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May 7, 2015

Newkirk’s Knee

Filed under: Basketball,Injury,Recruiting,Transfer — Chas @ 12:15 pm

Josh Newkirk had knee surgery last week.

Pitt guard Josh Newkirk, who averaged 5.9 points and was second on the team with 93 assists last season, is expected to be out four to six months after having surgery to correct damage in his left knee, coach Jamie Dixon said Wednesday.

Team physician Dr. Bryson Lesniak performed the surgery last week. It involved repairing Newkirk’s lateral meniscus and a micro fracture on the outside part of his knee.

“We expect Josh to make a full recovery and rejoin his teammates for the upcoming 2015-16 season,” Dixon said. “He’ll start summer school on Monday. The surgery was a success, and we know that Josh will work hard during the rehabilitation period.”

I remain continually amazed at the ability of the Pitt athletic department to keep information so tight.

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May 4, 2015

Grad Transfers Galore

Filed under: Basketball,Recruiting,Transfer — Chas @ 7:28 am

After adding some perimeter help for the 2015-16 season in Sterling Smith, Coach Jamie Dixon and Pitt basketball grabbed some frontline help. Rafael Maia is a Brazilian-born forward who played at Brown the last three years. Like Smith, Maia is a graduate transfer and eligible to play the upcoming season.

He’s 6-9 and averaged 9.9 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last year. He brings good size inside and will be looked to to help on defense and rebounding more than anything else.

Maia had Southern Cal and Nebraska pursuing him, but decided on Pitt after his visit to USC and without taking a trip to Nebraska.

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April 29, 2015

According to Chris Peak, Pat Narduzzi tapped into his Michigan State pipeline to add former Spartan Mark Scarpinato to the team. Scarpinato, a 6’3 286 pound DT, is an interesting case. He left MSU after the 2013-14 season to go to med school at Wisconsin. At that point Scarpinato was a redshirt sophomore yet had already graduated, an impressive achievement.

Scarpinato appeared in all 14 games of his sophomore season as part of a four man defensive tackle rotation on the number one defense in the nation. I’ll look into how his eligibility will function in terms of whether or not his year off counts against him. I would assume so and that would mean the former Spartan will only be able to play this upcoming season. At worst, Scarpinato is proven depth at DT and can use his experience to aid his fellow DL in adapting to a new scheme. At best, he could be a starter on a DL that under-performed last season.

Also in recruiting news, a JUCO WR eligible to play this fall could be coming to town. Rafael Araujo-Lopes picked up an offer from Pitt, and it’s a safe bet that with Rob Harley in California today to visit him, the deal could be closed soon.

April 28, 2015

Yesterday morning my daughter left on a weeklong school trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. She had to be at the school and boarding the bus around 5 am. You can imagine the fun of trying to get a newly-minted teen roused and ready at 4 am. As eager as she was for the trip and to get away from us, it was still 4 in the frickin’ morning.

The original plan was that I would get to sleep in while my wife would do the work of getting her up and out. Taking full advantage of that maternal instinct of seeing off her little girl and all that. Naturally my wife got sick over the weekend and it fell to me. The only upside being I could get into work very early and be able to finish early. Plus, at least I wouldn’t have to worry about taking the boy to school.

All went relatively smoothly with getting the girl to her school and on the bus.Aafter the slight alteration to the plan, it seemed that this day would work out well.

By seven the wife had texted me to to let me know that the boy had vomited, and the internet was out at the house. Oh, and when was I going to get home? Yeah, work on a Monday was the safe haven. The internet is still out as it seems that the modem died. The replacement won’t arrive until Wednesday. Given the rapid rate this one crapped out, I finally broke down and ordered an additional modem so that there is a back-up ready to be swapped out to avoid the agony of no computer access. No streaming video service. It is suddenly very quiet in the house.

This is a roundabout, complaining way of explaining why there was no immediate posting on the latest player to transfer into Pitt football.

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April 24, 2015

Help On the Perimeter

Filed under: Basketball,Recruiting,Transfer — Chas @ 7:21 am

Well, a domino fell Pitt’s way. Damion Lee is a graduate transfer from Drexel, and yesterday he opted to go to Louisville. That was enough for another graduate transfer, Sterling Smith, to rule out the Cards and opt for Pitt.

BorzSterlingSmith is a 6-4 guard, though I’ve also seen him listed at 6-2. Love the accuracy of measurements of high school and college players.

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April 21, 2015

Talking Philly Recruiting

Filed under: Basketball,Recruiting — Chas @ 7:12 am

In light of the utterly predictable, but still frustrating, decommitment by Mustapha Heron. Coupled with the transfer of Durand Johnson. Pitt has been offering some other players. Notably some players for 2015 and 2016 in the Philadelphia area.

Friend of the site, and former contributor/liveblog moderator, Josh Verlin has been back in Philly making a name for himself with relentless work covering the local basketball scene. That makes him one of the go to sources for information on recruiting of Philly kids. You can find him at his site and on twitter.

Josh was nice enough to take time out of a busy time of the year for those that cover recruiting to answer some questions.

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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 14, 2015

Welp.

Durand Johnson was suspended for the past season for an unspecified violation of a university policy, though Pitt coaches were hoping he’d return for his senior season.

But that is not going to happen. Jamie Dixon announced today Johnson is no longer a member of the program and he will help the senior guard transfer somewhere to play his final season.

“It is time to move on,” Dixon said. “It is time to look for another guy to look for the opportunity to step up. We were aware of this [Johnson not being reinstated and moving on would be the likely outcome] recently.

“We are now going to help Durand in any way that we can find a good situation to finish his college career. I can’t obviously speak to the specifics of the situation but it should be said that we have had no other issues with Durand.”

That was kept well under wraps.

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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 9, 2015

To the surprise of no one, Joseph Uchebo and Tyrone Haughton are not returning to the basketball team for 2015. Uchebo because he just cannot play because of his injury — though the official word has yet to me made presumably waiting until he graduates. Tyrone Haughton never made it off the bench. The JUCO transfer couldn’t show anything in practice to get playing time over a hobbled Uchebo, the warm body of Derrick Randall and then Aron Philips-Nwankwo even outworked him for playing time.

Pitt remains perilously thin in the front court. Rozelle Nix is coming, but the big fish is still out there. Chieck Diallo has yet to make his decision.

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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 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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March 27, 2015

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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