fun.  Also, here is the front page of The Pitt Live Wire Blog which has more tweets and stuff about said draft.  Apparently there is some wagering going on between the people involved.  From Jerry Dipaola…

Then the Trib follows up with Marty Stewart writing a nice article on DB Dennis Briggs.

Sam Werner of the P-G chips in with another Spring Game overview.

Time to get serious if we want to try to meet other Blatherites at the Spring Game.  I’m driving up from MD for it and will have media credentials that will allow me to roam the sidelines during the scrimmage.  With that I will be assigned parking in the West Lot probably closest to the stadium.  I’ll park there but will wander to wherever anyone wants to meet and I really want to get together if possible beforehand.

I’ll be driving a silver Prius Wagon (I know… but at 45 miles to the gallon I’ll take the jokes) and will be the tall (6’6″) guy with a mustache and wearing blue “Coast Guard” ballcap.

Here is the venue website  and here is an overhead view of the stadium and parking lots.  They are advertising taking 4,000 fans into the stadium. I’m not sure how but the place holds 3,500 seats.  I also am wondering if we’ll really pull 3500 fans into the stadium for the game. I hope so and there does seem to be a uptick in interest and energy among fans.  Apparently the stadium lots will open up at 11:30

Lets do try to arrange something – I’ll chip in $$$ for beer/booze and provide sparkling, even if politically incorrect, conversation.  Someone take charge and arrange something.  I’m the writer not the party planner. If we miss each other before the game then let’s pick a bar to go to afterward.

(BTW — anyone who lives in the tri-state area and doesn’t go to the game isn’t a real fan. Seriously, you’re not.)

 

 

April 15, 2015

In-Between #13 and Other Notes

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Media,Players — Reed @ 9:13 am

Pitt Spring Practice #13;  April 14, 2015

Some interesting stuff came out of yesterday’s practice. The first thing that caught my eye is LB Coach Harley talking about Caprara and Bradley. It certainly appears that not only does Caprara have a shot but that he may just win the SLB position outright.  I have heard he’s really showing leadership and FBI (Foot Ball Intelligence) out on the playing field.

Challingsworth has been in the news more and more lately and it seems he’ll be in the Top Three WRs going into the fall camp.  Good for him and he’s a local kid and a fan favorite.  Here is some of Jerry DiPaola’s article in the Trib today:

Tyler Boyd caught 78 passes last season for Pitt.  The next four wide receivers combined for 47, and that entire quartet is gone.  Somewhere in assistant coach Kevin Sherman’s “little pod” of young pass catchers, Pitt needs to find some help to prevent opponents from continually putting double-team defenses on Boyd.  It’s still early in the process — even after 13 practice days this spring — but Sherman has candidates.

Junior Dontez Ford appears to have won the starting job opposite Boyd (at least for now), while sophomores Zach Challingsworth and Jester Weah and redshirt freshman Elijah Zeise are chief among players competing for the No. 3 job. Challingsworth might be slightly ahead of the pack at the moment, a designation that could change as soon as Saturday at the Blue-Gold spring game.

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April 14, 2015

The Secret Leadership of Ray Vinopal

Filed under: Football,Players — Chas @ 7:18 am

One of the things that stands out to me during spring practices has been how the defensive players all seem to speak so highly of Ray Vinopal. How he was the guy everyone on the defense looked to. How he played. How respected he was by his teammates.

Jevonte Pitts:

Last season wasn’t a waste, however. Pitts said he learned by watching safety Ray Vinopal, who since has graduated.

“I’m faster and in my eyes a lot better just from learning from Ray,” he said.

And how they want to step up as leaders now that he is gone.

It’ll be good for Mitchell to have a handle on the X’s and O’s because his responsibilities on this Pitt defense likely will go a step farther.

With Ray Vinopal’s graduation, there’s a leadership void in the back end of the defense that coaches hope Mitchell can help fill.

“Ray was a great leader,” Mitchell said. “I watched him a lot last year, just seeing the little things he did to keep us motivated. I’m definitely going to try to take that role this year.”

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April 12, 2015

Pitt Spring Practice #12   April 11, 2015

First off the bat please watch this 1m45s  scrimmage highlight video.  It, I suppose, captures the best plays of the scrimmage.  If so either it was a very short scrimmage or the video camera broke down right after the scrimmage started.

At any rate it is fun to watch and they are some answers to a few questions PITT fans have been asking via their comments on here.  Here I’ll write out my play-by-play breakdown of the video:

– #29 SR RB Rachid Ibrahim inside carry for nice yardage

– #7 rsFR QB Adam Bertke pass to #41JR FB Anthony Rippole (2nd team)

– #85 SO WR Jester Weah reception

– Strong inside cut and run by #5 SO RB Chris James for a TD

– Voytik to Boyd

-#6 SR DB Lafayette Pitts with an INT in front of WR #80 SO WR Zach Challingsworth

– Challingsworth with a catch down the sideline

– Pass to Tyler Boyd on a crossing route for a TD

– #11 SO QB Nate Bossory (transfer from the Air Force) pass to #30 FR FB Stephen Ezekoye (3rd team)

