Friday, March 3, 2017

Top 10 WPIAL 2018 Prospects (Pre-Spring Edition)

A look at the top 10 prospects in the WPIAL heading into the camp and combine season.

1. Phil Jurkovec, Pine-Richland HS (Gibsonia) QB- Already 6'5" 190 pounds, he's also very athletic, and he has a good arm. An elite, nationally recruited player, he would have been a huge coup for Pitt, but he has already committed to Notre Dame. The Panthers will continue to recruit him, but I doubt that anything will come of it.

2. Kwantel Raines, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa) S- Great length at 6'3" 190 pounds, plus he has very good speed and athleticism. Also has the frame to add enough weight to be a smaller linebacker, too. Should come down to Pitt or Penn State, but other early offers have come from WVU, Louisville, Virginia Tech, LSU, Michigan State, Wisconsin, California, Maryland, and TCU.

3. Devin Danielson, Thomas Jefferson HS (Jefferson Hills) DT- Already a solid 6'3" and 290 pounds, this kid is quick, strong, and tenacious. Appears to like Pitt the most so far, and the Panthers have offered, as have WVU, Virginia, Louisville, UCLA, and others.

4. Blake Zubovic, Belle Vernon Area HS (Belle Vernon) OT- A true left tackle prospect, who is also very quick for a kid that's already 6'6" and 295 pounds. He is also has a body with little fat, so he can get much bigger. Played some defensive end last year and was a bit of a force at that huge size, which shows you just how mobile he is. Pitt was the first offer, and they may appear to be the leader, but other offers so far include WVU, Virginia, Northwestern, NC State, Maryland, Boston College, and Minnesota.

5. Jake Kradel, Butler Area HS (Butler) OG/DT- Tough kid that will get a lot of offers, not only because of talent, but because he can project at center, guard, offensive tackle, and defensive tackle. Most want him for offense, but the Panthers like him as a defensive tackle. He definitely has the size and quickness to be a good defensive player in college. He and his family are big Pitt fans, and season ticket holders, so that can't hurt. Pitt has offered, and other offers include WVU, Boston College, NC State, Maryland, Minnesota, Wake Forest, Iowa State, Purdue, and Rutgers.

6. David Green, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) DT- Even though he's currently listed at 6'2" and 250 pounds, he looks much bigger than that. Moves well, strong, and tenacious. Should eventually be around 285 pounds, and when he reaches that size, he could be a destructive wrecking ball in college. Early offers include Pitt, WVU, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Iowa State.

7. TJ Banks, East Allegheny HS (North Versailles) TE- Has the great frame at 6'5" and 230 pounds to easily had 25 or 30 pounds in college. At that size, with his strength and athleticism, he could be a beast. Pitt has offered, and are in great shape. WVU, Maryland, and Syracuse are among his other offers.

8. Julian Major, Penn Hills HS (Pittsburgh) WR- At 6'1" and 170 pounds, he needs to fill out a lot, but he is a fast and slick receiver that could be very good in college. I have no idea why Pitt hasn't offered, but Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kentucky, Boston College, and Iowa State have so far.

9. Marcus Hooker, New Castle HS (New Castle) S- Doesn't have blazing speed, and he's not really big at 5'11" 185, but he's athletic, strong, and tough. The younger brother of  former Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, and to me strong safety seems looks like his best position. Early offers include WVU, Rutgers, Cincinnati, and Temple.

10. Kenny White, West Allegheny HS (Imperial) CB/S- A solid 6'0" 185 with good straight line speed. Could project at safety, or maybe cornerback. Iowa State and Buffalo are his early offers so far.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Post-LOI Look at the Pitt Defense and Special Teams

DEFENSIVE LINE: All-star defensive end Ejuan Price is gone, as are starting defensive tackles Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto. That's the bad news. The good news is that there's a lot of raw talent remaining, especially at tackle.

First, at end, where 6'4" 260 pound redshirt junior Dewayne Hendrix should finally get his chance to shine. The former Tennessee transfer has NFL potential, but because of his transfer, and then an injury in the opener last year, he has barely played in the last two seasons. With a big season, he could be a high NFL draft choice, so the incentive is there to have a big year. Now he just has to live up to his massive potential.

At the other end, the position looks wide open. Redshirt senior Rori Blair, 6'4" and 245 pounds, has started 20 games in his three seasons, but he still hasn't been better than mediocre. He had 5 sacks as a redshirt freshman, but then had 5 sacks the next two seasons combined. Another 6'4" 245 pound senior, Allen Edwards, has only been on the field for one season because he came from the junior college ranks, but he started 4 games last season, and looked promising at the end of the year. He came up with 1.5 sacks in that time, but also 13 tackles, which is only 9 fewer than Blair. Redshirt junior James Folston, 6'3" 245 pounds, also lettered last year, and will be in the mix.

Those three will be pushed by at least two redshirt freshman, and maybe four. The two for sure- Patrick Jones and Rashad Weaver- have ideal size. Jones is 6'5" and 250 pounds, and Weaver is 6'5" and 255 pounds. Both have a lot of promise, and Weaver, a former Michigan commit, got the attention of Pitt of Pitt coaches in practices last year. The third, 6'1" 240 pound Zack Gilbert, is one of two wildcards. He has great potential, but sat out last season because of a heart condition. If he gets a clean bill of health, he will be a possibility to see the field.

Another wildcard is redshirt freshman Kaezon Pugh. Recruited as a linebacker, there has been some talk that he is moving to end. If he does, he better be bigger than the 6'1" 210 pounds that he was listed at this past season, because that will not be big enough this year to play at that position. If he gets up to 230 pounds before the season, though, then he could be a major contender for playing time.

Two incoming freshmen- 6'4" 250 pound Deslin Alexandre, and 6'5" 240 pound Carson Van Lynn- will be redshirted, but should have bright futures.

At tackle, things look a little more promising. In fact, things are getting downright exciting. Holdover Jeremiah Taleni, a 6'2" 290 pound redshirt senior, was recruited from the state of Hawaii by former Pitt coach Paul Chryst a long time ago, but to his credit he stayed, and now he's finally getting a chance to be a major part of the defense. Despite playing in just 7 games last year, and starting only 3, he still came through with 24 tackles and 3 sacks.

