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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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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

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 16, 2015

A Solid Addition For 2016

Filed under: Basketball,Recruiting — Chas @ 9:15 pm

For all the frustration of this past season. For all the questions about Pitt’s recruiting. It is easy to forget that the 2015 and now 2016 class looks pretty good.

Damon Wilson is a 4-star point guard that Pitt needs. I’m probably more optimistic about Rozelle Nix than others. Probably more than I should since the last good JUCO addition was Jermaine Dixon, and it has been nothing but whiffs since. There is still hope that Cheick Diallo chooses Pitt — which would change a lot of things.

Meanwhile the 2016 class remains anchored by Mustapha Heron. One of the top recruits nationally, and he has remained firmly with Pitt even with Assistant Coach Barry Rohhrsen going to Kentucky. Maverick Rowan was lost the minute Adidas asserted their influence (shoe deals giveth, and taketh).

The 2016 class still improves noticeably and with a position of need as Corey Manigault verbaled today.

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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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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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February 9, 2015

I’m not going to put much up this evening but want to direct your attention to some excellent pieces that Chris Dokish is posting up his on Blog Panther’s Prey.

He’s now looking at and writing about the Panther’s offensive positions going into the fall camp, not spring practices, because he includes some recruits in the 2015 class.  At the end of each piece he rates the TALENT and the DEPTH of the position.  His rating system is “Excellent”, “Very Good”, “Good”, “Average”, and “Poor”.  Which is kind of strange as “Average” falls below the mid-point, but it works with his reasoning.

He starts off three days ago with “A Look Ahead” at the current QB situation.  I agree with almost everything he has written about Voytik especially. Considering the other two QBs on the roster at this moment are unproven in a PITT uniform the spotlight is directed toward Voytik and that is as it should be with a returning starter.  He will most probably be given token competition in fall camp but let’s bet that he’s the starter and transfer SR Nathan Peterman from Tennessee will be his backup. Those fans hoping we’ll see a change at QB with either Peterman or Bertke should realize that if it happens at all it will be because of injury or if Voytik turns into an interception machine.

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February 6, 2015

LOI Day Event Recap

Filed under: Coaches,Football,Players,Recruiting — Reed @ 8:59 am

A friend and I attended the PITT LOI Day Event last night at Heinz Field and all I can really say is “Wow, that was short”. The presentations, as they were, lasted 40 minutes total with Bill Hillgrove taking five minutes to open and close the event..

I had been to an earlier one back when DW was the HC and it was more extensive and detail oriented than Wednesday’s was but what the fans and season ticket holders got the other night were very short staff introductions, small (very) bits on the recruits with a joke or two thrown it.  But, to give the staff credit the reason it was short and not super detailed was most probably because every one of those coaches have been travelling around the country for a month busting ass to get the kids to sign on with PITT and that evening was the first time they could completely relax and be with their families in a long time.

To set the scene it was held in the East Club area of Heinz Field with a small stage, hundreds of chairs lined up 12 to a row and HDTVs situated about every 30 feet around the room. PITT got a fantastic turnout with what I’d estimate to be over 600 people there, maybe even a bunch more. So it was very well attended.

Here is a recap from my notes:

Bill Hillgrove came on stage first and without much preamble introduced Pat Narduzzi to a standing ovation, then Narduzzi introduced Chancellor Gallagher and he got one from the attendees also. Narduzzi while energetic and fun to listen to has to be on speed because his mind literally overruns his mouth sometimes. He was so jittery that he couldn’t keep his body still and couldn’t finish some of his sentences because his words were jumbled up and spilling out.  But even with that it was 180 degrees different than Paul Chryst’s public speaking and 100% more enjoyable to watch and listen to.

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February 5, 2015

Post-Signing Day Hangover

Filed under: Football,Recruiting — Chas @ 7:10 pm

Okay, Pitt didn’t exactly set things ablaze with the 2015 signing class in national perception. Even before the coaching change this was going to be a small and not considered stellar recruiting class. Size matters in the calculations of class rankings. It is just a question of by how much.

Why does size matter? Because the bigger the class size, the bigger the impact on the team. Even if the class isn’t loaded with 4 and 5-star talent. The more players, the more likely — just based on quantity — there will be players that matter.

As each recruiting site weighs size differently, the impact is more noticeable. And obviously disagreements in the value of individual recruits.

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