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August 5, 2014

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

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

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

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

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August 1, 2014

I’ve been sitting down at the computer a few times over the last three days with fingers poised to write about PITT’s defense going into summer camp then the season and it has taken me some time to try to get a handle on what exactly to put out to you Blatherites.

I guess I’ll start from the very bottom and work up. Aaron Donald is gone and he ain’t coming back.  The “All-World” winner of every major award he was eligible for gave the defense its identity and leadership last year and he’ll be missed.  That isn’t cutting edge journalism folks as I just repeated what every single PITT already knows and is nervous about.

However, I’m a firm believer that in college football  players who have been in the shadows will frequently rise up and grab the reins of leadership by their play themselves.  This is what happens when underclassmen get a year or two of experience under their belts and become starters and sometimes stars.  We’ll not see anyone specific fill Donald’s shoes, he is a once in a generation player, but that doesn’t mean the staff can’t make adjustments to minimize his absence.

What I found interesting, and a bit disheartening,  is that this week Chryst stated publicly that he  heard from some of the DL kids after the season ended that they sometimes eased off a bit knowing that Aaron Donald was going to make the plays.  Here’s Chryst’s take on that and what it was like having Donald play for him.  I wholeheartedly agree that it will ‘take a village’ as Hilary says.

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July 27, 2014

Reading over the last two posts Chas wrote about the 2014 PITT football team I’ve been having a great time with the over 200 comments you guys left on them.  They show just how very ready we all are for PITT training camp to open next week and for the season to start soon afterward.  I’m just as anxious to get the ‘real life’ stuff happening and to jump in with both feet as anyone.

I’ve waited on writing another piece until the 2014 PITT Football Media Guide came out so that I at least can provide some truthful info to go with my opinions that I’ll lay out in this post, and please  remember they are my opinions unless I preface an item with “This is a no bullshit…”.  I’ll try to mix and match both though.

As to the comments on those two last articles; there are pretty detailed reasons we fans have for why we’ll probably either suck or be great – but no one seems to explain why we’ll probably be 7-6 again, or maybe 8-5 with a good bounce or two.   That’s pretty much where I am at this point of the offseason without having had my ‘boots on the ground’ as I will soon at a couple of the camp practices coming up.  Now, that projection can change either way once I see how the kids are doing during practices so nothing here is etched in stone.

Here are some of my thoughts on the offensive side of the ball going into the season.

I’m not as high on the expectation for quarterback Chad Voytik as some of us are. Yes, he did well in the bowl game and that showed me that at least he isn’t a deer in the headlights.  But beyond that I’m not convinced that he’ll match the level of play our last two QBs gave us in 2012 & 2013.  That’s right, I’m including Sunseri’s productive season of 2012 – what are you going to do about it?  That said I’m also not as panicky as some are in case Voytik gets hurt out there.

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July 17, 2014

Pitt got a verbal from another big offensive lineman. Tony Pilato — no, not this guythis guy.

In the last few months alone, the big offensive lineman from Hempfield took a pair of spring visits, attended the Panthers’ prospect camp in June and returned for another visit a week later. So when Pilato finally made his commitment Thursday, the decision was a natural one.

“I just think it was a really good process with them,” Pilato told Panther-Lair.com. “All the coaches were really genuine and they’re all great guys; I really enjoyed spending time with them and the players. When it came down to it, it was the right fit for me.

“I think it really felt natural with Pitt. I just wanted to take my time and consider all my options. But they offered me first and that was a big thing, and t was just good with them. Toward the end of the process, it just felt right with them.”

As has been the trend with Pitt’s O-line recruits in the Chryst regime, Pilato is a big ‘un at 6-7 and 310 pounds or so.

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June 28, 2014

Basketball Notes, 6/28

Filed under: Basketball,Draft,NBA,Recruiting — Chas @ 7:56 am

Mustapha Heron is still a Pitt verbal.

“I’m able to focus on my game, working on my game to fit into Pitt’s system,” Heron said at the NBPA Top 100 camp. “I don’t have to worry about who’s watching me, what type of letters are coming in, what type of calls are coming in. I can just play freely.”

With that said, the departure of assistant coach and ace recruiter Barry “Slice” Rohrssen to Kentucky has had the rumor mill whirling once again. In fact, all six predictions in the 247 Sports Crystal Ball have Heron going somewhere besides Pittsburgh.

In Virginia, Heron addressed the rumors.

“I don’t pay much attention to it,” he said. “Right now I’m just working on building a relationship with coach [Jamie] Dixon, and that’s going really well.”

Is it possible he could decommit at some point?

“That’s just something I would have to talk to my family about,” Heron said. “But as of now, no.”

That’s really all he can say. He could make absolute declarations of fealty and they would still be taken with the same meaning. The fact is he has not decommitted. He has not reopened the decision and he has not gone around on even unofficial visits to other schools.

He’s heading into his junior year of high school. He cannot sign a NLI until November 2015 at the earliest. I’m not saying he won’t change his mind. I’m just not going to spend the next year plus angsting over it.