At the other tackle spot, it may come down to two highly recruited players that came to the Panthers last year- 6'3" 280 pound sophomore Amir Watts, and 6'4" 280 pound redshirt freshman Keyshon Camp. Watts played sparingly in 6 games last season, and in what little time he was on the field, he showed that he can be a bull. I predict big things from him, maybe as soon as this year. But to do so he will have to beat out Camp, who also has big time potential

But there is more on the defensive line than just those three. Redshirt junior Shane Roy, 6'4" 280 pounds, will be a veteran in the mix, and it's possible that 6'4" 315 pound redshirt junior Mike Herndon, who I mentioned in the offense article as a possibility to move back to that line. With him, it just may come down to see where he's needed more for depth.

Redshirt freshman Rashad Wheeler, 6'3" 290 pounds, also has a bright future and could be in the mix as soon as this year, and 6'4" 300 pound juco redshirt sophomore Kam Carter has the size, strength, speed, and talent to play a lot immediately. He could even start if Watts or Camp aren't ready to take over as a starter. Incoming 6'2" 315 pound freshman Jaylen Twyman will probably be a future starting nose tackle, but the depth may afford him the opportunity to redshirt this season.

Bottom line- While the experience level is very low with this group, the talent level is pretty high. There would be some questions in a starting line of Hendrix, Edwards, Taleni, and Watts, as an example, but potentially it can also be a very good starting line, especially if Hendrix and Watts live up to their potential. Carter is also capable of providing instant impact, maybe even as a starter. Then there are possible surprises like Weaver, Gilbert, Pugh, Camp, and even Edwards. As of the time of this writing, the Panthers don't have a defensive line coach, so it will be interesting to see who is named, and if he can ultimately unlock the potential of this group.


LINEBACKER: Three out of the four leading tacklers at linebacker have moved on, but that's not a bad thing. The truth is, the unit has been, at best, mediocre for years.

At middle linebacker, Matt Galambos has departed, but that means 6'2" 240 pound redshirt senior Quintin Wirginis finally gets his chance to start. He has been brought in on third down for the past few seasons, but even in limited time he was more productive than Galambos in many ways. He is also much faster and more athletic. It's likely that this will be an upgrade.

The same may be said of the other two linebacker spots. At the "star" linebacker, which is on the long side of the field, 6'0" 210 pound redshirt junior Oluwaseun Idowu returns after starting last season. The former walk on amassed 74 tackles, but didn't make a lot of splash plays. His main competition could be 6'2" 225 pound redshirt junior Elijah Zeise, who is bigger and at least as athletic. He was neck and neck with Idowu entering last season, but was lost for the season in the opener. His development is crucial for the unit.

Three younger contenders will also throw their hats in the ring. Anthony McKee, a 6'2" 210 pound redshirt sophomore, has not got on the field yet, and now is the time or he'll be in danger of getting passed over. Two incoming freshmen, 6'2" 210 pound Cam Bright, and 6'1" 210 pound Albert Tucker, can fly. Both may redshirt, because it's a tough position to play as a true freshman, but because of their topnotch speed and athleticism their future is very bright. Both are the type of star linebacker that Idowu is not, and that the defense needs, so the best case scenario is that one of them surprises in camp and works their way onto the field in their first year.

Middle linebacker and the "money" linebacker spot are pretty interchangeable, but a starter will be needed at the money linebacker to go alongside Wirginis in the middle. That shouldn't be a problem. The two main contenders here are 6'0" 210 pound redshirt sophomore Salem Brightwell, and 6'2" 220 pound redshirt freshman Chase Pine. Brightwell showed a lot of promise as a redshirt freshman last year, and had a knack for making plays. He should only get better. Pine redshirted last year, but he also has the skills to get on the field a lot this year.

A potential backup in the middle could be 6'2" 225 pound redshirt freshman Elias Reynolds, who has the potential to be a strong run stopper. Incoming freshman Kyle Nunn, who at 6'3" and 200 pounds is very athletic, will probably redshirt, but he also has very good potential.

Bottom line: This group is still a work in progress. There is some potential, but there are also still a lot of questions. Wirginis should do well in the middle, but there's no experience behind him. Brightwell and Pine should make a nice duo at the money linebacker if they can overcome their inexperience. At star linebacker, there needs to be an upgrade over Idowu, and maybe a healthy Zeise can be it. Depth on the outside is also a question, unless McKee or one of the freshman come through.


DEFENSIVE BACK: Last year, this group was a disaster. I just may get that out right away. The good news is, it should be better this season, and maybe even a lot better.

Beginning with the cornerbacks first, the leading contenders to start should be 5'9" 180 pound senior Avonte Maddox, and 6'1" 180 pound sophomore Damar Hamlin. Maddox has been a lightning rod for some fans, but that's mostly unfair. The Panthers faced an obscene amount of top quarterbacks and receivers last year, and Maddox, with little help from the free safety spot, was put in a pretty impossible position. In those situations, all but the most elite cornerbacks would struggle. He did end up with an incredible 8.5 tackles for loss, plus 3 interceptions, and 8 more pass breakups. Saying he was the best cornerback for the Panthers last year is damning him with faint praise, but he was.

Hamlin, as any Pitt fan knows, was an elite prospect when he arrived at Pitt last season, and the fans clamored for him all year. Unfortunately, Hamlin, who was behind at the beginning of the season because of injuries, was injured again once he finally did get on the field. He struggled when he was out there, but he was a true freshman, and should be much better next year. All he has to do is stay on the field.

Hamlin and Maddox are far from sure things to start, however, since there are five other candidates that will try to wrestle the starting spot away from them. The three returnees of those five are 6'0" 180 pound redshirt sophomore Dane Jackson, 5'10" 175 pound redshirt junior Phillipie Motley, and 6'0" 185 pound redshirt sophomore Malik Henderson. Both Jackson and Motley showed at times that they could develop into solid corners in the future.

Two very exciting redshirt freshman are entering the scene in 6'0" 190 pound Therran Coleman and 6'3" 205 pound Henry Miller. Coleman is a local kid that has big time athleticism, while Miller is the rare physical freak that can play cornerback at 6'3". If either, or both, play up to their massive ability this year, it would be a godsend.

Two incoming freshman- 6'0" 190 pound Jason Pinnock, and 5'11" 185 pound Damarri Mathis- have excellent length and speed. Both could be really good in the future, but the chances are great that they'll both redshirt.

At safety, things also look better. At strong safety, 5'11" 190 pound junior Jordan Whitehead returns after breaking his arm late last season. He wasn't quite as good as a sophomore as he was as a freshman, but he still has the ability to bounce back to being a possible All-American candidate.

At free safety, Terrish Webb struggled immensely last season, but he is gone, so a new starter will have to be found. That shouldn't be a problem with 6'0" 175 pound freshman Paris Ford arriving on the scene. It's not often that I pencil in a true freshman as a starter, but if Ford doesn't start the opener, he will most likely, barring injury, start soon after.

