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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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Something to Chew On

Filed under: Basketball,Conference,Football,Media — Reed @ 7:48 am

I just saw this article from DiPaola of the Trib and thought it would be good to get your collective blood pressure up before you really start your weekend…

New Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said Friday former Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson never received proper credit for the Panthers’ move from the Big East to the ACC.

“I hope people realize what an unbelievable job Steve Pederson did for Pitt basketball and the university,” Howland said on TribLive Radio. “You would not be in the ACC today were it not for his vision.”

Pederson hired Howland in 1999 and guided the Panthers to two NCAA Tournament appearances in four seasons.  Howland left Pitt for UCLA, where he guided the Bruins to three consecutive Final Four appearances, including a national runner-up finish in 2005-2006. His lead assistant with the Panthers, Jamie Dixon, succeeded him at Pitt.  UCLA fired Howland after the 2012-13 season. Mississippi State hired Howland on Tuesday.  Pitt fired Pederson in December.

If Pitt was still in Pitt Stadium and playing in (Fitzgerald Field House), you’d be in the AAC in a no-bid league with (non-revenue) football and wondering what we’re going to do next,” Howland said.

Discuss please until we have news from today’s scrimmage to talk about…

Note: the number to call if you feel like you are about to hurt yourself or others is 1-800-STEVEAD

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 24, 2015

2015’s Prospective Starters – QB

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

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

Quarterback

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

Voytik

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

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

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

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

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

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March 22, 2015

In-Between Practice Notes #4

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

In-Between Practice Notes #4

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

Video: Saturday scrimmage highlight package

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

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

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

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

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

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

DB Terrish Webb intercepted a pass on a tipped ball.

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

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

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

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That NC State team showed up last night. The one loaded with talent. Swift, long guards who can shoot from the perimeter and keep the other team’s guards from getting open looks. A burly frontcourt that can dominate on both ends. Most importantly, their collective head stayed in the game the entire way. You watch them on a night like that and wonder how they are not a top-ten team.

Then you think back to the game against LSU where they didn’t show up for the first half (and a chunk of the second). The BC game. A slew of others, and it boggles the mind. I don’t trust them, but I’m not surprised by anything they do at this point.

Notre Dame made it to the Sweet 16 to keep the ACC perfect in the Tournament so far. Did not expect that.

The Big East is survived by Xavier. Other than Villanova going down last night, this is not totally surprising. Georgetown was a popular upset pick against Eastern Washington, so the fact that they made it to Saturday before losing is a kind of progress… I guess. St. John’s had no chance once it was learned that Chris Obekpa was suspended.

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March 21, 2015

Woefully poor form of me not to acknowledge the Women’s Hoop team. They made the NCAA Tourney and play today at 11 am on ESPN3.com against Chattanooga. An amazing turnaround.

As for the other NCAA Tourney…

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March 20, 2015

In-Between Practice Notes #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Well that first day was predictably bananas.

UCLA and the Alfords continue to lead a charmed life.

The Big 12 faceplants — hard. Texas down to Butler. Iowa State never put away UAB, destroying brackets everywhere.

Then there was Baylor blowing a huge lead against Georgia State. Creating an all-time moment at the buzzer. Both for the shot by R.J. Hunter and Head Coach/Dad Ron Hunter.

I can’t tell you how many times I keep watching that.

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