– Bossory to rsFR RB Quadree Ollison for long yards after the catch TD

– Bertke almost intercepted by #38 JR DB Ryan Lewis in front of Weah

– Long TD pass from Bertke to #28 rsFR Elijah Ziese

– Zeise from Bertke in right flat

– Diving catch by Zeise from Voytik

– Voytik on a keeper down the right sideline for a nice gain

– Nice inside run by Ezekoye; waits and follows blockers for a long gain

– TD pass; Voytik to Ibrahim

– Best play of scrimmage: Quadree Ollison on a nice cut inside then speed for a 60 yard TD

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April 10, 2015

Pitt Spring Practice #11  April 9, 2015

Jerry DiPaola of the Trib-Review has a very interesting Blog piece about a cultural exchange between the PITT coaching staff and four football coaches from  the Technologico de Monterrey, a university in Mexico City.  He writes a great opening bit to start the article… When Hector Gabriel Salazer Chairez saw how the Michigan State defense responded to Pat Narduzzi, he said, “I have to meet that man.”  Well, he actually said it in Spanish.”

Some old-time PITT guys showed up for practice when Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who held the same position at Pitt under Dave Wannstedt, visited practice, along with former Pitt coach Walt Harris and one of Harris’ trusted assistants, Bryan Deal.

He also put out an article about our favorite DB Lafayette Pitts and his outlook going into his senior season at PITT.  My favorite quote from it is this “The veteran member of the secondary is senior Lafayette Pitts, a three-year starter who can combine speed with toughness on his best days. Pitts and sophomore Avonte Maddox have been working with the first unit through the first 10 practices of the spring.

Narduzzi is quoted as saying this about Pitts: “Coaches expect Pitts to provide experience and leadership to a young group of cornerbacks that includes three freshmen and a sophomore. As such, he has been the target of scrutiny.“We are challenging (Pitts) every day to come out and be consistent,” Conklin said. “The corners can’t hide. What we ask them to do, every rep they have to be on.”

Good!  So they are seeing the same thing we PITT fans have seen for the last three years. 

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April 8, 2015

In-Between #10 and Other Notes

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Players — Reed @ 9:23 am

Pitt Spring Practice #10  April 7, 2015

P-G’s Craig Meyer has a feature article on rsSO Zach Challingsworth’s bid for the second receiver spot. Good luck to him as he’s got some more established competition there with Dontez Ford, Chris Wuestner both of whom have seen playing time and caught some of Voytik’s passes.  But really, there is a dearth or WRs behind Boyd and that #2 spot, and #3 and #4 for that matter, are wide open. So, throw Ziese into that mix also.

But once Adonis Jennings and Ronald Jones took off they didn’t leave much behind.

Though first-year Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said Ford is likely the No. 2 receiver for now, there’s still time for Challingsworth and others to close that gap.  “They’re all having those opportunities, and everything will come out in a wash,” Narduzzi said. “I see a lot of guys making plays.”  One thing aiding Challingsworth will be offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s scheme, which the young receiver said utilizes up-tempo and no-huddle elements that, in some ways, remind him of the offenses he was a part of at South Fayette.

Apparently ex-PITT DB Titus Howard is enrolling at Slippery Rock to continue his college football career.  Good luck to him in both football and his academic and  life pursuits.  From the Trib:

Former Pitt cornerback and Clairton graduate Titus Howard said he told Slippery Rock coach George Mihalik he plans to enroll there.  Howard was suspended last season for violating team policy and dismissed prior to spring drills

 Here is a video of our OC Jim Chaney: Video: Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney

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April 5, 2015

Bits and Pieces for the Holiday

Filed under: Football,Opponent(s),Players — Reed @ 10:17 am

Jerry DiPaola of the Trib put up a nice article about the difference in coaching styles between our old OL coach Jim Hueber and the current coach John Peterson.  What steps out is the aggressive approach of the former and the passive nature of teaching of the latter.

One good point in comparison is this:

“Coach Hueber got after you a little bit,” left tackle Adam Bisnowaty said. “Coach Pete is not like that. (He) rolls slow with you and makes sure you get the techniques down and understand everything we are doing.”

The landscape has changed on the Pitt offensive line — for the players and their coach.  Peterson’s patience can be traced to the experienced players under him. When Hueber arrived three years ago, he didn’t have that luxury. He needed to push.”

I find it kind of hard to judge the actual play of the OL during practices because being at ground level the only thing you can really see is what is right in front of you on your side of the play.  So I have to take other’s words for it then and that makes me less interested in research and commenting on that unit.  Apparently, at this point in the practices, the starting five OL shakes out like this:

“The starters include Bisnowaty, left guard Dorian Johnson, center Alex Officer, right guard Alex Bookser and right tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith.”

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April 3, 2015

Pitt Spring Practice #9;  April 2, 2015

 Pitt Live Wire Blog

PITT is moving into its final six practices of the spring sessions and starting a five day hiatus to allow the players time off over the Easter vacation weekend. How the rest of the practices break down is they will resume on Tuesday April 7th and have four straight practices in pads, then one in shorts (of the required three non-pad practices mandated by the NCAA) the end up with the Spring Game on Saturday, April 18th – see you there!