But there are other good safeties in the mix, too. Backing up Whitehead at strong safety should again be 5'10" 190 pound redshirt junior Dennis Briggs. Competing with him for time will be 6'1" 195 pound redshirt freshman Phil Campbell. At free safety, battling Ford for minutes will be 6'2" 185 pound redshirt sophomore Jay Stocker, and 6'1" 175 pound redshirt freshman Bricen Garner. Stocker got some time on the field at the end of last season, while Garner has a nose for the ball.

Bottom line- It's going to be hard to convince some people that the secondary could be a lot better, but I have to say anyway that there's a real possibility that the secondary could be a lot better. If Whitehead returns to form, and Hamlin and Ford live up to their potential, there will be an enormous improvement. And these are three elite talents so it's not unimaginable.

Also, last year's underclassmen, like Jackson, Motley, and Stocker, should get better now that last year's shellshocked season is over. Throw in some very talented redshirt freshmen like Coleman, Miller, Campbell, and Garner, and you can see that there may be light at the end of the tunnel sooner than people think.


SPECIAL TEAMS: Chris Blewitt and his unfortunate name are gone so a new placekicker will have to be named. The most likely option will be 6'3" 180 pound redshirt freshman Alex Kessman. He arrived at Pitt as a gray shirt last season, and he now will be on scholarship. He has a great leg, but what he does under pressure is still to be determined. Giving him some competition will be preferred walk on freshman Grant Kersh.

For the fourth straight year the punter will be 6'5" 210 pound redshirt senior Ryan Winslow. He was 35th nationally in net punting last year but his career 41.3 yard career average is mediocre. It will be tough to beat out a player about to be a four year starter, but Winslow will be pushed by incoming 6'1" 210 pound freshman Kirk Christodoulou. What's most interesting about Christodoulou is that he's from the Australian training facility that is cornering the market on excellent punters, not only in college football, but also in the NFL.

The return man on punts and kicks will again be 5'8" 190 pound junior Quadree Henderson, and since he was a consensus All-American at the position last season, it's safe to say that this is a team strength.


CONCLUSION: Once again, on paper, the defense looks to be behind the offense. It was very apparent that former head coach Paul Chryst recruited much better on offense than on defense, so the offensive side of the ball was much further ahead in Narduzzi's first two years. But surprisingly, Narduzzi's staff is also recruiting better on offense, than on defense, at least as far as players that are ready to play early in their career. Put another way, on the offensive side, the staff is recruiting more established talents, whereas on the defensive side, the players being brought in are more developmental.

That's not to suggest that the defense won't be very good soon, maybe even this year. There's a lot more talent, athleticism, and speed than what the defense had when Narduzzi arrived, but few of those players have actually established themselves on the field yet.

Whitehead is still the only known commodity on the defense. Maddox should at least be solid, while others, like Wirginis and Taleni, were good during spot duty, but now have to be better as full-time starters.

After that small group, there's a lot of players with raw talent that so far in their careers have done little, or nothing. Of course, in most cases it's because they are too young to do anything, so it's not a criticism as much as it is a fact.

On the defensive line alone, the senior Edwards, and the junior Hendrix, have potential to take a major step up next year as sack artists, but they haven't done it yet. Youngsters like Watts, Camp, Carter, Wheeler, Weaver, Twyman, Jones, Pugh, and maybe Gilbert if he comes back, are loaded with potential, but again, they have yet to do anything. That means there could be as many as twelve linemen that are very talented, but that still have questions about just how good they will be. Some of this group will develop next year, the only question is, how many will develop, and just how good will they be?

At linebacker, like defensive end, the staff has not brought in a lot of players that are ready to play early. Raw talent, yes, but it's mostly developmental talent. Pugh moving to end has not helped a linebacker unit that's been struggling for years now. Wirginis, Zeise, Brightwell, and Pine will have to live up to their potential to finally get this unit above mediocre.

If the pass rush becomes more consistent and the secondary improves, the defense will take major strides. I don't like to put too much pressure on a freshman, but I really do believe that Ford will make the secondary significantly better, which will also make the defense as a whole significantly better. Last year's free safety, Terrish Webb, missed making a play an alarming number of times. Ford is many steps above Webb is speed and talent, and he should make an immediate impact. A highly talented free safety like Ford will help Whitehead regain his form, and with strong safeties, the cornerbacks should be better. Helping the unit is that the much ballyhooed 2016 defensive back class should now start to make an impact.

Bottom line, the defense is very inexperienced, very young, and very untested, but also very talented and athletic. The defense will eventually be very good with all of this talent, but there may be too many questions that need to be answered to make such a drastic step up in just one season. But if the staff gets enough of these young, talented kids to reach their potential early, a step or two up is definitely possible.

As for the special teams, Henderson's returns are an enormous plus, but the kicking game is a major question mark until Kessman actually starts making some kicks.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Post-LOI Look at the Roster



QUARTERBACK: The emergence of Nathan Peterman coincided perfectly with the arrival of Matt Canada, as Peterman was the perfect quarterback at the perfect time. But even though both are gone now, all is not lost. Enter accomplished veteran offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and USC transfer quarterback Max Browne. The 6'5" 220 pound Browne was once rated the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country, and he has the size, arm, and brains to still reach his massive potential. He also has a lot of incentive to be great this year. With a big year he could go as high as the first round, since he does have that type of raw talent. Now we'll have to see if Watson can get it out of him.

Behind Browne will likely be his heir apparent, 6'5" 240 pound Thomas MacVittie. The redshirt freshman has even more physically impressive than Browne. He's bigger, his arm is just as good, and he is a big time athlete that runs extremely well. Because he's expected to take over in 2018, we will probably see the field next season.

Behind the big two there are 6'2" 215 pound redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci, and 6'2" 190 pound freshman Kenny Pickett. DiNucci did a few nice things in the bowl game when he was called on, but barring injury he may not see the field much, if it all, next season. Pickett is athletic, and he's a very accurate passer, but he will definitely be redshirted.

Bottom line- The lack of big time quarterback play has held back many good teams from being excellent teams over the years, and that includes Pitt. Peterman turned into a pleasant surprise, and just as it looked like the Panthers would have to get by with the inexperienced MacVittie, Pat Narduzzi hit the jackpot again with Browne. When Narduzzi arrived, the starting quarterback was the struggling Chad Voytik. If he can go from Peterman, to Browne, to MacVittie, and have all three succeed, then the Narduzzi regime will be very successful. And in the 2018 class, elite quarterback prospect Kevin Doyle, who already liked the Panthers, is also very close with Watson from when he was offered at Indiana. Landing him would make this promising position even more exciting over the next five years.