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June 25, 2014

Isn’t it great that when all else fails we revert right back to discussing the apparently seminal topic of what wins college football games.  Of course it is the recruiting season, and recruiting season means star gazing, so let’s have at it.

Back in the spring of 2012 I did a three piece series on here about how recruiting stars equated to peer production – that is how many stars did leading college producers have and what the 1st and 2nd string All-Conference (BE and ACC) players had when they entered their respective college programs.  Just for fun, and especially if you are bored, here they are in sequence… remember to read the comments also as there was some spirited discussions back then too.   They are a bit lengthy but you guys can handle it.

So here they are:   Hitch Your Wagon to a Star,   Hitch Your Wagon II and Hitch Your Star III – ACC .  I don’t have the time or inclination to do all that research again to update to the 2013 results but I have a feeling the findings might not be that much different now and probably aren’t year to year.  Why?  Because unless you are running a huge, heavily financed football program such as the perennial Top Ten finishers do then your recruiting is going to look much like those posted results we see from two years ago.

To me there are two requirements as important as recruiting to building a winning football program. First and foremost you have to have a Head Coach and his chosen staff who get the best possible production out of the players on his roster, regardless of the players’ star factor.

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Recruiting and Ranking

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 6:37 am

It’s been well established that Coach Paul Chryst does not find recruiting to be one of his favorite things. His approach has annoyed, puzzled and infuriated plenty in just a short time.

At times he can be slow to offertalent. Ostensibly based on wanting to see them in a camp or meet with them first. Yet, he’s jumping right on that sophomore QB/punter in Wisconsin.

That’s just a side bar. The issue is that the players he gets to commit  — by and large — are not highly starred. A good chunk are players with their biggest offers from MAC schools and lower tier major conference teams.

Like it or not, the recruiting rankings are more than simply guesses. It’s why there is more excitement when a 4- star or so player gives a verbal.

For every Aaron Donald or J.J. Watt that rises well above his star ranking out of high school there are more like Jadeveon Clowney overall in the NFL Draft. Especially versus the total number of 4- and 5-star recruits in each class. The recruiting sites do a better job than we like to admit.

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June 24, 2014

Three More In the Fold

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 8:37 pm

Over the weekend Pitt pulled a verbal from Florida. Today two more were added. Chryst really likes June.

First up, running back Sekai Lindsey verballed over the weekend.

[Sekai] Lindsay, who attends Melbourne Palm Bay High School, joins defensive back Malik Henderson of Hallandale Beach, Fla.

Lindsay, 5-foot-10, 205, is rated a three-star prospect by Rivals.com. He also has offers from Cincinnati, Florida International, Georgia Tech, South Florida, Temple, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina State and Georgia Southern.

Lindsay is also considered a 3-star running back by 247. Scout.com has him at 2-stars and ESPN.com does not have an evaluation on him (and mixed up his name). Still, some decent offers do offset the star situation.

Today, saw two more verbals.

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June 18, 2014

Marlon “Smoke” Williamson was introduced as a new Pitt assistant coach yesterday.

“We are excited about Marlon becoming a member of the University of Pittsburgh community and I know he is ecstatic to be coming aboard,” Dixon said. “As a former point guard with strong knowledge of the game, Marlon will help us in recruiting, scouting and player development. We are fortunate to have a coach with his well-rounded background. Marlon is also extremely excited to be a part of our staff considering his family ties to Pittsburgh.”

The former YSU point guard is openly ambitious and perhaps a little cocky.

“Actually, my pursuit is to become a great assistant coach right now. In the future, I want to become a head coach,” Williamson said. “When you say ‘great assistant,’ you have to fill a lot of bullets. Recruiting is definitely one, but I don’t want to be singled out as just a recruiter. I can get in the film room and break down Xs and Os. The relationship with the players is a huge factor for you as a coach. It’s much easier to play for someone you respect and love versus someone you just play for. That’s what I want to strive for as a professional in this business, being able to relate to the coach, co-workers on the staff, as well as the players and their parents.”

So, like [UMass Coach Derek] Kellogg before him, Williamson made a move to put his career in an upward trajectory.

“This is a big step,” he said. “When you talk about the University of Pittsburgh and ACC, you’ve got to go get players first. Our position as assistants is to put Coach Dixon in a position to be great. I look at coach Dixon as a legend. I don’t think he hired Coach Knight or Coach Barton to be mediocre. We want to give him the tools that he can go coach those guys. Our goal is to win the last game. Why not us?”

These are not bad things for a young assistant.

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June 17, 2014

And The June Commits Continue

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 8:31 pm

A definite position of need. Defensive tackle is a spot Pitt needs to bring in some players. Today, it looks like Pitt got a good one in Kraig Howe.

Howe visited Pitt three times in the last year, with two visits in the fall and another unofficial visit this spring. After the spring visit, he spoke very highly of the Panthers.

“Pitt has been one of my favorites for a long time; really, since I got that offer,” he said after the visit. “They were my second offer and they’ve always been up there with my favorites and top choices, and this visit was really a boost for how much I could see myself playing for Pitt and going to school in Pittsburgh and playing for these coaches. I can see myself fitting in well with program and the defensive scheme and the school and the city. It’s all clicking.”