There has been a surprising level of very positive chatter about rsJR Mike Caprara since the spring drills opened.  We PITT fans know him as the ‘undersized’ Woodland Hills linebacker who broke the school’s record for tackles in a career… no small feat considering the prominence of Woodland Hills in WPIAL football.

This is something of a theme this week as just the other day we were hearing and reading about SO DE Rori Blair being ‘undersized’ for the starting role. Personally, I think that a strong drive for success, a big heart and intelligence can make up for a lot of physical shortcomings.  One way of accommodating situations like these is to put those smaller guys in the right position to succeed, such as Conklin’s moving Caprara from the MLB position and utilizing his speed and quickness on the outside.  Honestly, I have like Caprara since his recruitment and am hyped to see him get some real playing time.  You don’t do what he did in HS without some real talent and desire involved.

On a side note it is interesting that Woodland Hills has pumped out a bunch of major football players in its history.  In 2012 alone they had five alumni on NFL rosters: Rob Gronkowski, Ryan Mundy, Darrin Walls, Shawntae Spencer and Steve Breston.  Not a bad snapshot of talent and to think that Caprara bested all of the past defensive players from that HS.  Aside from Spencer they all made poor college choices of course.

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April 1, 2015

In-Between Notes #8

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Media,Players,Recruiting — Reed @ 7:25 am

Pitt Spring Practice #8  March 31, 2015

One of the more interesting developments of Spring Camp is the continuing battle for a starting LB spot between Bradley and Mike Caprara.  Not too many of us fans would have thought that would be a main issue for discussion during these practices.  Again, legit depth chart movement or motivational tool?  It may well be the this defensive minded staff sees what the last staff didn’t, at least as far as the personnel goes.  Let’s hope this is the case and we truly get the best 11 guys on the field.

Also, there is a lot of hair pulling regarding 3* Safety Tony Butler who committed to PITT last week then promptly went on recruiting trips to OSU and Michigan.  From the link:  Pittsburgh commit visiting:  Michigan will host Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward safety Tony Butler on Thursday. He committed to Pittsburgh recently, but has planned to visit Michigan for several weeks. His former high school coach, Rick Finotti, was recently hired by the Wolverines as director of football operations

Onto the actual practice stuff…

Coach Pat Narduzzi impressions on practice No. 8:

Video: Coach Pat Narduzzi

“Day eight was pretty good. We talked about adversity today, just fighting through adversity. The defense won the scrimmage the other day but it didn’t look like the offense punched back. If I punch you, you get punched back on the field. Today we talked about fighting for what you want. If you lose a period, there’s another period to come back and do it.

I thought our guys did a heck of a job. One of the best practices we’ve had so far where the guys are punching back and not taking it. Sometimes you think they’re beat today and they don’t think they can finish the practice. I’m really excited about what we did today.”

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March 31, 2015

Hints on Chaney’s Offense

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Narduzzi,Players — Justin @ 9:42 am

The defensive scheme that Narduzzi and Conklin will run is well known and analyzed. To oversimplify, it’s a 4-3 base with Quarters coverage that adapts to what the offense presents them (I have a long post on the defense that I haven’t been happy with that’s been in the works for over a month). The offense however, is a bit of an enigma. Jim Chaney left Arkansas due to the disagreement with Brett Bielema as to what direction the offense should go in. It is important for the head coach and coordinator to be on the same page and that disparity is why Chaney came to Pitt. This means what Chaney did at Arkansas isn’t necessarily what he’ll do here. At Arkansas, there were plenty of 2 TE sets and power runs. However, Chaney also has a long history with the spread offense.

Based off of what has been stated publicly, what can we expect Chaney’s offense to look like? (more…)

March 30, 2015

A common theme among PITT fans when discussing the football program, at least over the last two years, has been our defense and how poorly it has played.  There really can be no denying that opinion, especially with the taste of last season’s bowl game and Houston’s Sherman to PITT’s Georgia rampage.  This is so very obvious it wouldn’t even be worthy of any long discussion save for one fact.

PITT hired one of the best defensive minds in college ball when they pried Pat Narduzzi from his Michigan State Defensive Coordinator position.  His defenses were in the Top 25 in many major categories whereas we had one, our pass defense which is mind-blowing considering the last two quarters of our season last year:

TEAM Total Rush Pass Pass Eff.  Scoring 3rd Down 1st Down INTs TDs Sacks
MSU 8th 1st 60th 21st 22nd 21.5 ppg 8th 8th 10th 29th 8th
PITT 33rd 55th 24th 43rd 55th 26.3 ppg 40th 37th 82nd None 102nd

Yea us!!  We beat them in passing defense!!  But that was it.  The table above and the graphic and convincing numerical rank superiority that MSU had over PITT is the reason we fans are chomping at the bit to see Narduzzi and Conklin’s defense out on the field of play.

So to answer the question of the title I believe yes, it was as bad as we believed it to be in our guts.  Of course they played well in some games and made some nice plays here and there but overall we were what we looked like – bad.

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March 28, 2015

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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