RUNNING BACK: James Conner is gone, but this may still be the deepest unit on the team. There are five halfbacks that are good enough to start next season. The favorite going into spring practice may be 5'11" 210 pound sophomore Chawntez Moss. A surprise this past season, because most thought he'd redshirt, Moss used his speed and toughness to get on the field. Against Marshall in the first half of the season, he had 97 yards on 12 carries, and some actually thought he had passed Conner on the depth chart. However, Conner then sprung back to full health and Moss saw less carries the rest of the year.

The other veterans in the mix are 5'11" 225 pound junior Darrin Hall, and 6'2" 230 pound redshirt junior Qadree Ollison. Hall was a coveted, highly ranked prospect coming out of high school, but so far he has not lived up to his potential with only 417 rushing yards combined over his first two years. Worse yet, at one point in the offseason he was considered the top choice to pick up the slack for Conner until he got back into playing shape, but instead he got passed up by Moss. The talent is there, but if he doesn't take advantage of Conner's absence this time, he probably missed his window forever.

Ollison came out of nowhere two years ago to fill in for Conner after he went down in the first game with a season ending knee injury. He responded with 1,121 yards and 12 total touchdowns while being named the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year. As a sophomore, though, his carries fell from 212 carries to 33 carries. Ollison always runs hard, but his overall skill set is not at the same level as the other backs, so the chances of him getting a lot of carries again are probably not very good.

And two of the reasons for that are incoming freshmen Todd Sibley and Anthony Davis. The 5'9" 215 pound Sibley is a between the tackles chain mover with enough breakaway speed to sometimes turn an 8 yard run into a 20 yard run. He's also the type of back that could carry 30 times every once in awhile, if you need him to do that. The 6'0" 205 pound Davis is a different type of back in that he's fast, quick, and great in the open field. He also has good hands, and could be used in the same ways that Quadree Henderson is used.

If having five talented running backs isn't good enough, the returning starter at fullback is living legend George Aston, a 6'0" 245 redshirt junior that had 10 total touchdowns last year and viciously blocked every defender that came his way.

Bottom line- It wasn't long ago that Rushel Shell transferred away from Pitt, and the Panthers were forced to start a little known freshman named James Conner. Even two years ago, when Conner went down, the Panthers had no choice but to throw in another freshman, Qadree Ollison. There was a very fine line in both seasons where disaster was very close. But both running backs came through. Things are different now because there are now five running backs that are capable of running for 1,000 yards on this team, if they got starter carries. One of them actually did run for 1,000 yards in college, as a freshman, and he may be the fifth best one as far as pure talent.


WIDE RECEIVERS: Six of the seven top receivers are back, with only Dontez Ford graduating. And he had only 288 yards receiving. If that wasn't good enough, there could be two newcomers that will be in the mix.

As for those returning, the top receiver last year, 6'3" 210 pound redshirt senior Jester Weah, is back after one of the more surprising Pitt seasons in recent history. Criticized even up into the beginning of the season for having bad hands, he shut everybody up by coming up with a season that included 870 yards receiving, 10 touchdowns, and an incredible 24.2 yards a catch. Weah not only has great size, but he's also one of the fastest football players in the country, and that includes the NFL. And the NFL is where he may end up if he has another season like that. And with Browne behind center, his reception totals may go up, too.

It remains to be seen how new offensive coordinator Shawn Watson uses 5'8" 190 junior Quadree Henderson, but rest assured, he'll be used. The All-American return man has to do better in the passing game, where he had just 286 yards receiving last year, but on jet sweeps Henderson was a terror with 631 yards rushing on a crazy 10.5 yards a carry, and 5 touchdowns. If Watson is smart he'll continue to use the jet sweeps with Henderson because he's too talented to waste.

Four other returning veterans are Tre Tipton, Aaron Mathews, Maurice Ffrench, and Rafael Araujo-Lopes. The 6'0" 190 pound redshirt junior, Tipton, has battled injuries for two years. If he isn't healthier this season he will be in danger of getting passed over on the depth chart. The talent is there to be a solid all around receiver, however. Mathews showed as a true freshman last year that he has a bright future. At 6'4" and 190 pounds he has the length, and he also proved to be a superb blocker. Ffrench was utilized as Henderson's backup, and while he caught no passes, he did run 12 times for 10.2 yards a carry and 2 touchdowns. Late in the season he was used on defense for a few plays, so there's always a chance that he could move to cornerback. Araujo-Lopes is a quick little 5'9" 185 pound redshirt junior that ran 6 times and caught 3 passes. He also did well on special teams, which could be his future with such competition.

Speaking of competition, things will get even more competitive now that 6'3" 190 pound redshirt freshman Ruben Flowers, and 6'1" 205 pound true freshman Michael Smith, have entered the fray. Flowers was a highly ranked, coveted receiver that redshirted last season. With a year in the system he could now be heavily in the mix for playing time. Smith has a nice array of traits, including speed, and he may just have to enough talent to see the field in his first year.

Incoming freshmen Darian Street and Dontavius Butler will probably redshirt, though Butler has a college ready body that gives him a chance to get on the field as a freshman.

Bottom line- This is going to be a very interesting group next season. There is some talent here, but the group was very young and raw last year so the results weren't overwhelming. But with a year of seasoning, a new offensive coordinator, and a quarterback with a big arm, the results could improve a good deal. The only thing we know for sure is that Weah will start, and Henderson will get the ball in a variety of ways. After that, there will be a mad scramble to see who joins them at the top.


TIGHT ENDS: Starter Scott Orndoff is gone, as is his backup, Jaymar Parrish. But the talent that is arriving is extremely impressive. Leading the way are 6'6" 255 redshirt sophomore Chris Clark, and 6'5" 280 pound freshman Charles Reeves.

Clark took a circuitous route to Pittsburgh, and he has a lot to prove to his detractors. But he is the former No. 1 tight end prospect in the country so he has massive talent just waiting to be tapped. He sat out last year after transferring from UCLA, and while sitting out he hurt his knee in preseason practices. Now it's his time to shine.

Clark can not falter as the starter because Reeves is right there with him as far as talent. He's a huge 280 pounds, but amazingly he's not overweight. He's just an enormous human being. And if that's not impressive enough, he has excellent speed and athleticism for that size. He was used mostly as a huge wideout in high school, but obviously the size is there to be a good blocker, too.