Howe had offers from BC, Northwestern, Iowa St. and Illinois. 247 ranks him as the the 53d best DT nationally (Rivals.com says 37th and Scout.com has him 45th). He is a 3-star recruit by every site.

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June 15, 2014

More Speed Added

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 9:25 am

There is an emerging theme to the recruiting class. Let’s call it what it is, “get faster.”

The latest addition to the speed force is Tre Tipton.

“I was thinking about it and me and my mom and my coach all talked, and we just said Pitt’s the place to be,” Tipton told Panther-Lair.com. “I called Coach (Paul) Chryst and I told him and he was excited. He said he can’t wait to start working with me.”

Tipton had been favoring Pitt for a long time – he was a fixture at the Panthers’ home games at Heinz Field last fall – but it was the two-day visit this past week that pushed him over the edge, since he spent those two days with current Pitt players, and that ended up being a major selling point for Pitt.

“It was the players and the people; they’re all so together, all so close-knit,” Tipton said. “The players are what sticks with you from the whole experience; they’re the ones who will mean the most when you’re there. I know that the guys that are there are the right ones for me; them and the coaches are the best ones for me.

“The coaches are of the best guys you can ever talk. They understand the process and what every young man has to do to be successful, and they’re like fathers to every guy that goes there. Everything just seems right at Pitt. I wanted it to feel like a family and ball out for four years with a family. They’re the ones for me.”

As a junior at Apollo-Ridge last season, Tipton, 6’1″ 170, caught 44 passes for 697 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. But it’s not just his scoring ability that led the Pitt coaches to offer him.

“They said I could be a very good fit for them,” he said. “They said they know I’m a hard-worker and wherever I can fit in, I’ll be able to play there. They said they think they can utilize me all over the offense.”

Tipton was also a standout defensive back, but it is clear that he wants to be on the offensive side of the ball.

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June 10, 2014

A Couple More In the Fold

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 8:18 pm

Pitt has added a couple verbals to the 2015 football class. I know this is a stunner, but they are on the offensive side of the ball.

Over the weekend, Pitt added a QB (hands off, Vanderbilt!).

Malvern Prep’s Alex Hornibrook, a strong-armed junior quarterback, committed Saturday to play at Pittsburgh. He visited the school Friday and Saturday with his parents, and threw during one of the team’s camp sessions.

“Everything just felt right,” he said. “The campus is amazing, my interaction with the coaches was great, and it’s somewhere I could easily see myself playing.”

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound southpaw, who chose Pitt over Connecticut and Rutgers, added that he is excited about the Panthers renewing their heated rivalry with Penn State beginning in 2016.

Hornibrook is a consensus 3-star QB. He is also strong academically with an offer from Yale.

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June 5, 2014

That seems to be what is happening. Everyone is watching. Everyone is waiting to see what is happening over the next couple of weeks.

With a decreasing number of players expected to leave the Pitt program this year — thanks to the stability created by coach Paul Chryst and his staff — and 49 added in the past two recruiting classes, expect this year’s group to be the smallest since Chryst welcomed 16 in 2012.

Meanwhile, coaches and officials are making plans to host about 300 high school players this weekend and next at Pitt’s UPMC training facility on the South Side for the Paul Chryst Football Camps. This is, generally, where many players make up their minds, but where they also get plenty of instruction from members of the Pitt staff and other coaches.

The next two weekends are so important to the long-range growth of the program that Chryst is skipping ceremonies at Wisconsin-Platteville on June 13 where his late father George will be honored for three decades of service as coach and athletic director.

The attrition over the first two years is not uncommon. Now it is a matter of not just being more selective, but getting the kids to decide Pitt is their best choice.

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June 4, 2014

We Got One

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 9:43 pm

Let’s  do this.

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June 2, 2014

Basketball Notes, 6/2

Filed under: Basketball,Recruiting — Chas @ 7:43 am

One week left until the summer vacation starts for the kids. Which for the first time for them — and me — means camps most of the summer. No more staying home with dad all summer to do stuff. No longer. Everyone is working outside the house this year. Not sure how much really changes for theirs or my schedule. Other than everyone being a little more sweaty from the activities.

Speaking of camp. 2016 verbal commit to Pitt basketball, Maverick Rowan, has been selected to the US contingent for the Adidas EURORCAMP in July.

The team includes top sophomore and junior high school players in the country. Included on the team are five juniors and five sophomores. Among the top juniors are Carlton Bragg, rivals.com’s No. 10 junior in the country. Other juniors are Dante Hales (No. 11) and Brandon Ingram (No. 24). Among the sophomores are 7-footer Thon Maker (No. 3 in the country), Dennis Smith (No. 16), De’Ron Davis (No. 23) and Kobi Simmons (No. 28).

The team will play against top international players who are eligible for this year’s NBA draft. The EUROCAMP is the only NBA-sanctioned pre-draft camp sanctioned by the NBA that is held outside the U.S.

“It’s a very big deal,” said Rowan. “Basically, we go over there and plays kids overseas who are training for the draft.”

Some very good company.

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