Two other freshmen arriving on the scene are two locals- 6'4" 245 pound Tyler Sear, and 6'7" 260 pound Grant Carrigan. Sear is the smaller of the two, but he's hardly small. Cardigan is big, but can get downfield pretty well. He's more of a receiver than an inline blocker right now. One of them may have to come through as a blocker immediately. But the Panthers staff are also looking to add a graduate transfer so that the position can have more experience.



Bottom line- The experience is practically nil, but the talent is highly impressive. The staff needed to restock, and they did a fantastic job of doing that. Both Clark and Reeves have NFL potential, and Sear and Carrigan are good developmental prospects. A grad transfer would be a nice touch.


OFFENSIVE LINE: The unit lost two really good linemen in Adan Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson, but the cupboard is not bare. The next star on the line is 6'6" 300 pound redshirt junior Brian O'Neil. A former 2-star tight end, O'Neill is now looking like a possible future first round pick thanks to his length and great feet. He's been the starter the past two seasons at right tackle, but with Bisnowaty gone from the left tackle spot, he could switch over.

The other starting tackle will be 6'7" 325 pound redshirt senior Jaryd Jones-Smith, who finally gets his chance to shine in his last year. He has a lot to prove, and should play accordingly. The talent is there to play in the NFL. It's still unknown if he'll be on the left side or the right side.

At guard, 6'6" 315 pound redshirt junior Alex Bookser returns to one of the spots, and he should be reaching an all-conference level next season. At the other guard spot, 6'4" 335 pound redshirt senior Alex Officer had mixed results last year as the center, but that was mostly due to snapping issues from time to time. He should be more solid at guard. His expected replacement, should he make the expected switch to guard, will be 6'3" 310 pound redshirt junior Connor Dintino, who made the switch from defensive tackle last year and impressed the coaches in practices.

The depth is much more questionable, but that's more because of experience than talent. At tackle, 6'5" 320 pound redshirt sophomore Tony Pilato, and 6'6" 365 pound redshirt freshman Justin Morgan,   have to come through if there is going to be depth. Two incoming freshmen, 6'6" 325 pound Carter Warren, and 6'5" 315 pound Jerry Drake, are going to be very good, but it's hard to see time as a true freshman on the offensive line. One of them may be forced into action, though. Another incoming freshman, 6'6" 265 pound Gabe Houy, also has good potential, but he will redshirt next season because he needs to get bigger.

At guard, 6'5" 300 pound redshirt freshman Brandon Ford showed in practices last year that he could possibly help this year, and he may be needed. At 6'4" and 280 pounds, another redshirt freshman, Bryce Hargrove, will also be in the mix. Mike Herndon, a 6'4" 315 pound redshirt junior, was on defense last year, but was on offense before that. He may need to move back to offense again.

If Dintino goes down, Officer will need to go back to center and Ford may have to step in. Another center, 6'3" 270 pound Owen Drexel, was brought in, but he's not big enough yet, and will have to redshirt.

Bottom line- The starters should be good, and O'Neill is All-American caliber. Jones-Smith and Bookser are all-star candidates, too. The depth is very questionable, however. There's always a chance that Warren or Drake could see reserve minutes, and they do already have college size, but it would be better for their development if they redshirted. Realistically, barring a rash of injuries, only an extra guard and an extra tackle are needed, and local products Pilato and Ford may have to really come through to provide solid backup minutes. I would also suspect that the staff is on the lookout for a grad transfer to provide some experience as a backup.


Conclusion: The Panthers offense will have a very different look next season. That's a scary thought for an offense that was one of the best in school history. There's a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback, and a new tight end, plus two future NFL offensive lineman and one of the best, most inspirational players that Pitt ever had, are gone.

While it sounds dire when you say it like that, there's still a lot to like. New offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is an experienced coach that has a lot to prove after his stint at Texas did not go well. He will get a chance to do what he wants from Narduzzi, but only to a certain extent. Narduzzi wants an explosive offense that was similar to the offense he had last season. As long as Watson is somewhat similar in style to the offense Matt Canada ran, the offense should do well. Will it be as good as last year's offense? That's asking a lot, but it doesn't have to be as good. It just needs to be good.

Watson was given a gift when he arrived to see Browne on the campus. He has first round NFL potential, and this is his last chance. MacVittie as his backup will also see the field, and he's just as exciting.

The running backs are among the most talented and deep running back groups in the country. There's so many good running backs that it's impossible to tell now who will get most of the carries. In fact, there are so many that one back may not even get a large portion of the carries. But no matter who is doing the running, though, the Panthers should have a very good rushing attack.

When Browne and MacVittie aren't handing it off to the vast array of running backs, they have a lot of other weapons. Weah and Henderson have game breaking speed, and more importantly they known how to use it. Tipton and Mathews will be one year better, and Flowers and Smith are now on the scene. At tight end, Clark and Reeves have the potential to be a dominant duo.

The offensive line has some questions that need to be answered as far as depth, but O'Neill, Bookser, and Jones-Smith all have all-star potential. If the young depth comes through, the line has the potential to be excellent again.







Friday, February 3, 2017

A few updates

I am busy writing an article about how the football team is shaping up, but just a few notes since they are important:

Pat Narduzzi has finally named an offensive coordinator, and he has decided on Indiana QB coach Shawn Watson. The 57-year old Watson was once a very hot name. He was the Louisville OC when Charlie Strong had two very successful seasons, and it was Watson who developed Teddy Bridgewater.  He then followed Strong to Texas, where things did not go well for either. Strong was clearly a bad fit for Texas, and Watson's reputation took a hit in the wreckage that was left behind.

But Watson has been an offensive coordinator for a long time, and he's usually had good offenses. I'm not going to bore you with a long statistical analysis, so I will just say that Gary Barnett, Charlie Strong, Kevin Wilson, and now Narduzzi clearly think highly of him to hire him. And when Watson was at Nebraska, then AD Tom Osborne made Bo Pelini keep him as the OC when he became the head coach. Not only that, but Nick Saban tried to hire him away from Nebraska at one point.

Past, present, and future quarterbacks are also fans of Watson. Former Colorado quarterback Joel Klatt said this about Watson:

"That first thing that stands out is he was as good of a teacher of football as I've ever been around. He was sensational at getting kids prepared to run his system. It's a system that really crosses over, it can be watered down, it can be expanded, so I love the fact that it doesn't matter what the team is good at, Shawn's system is going to fit whatever your team's strengths are. If you want to run the football you can absolutely do that with power and authority, you can run the zone scheme, outside zone scheme, you can run the quarterback if he needs to, he can run play-action pass, run-action pass, it's a great down the field passing game. So he's got a great combination of weapons at his disposal with his offense."

Indiana starting quarterback, Richard Lagow, tweeted this yesterday:

"Just like that. Good luck to one of the best men and coaches I've ever come across, you changed my life forever. Y'all got a good one."

As far as the present and future, the word is that both Max Browne and Thomas MacVittie are very happy about the hire, and 2018 prospect Kevin Doyle, perhaps the top QB target in the current class, is also happy about the hire.

As for the system, when Watson started out at Colorado, he was using the West Coast system, as that was the hot thing at the time. But he has changed with the times. At Nebraska, he took over an offense that was previously an option offense, and transformed it into a high scoring offense that passed as well as it ran, despite not having a big time true quarterback. At Louisville, he was giving the only excellent quarterback of his career in Bridgewater, and he responded with a great offense. Then there was the disaster at Texas where the Longhorns had Tyrone Swoopes at quarterback, a great athlete that's more suited for fullback.

So the question still remains exactly who, and what, Watson is. He is beloved by the players he has coached, so that's a plus. But his offenses were sometimes very good, and sometimes not so good. Sometimes he ran a West Coast offense, and sometimes he ran a spread. He has been forced into some tough situations at every stop, but one, and that was at Louisville where he actually had a quarterback and was allowed to run a system that fit the personnel. And it was at Louisville where he was most successful.

Watson has stated in recent interviews that he will change his style as times change, and I think we will probably see his offense be more explosive than it's ever been because that's what Narduzzi wants. And because Watson is so experienced, he is capable of learning some things that Canada did well (jet sweeps and shovel passes, for example), and incorporating them into an offense that's already very adept at those things. Watson also spent a year at Indiana with Wilson, who is one of the great offensive minds of the game, and he said that he learned a lot.

Bottom line, don't worry about fans of his past teams say, because they don't mean anything. If they knew what they were talking about, they would be coaches and not fans. And the same goes for the media. Watson has been coveted by many great football coaches, and the players who actually played for him, or will play for him soon, really respect him. As for if he will succeed, I can't imagine that he won't. Pitt may not have the successful offense they had this past season, but Canada may not have had that success again either. Everything worked perfectly last season. But Watson is a good enough coordinator that he should do well with the amount of talent that the Panthers have.



On to basketball, and the Panthers picked up two more players this week. Shamiel Stevenson, is a 6'5" SF that is very athletic and can jump out of the gym. He's a good prospect that will probably be a future starter. Today, the Panthers landed 6'10" Nigerian Peace Ilegomah, who does not provide much offense, but he runs like a deer, he's a big time rebounder, and he's a shot blocking fiend. I will go into more detail with Pitt's class in a later post, but they have six new players coming in so far. It's pretty obvious that Stallings is trying to change the roster as quickly as possible. 




Thursday, February 2, 2017

Top 2018 Western Pennsylvania Prospects to Keep an Eye On

TJ Banks, East Allegheny HS (North Versailles) TE- Already a very muscular 6'5" and 230 pounds with the frame to easily add another 30 pounds eventually. Pretty much just used as a big wide receiver now, but he's strong and should eventually turn into a good blocker. Already has a handful of offers, including Pitt, Maryland, and Cincinnati. While it's early, he's very high on the Panthers.

Matthew Bauer, Cathedral Prep HS (Erie) LB- Don't spend too much time keeping an eye on this one. One of the best linebacker prospects in the county, but he has already committed to Notre Dame. If that changes I don't see it changing in Pitt's direction.

Devin Danielson, Thomas Jefferson HS (Jefferson Hills) DT- Already 6'3" and 290 pounds. To be blunt, this kid is a total bad ass. He reminds me a lot of former Pitt star Marc Spindler, who was one of the best defensive tackles in high school before he became a Panther. He has star potential. His head coach is former Pitt offensive lineman Bill Cherpak, so that won't hurt in getting him to Pitt. And he has also said that he's high on the home school. The Panthers just offered, as have West Virginia, UCLA, Virginia, Iowa State, Louisville, and Rutgers. Expect a lot more.

Troy Fisher, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) QB- Good size at 6'4" and 200 pounds. He has a good arm, is mobile in the pocket, and is a tough, mature kid. His early offers so far are Boston College, Temple, and Toledo. Pitt will be looking for a quarterback, but it remains to be seen if this is where they will look.

James Gmiter, Bethel Park HS (Bethel Park, PA) DT- Big 6'4" 300 pounder that has already committed to West Virginia. Pitt did not offer, but Wisconsin did. The Panthers are pretty loaded with young tackles now, and if they add one I think Danielson will be their main target.

David Green, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) DT- If the Panthers are looking for two defensive tackles, this 6'2" 250 pounder will also be in the mix. He would have to get much bigger, though he already looks pretty big, and still keep his impressive speed and athleticism. He's been in contact with Pitt, but no offer yet. West Virginia, Iowa State, Rutgers, and Cincinnati are some of his early offers.

Marcus Hooker, New Castle HS (New Castle, PA) S- The brother of Ohio State star, Malik Hooker. At 5'11" and 185 pounds, he's a little smaller than his brother, and he's not nearly as fast, but his game speed is much better, and he's an excellent athlete. His eventual position will be interesting. He could end up at WR, CB, or S. Pitt has not offered, but West Virginia, Temple, Toledo, and Cincinnati are among those that have.

Shamar Jones, Greater Johnstown HS (Johnstown) DE- Doesn't have the height at 6'1", but he's a solid 240 pounds. He's also a good athlete that plays very aggressively. Good player, but the Panthers are desperate to add an elite end or two in the next class, and it remains to be seen if he'd be that. Bowling Green and Toledo are his biggest offers thus far.

Phil Jurkovec, Pine-Richland HS (Gibsonia) QB- Elite, possibly program changing quarterbacks, don't come around often in the WPIAL, so it is a big loss that he has already committed to Notre Dame. I don't expect that the Panthers staff will give up, and you never know what may happen, but the chances are that he'll stay with Notre Dame.

Jake Kradel, Butler HS (Butler) OG- A solidly built 6'4" 275 pounds, and he has good feet. His dad has Pitt season tickets, and the family grew up as Pitt fans, so the chances of him ending up a Panther are good. But first the Panthers have to offer. NC State and Syracuse are among those that offered so far. I would be surprised if the Panthers didn't also offer.

Jesse Luketa, Mercyhurst Prep HS (Erie) LB- A Canadian native that's going to school across the border, the 6'3" 220 pounder is one of the best linebacker prospects in the country. In fact, he already has over 30 offers, including Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, and LSU. He's exactly the type of linebacker that the Panthers need to reach a higher level, and he likes Pitt, but the competition is so fierce that getting him should be considered a long shot.

Julian Major, Penn Hills HS (Pittsburgh) WR- Very good speed and hands to go with nice length on a 6'2" frame. Needs to add a lot of size to his 165 pound frame, but that is something that can be rectified. I would be surprised if Pitt didn't offer, especially since the likes of Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Kentucky already have.

Kwantel Raines, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa) S- Of the most realistic options, Raines, along with Danielson, are probably the two that the Panthers need to land the most because they're both really good, and they both have a strong connection to Pitt. A lot may depend on what position he is open to. With Paris Ford already at the free safety spot, if Raines has his heart set on that position, he may decide it's better to go elsewhere. His ideal position, should be end up at Pitt, may be the STAR linebacker position, where he could combine with Ford to have an amazingly fast and athletic defense. A replacement for Jordan Whitehead at the strong safety position is another possibility. This could very well come down to a Pitt and Penn State battle, though other offers so far include West Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Louisville.

Juice Scruggs, Cathedral Prep HS (Erie) OG- A little smallish at 6'3" and 270 pounds, but that hasn't mattered to schools that are recruiting him. Pitt just offered the other day, but so have Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, and North Carolina. He is an Ohio native, and the Buckeyes are considered the favorite.

Malik Shepherd, Beaver Falls HS (Beaver Falls) WR- Very fast, very athletic slot receiver at 5'11" and 170 pounds. Because he's not the big receiver that most schools want, his offer list may not be as long as his talent warrants, but he would be a nice fit for the Panthers offense in the same role that Quadree Henderson currently has. West Virginia, Temple, and Toledo are his early offers.

Ronnie Stevenson, Montour HS (McKees Rocks) PA- Intriguing prospect because of his 6'5" 200 pound body and very good straight line speed. The Panthers have expressed a lot of interest thus far, but so far Temple is his only offer.

Khalil Weathers, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) CB- Even though the Panthers have a lot of young cornerbacks, they will add at least a few every year. This local product, thanks to his 6'0" 180 pound frame and good athleticism could be in the mix.

Najhier West, Steel Valley HS (Munhall) RB/WR- Yes, he's only 5'8" and 175 pounds, but as his now legendary touchdown run in the state championships showed, he is a real talent. He is fast and quick, and he is very similar to Quadree Henderson. If the Panthers want another player like Henderson (and he's an  All-American, so why not?), then this may be where they look. Former teammate of Paris Ford.

Kenny White, West Allegheny HS (Imperial, PA) CB- This is another player that should be high on Pitt's list. He looks bigger than his listed 6'0" 185 pounds. Very good athlete. Iowa State is his first offer, but I'd be surprised if the Panthers didn't offer soon.

Blake Zubovic, Belle Vernon Area HS (Belle Vernon) OT- Already 6'6" and 285 pounds, but the frame to get even bigger. Excellent feet and moves extremely well. The Panthers just offered. Could be an excellent addition if they land him because he has a very high ceiling.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

2017 Pitt football recruiting class

QUARTERBACK (2)


Max Browne, USC transfer- The former No. 1 ranked high school quarterback in the country did not hold on to the starting position last season at USC when he finally got his chance, but that may not be as bad as it sounds. A slow start by the team (1-2 record, which included road games against Alabama and Stanford), compelled the Trojans to make a switch, and when they did they found freshman phenom Sam Darnold. That was the end of Browne in USC. But Browne really hasn't had the chance to be the man over an entire season. It remains to be seen how well he will do, but he's 6'5" 210 pounds, he has a strong arm, and he's a mature leader. With the NFL a possibility, he has a lot of incentive to have a big season.

Kenny Pickett, Queen Township HS (Oakhurst, NJ)- He's listed at 6'2" and 195 pounds, which is on the smallish size, and like most kids entering college football, he will need to add a lot of strength. He has a very good arm, and can make all of the throws, but it's his accuracy that's the most impressive thing about him. In my opinion, accuracy is the most essential physical trait a quarterback can have, and Pickett is exceptional. Also has excellent mobility in the pocket, and can take off and run very well. A former Temple commit that had an excellent senior year and picked up offers from the likes of North Carolina, Iowa, and Boston College. The Tar Heels made an aggressive last ditch effort to flip him, but it failed.

Summary- It's probable that Browne will be the quarterback this season, and he obviously has huge potential. Thomas MacVittie is the heir apparent, but Pickett is someone that could really be in the mix in future years. All in all, this position, potentially, is the strongest it has looked in many years.


RUNNING BACK (2)



A.J. Davis, Lakeland HS (Lakeland, FL)- The high school teammate of incoming cornerback Damarri Mathis, Davis is rated as one of the best running backs in the country. He can add a little more size to his 6'0" 205 pound frame, but he's not afraid to run between the tackles. His specialty, however, is running in space because of his excellent speed, quickness, and vision. Has very good hands, and could be used like Quadree Henderson in the slot, on jet sweeps, and on returns, or he be used as a traditional running back. Either way, he has the talent to make an instant impact. Other offers included Ohio State, Michigan, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Auburn, Georgia, Louisville, Nebraska, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia Tech, West Virginia.

Todd Sibley, Archbishop Hoban HS (Akron, OH)- The former Ohio State commit is a workhorse that uses his strong 5'9" 215 pound frame to run between the tackles with aggression. He also has much more speed than he's often given credit for, and has been running an 11 second 100m, which is very good speed, especially for a bullish back. He committed to Ohio State as a sophomore, so he didn't amass many offers, but Michigan and Jim Harbaugh also offered him as a sophomore so that shows you what kind of talent he is. He also has good hands.

Summary- Both of these players are capable of being big time backs for the Panthers, and despite good returning depth at the position, I wouldn't be surprised if they both had an impact as soon as this season.


WIDE RECEIVER (3)


Dontavius Butler, American Heritage HS (Plantation, FL)- Solidly built 6'0" 205 pounder with good speed and athleticism. He also is a good route runner with good hands, and is already an excellent blocker. Being on a loaded team that runs a lot, he has been lost in recruiting a little, but he has all of the physical traits that could possibly make him a starter at the college level down the road.

Darian Street, Liberty HS (Bethlehem, PA)- The brother of former Pitt star receiver Devin Street (and he's not a fan of constantly being reminded of it), the truth is, he is very similar to his big brother. He needs to add more weight to his 6'1" 180 pound frame, but he has very good speed, runs well after the catch, and has very good hands.

Michael Smith, Vero Beach HS (Vero Beach, FL)- Came out of nowhere to have a dominating senior season. At 6'1" and 205 pounds he has the size, but he also has topnotch speed and hands. He's still a bit raw because he started playing football later than most, but that may be a good thing because he's not even close to reaching his full potential. He could develop into the big time No. 1 wide receiver that the Panthers need. Washington State, Indiana, and Georgia Tech were some of the schools that discovered him late, and Notre Dame offered him, and pursued him very hard before he committed.

Summary- It remains to be seen if Narduzzi has landed that elite wide receiver prospect yet, though Ruben Flowers last year and Smith this year have the potential to be that. And Butler and Street add to the already good, deep Panthers receiving corps.


TIGHT END (3)


Grant Carrigan, Pine-Richland HS (Gibsonia, PA)- Giant 6'7" 260 pounder with pretty good speed and athleticism. He hasn't played as an inline tight end much, and Pine-Richland doesn't play a tight end at all, but he did play in the slot for most of his high school career, and he showed an excellent ability to get down the field and make the catch. Initially he may be used more as a receiving tight end, but once he gets stronger, and learns proper blocking techniques, he could be an excellent all around college tight end.

Charles Reeves, Steubenville HS (Steubenville, OH)- A big time talent that's already 6'5" and 280 pounds. Amazingly, despite that size, he is an excellent deep receiving threat due to his speed and athletic ability. He also has the size and desire to be a big time blocker down the road. Should be a major contributor immediately, and has star potential. Other offers have come from the likes of Penn State, Michigan, Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan State, and Nebraska.

Tyler Sear, Neshannock HS (New Castle, PA)- Solidly built, tough 6'4" 245 pounder that could see time as a freshman as a blocker, but he also has the sneaky speed and athleticism to be an all around tight end in the future. LSU tried to flip him late, but he stayed with the Panthers.

Summary- It wasn't long ago that the Panthers didn't have an heir apparent to the now departed Scott Ordnoff. Now they not only have former No. 1 tight end prospect Chris Clark coming in, but they added these three very good players. The tight end position needed an influx of talent and the staff responded by recruiting the position better than any other in this recruiting cycle.


OFFENSIVE LINE (4)


Jerry Drake, Palm Beach Gardens HS (Palm Beach, FL)- Son of the former Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman with the same name, he's already a proportional 6'5" and 315 pounds. He has great feet, and finishes off blocks. Has all the makings of a future left tackle. His very impressive offer list includes Alabama, Auburn, LSU, West Virginia, UCLA, Michigan, Michigan State, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

Owen Drexel, Montclair HS (Montclair, NJ)- Wasn't highly recruited because he was considered on the smaller side, but he worked hard to get bigger and he's now checking in at 6'3" and 270 pounds. Very smart, good technician, and plays with a nasty disposition. Don't be fooled by his lower ranking. This is the exact type of player that turns into a good player after being overlooked. He just needs to keep getting bigger.

Gabe Houy, Upper St. Clair HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- Teammate of Brandon Ford, who committed to Pitt last year. Great length at 6'6" but is very lean and needs to add a lot of weight to his current 265 pounds. Because of his wingspan and good feet he has a chance to make an impact at the college level. Offers included Louisville, Illinois, Maryland, and Wake Forest.

Carter Warren, Passaic County Tech HS (Wayne, NJ)- Massive 6'5" 325 pounder that looks like a future starting right tackle. Has a lot of natural strength, and he'll only get stronger once he gets to college. Offers include Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Miami, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech.

Summary- Like the tight end unit, the offensive line unit needed an influx of talent, and also like with the tight ends, the staff succeeded to a great degree. Drake looks like a future left tackle and Warren looks like a future right tackle, and I wouldn't be surprised to see both starting in a few years. Houy and Drexel are good development prospects that maybe a little further away, but should also be in the mix in a few years.


DEFENSIVE LINE (5)


Deslin Alexandre, Deerfield Beach HS (Deerfield, FL)- Former NC State commit that already has a great wingspan at 6'4" and 250 pounds. He has a ton of potential because of his athleticism and toughness. Very good developmental prospect who got a head start by entering Pitt early.

Kam Carter, East Mississippi CC (Scooba, MS)- Originally from Maryland, the 6'4" 300 pound defensive tackle originally played for one season at Penn State, where he redshirted. Originally recruited as a highly coveted 260 pound defensive end, Carter was thrown out of Penn State because of an unreported violation. He ended up at East Mississippi, also known as "Last Chance U.", a school where troubled kids attempt to get their life back on track. Thanks to his (very fit) 6'5" 310 pound size, strength, and speed, he got back on the radar of many top programs, and schools like Texas, Texas A&M, Louisville, and Virginia Tech offered him. He could play at nose tackle, or the more athletic defensive tackle spot for the Panthers. He has three years of eligibility left, and he will likely be a factor immediately.

Jaylen Twyman, H.D. Woodson HS (Washington, DC)- Bull strong, tough as hell, quick 6'2" 315 pound nose tackles are highly coveted, and that's what Twyman is. An emotional leader on the field, he's had a difficult upbringing with violence and crime around him, and he's had two close family members murdered. But he's a strong willed, fun loving kid that's looking for a way out through football. I would not be surprised if he was starting very early in his career. Other offers include Michigan State, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Louisville.

Carson Van Lynn, Kilbourne HS (Worthington, OH)- Many scouting services, coaches, and even fans project him to the offensive line, but Narduzzi sees a 6'5" 240 pounder with arms for days, and good speed and strength, and dreams of him as a defensive end. That's where he will start his college career, and if he ends up being a success there, it would be huge for the defense to have such a physical specimen on the edge. Other offers included West Virginia, Kentucky, Boston College, Wake Forest, Purdue, Rutgers, and Iowa State.

Summary- The tackles, Carter and Twyman, could be starters early in their careers, and Carter will probably see the field immediately. The failure by the staff to once again add an elite end continues, though Alexandre and Van Lynn have a lot of potential. You could do a lot worse than 6'5" and 6'6" ends that can run.


LINEBACKERS 


Cam Bright, Park Crossing HS (Montgomery, AL)- A sleeper when the Panthers were recruiting him, mainly because his family moved around a lot in high school, and coaches kept missing him. Had a phenomenal senior year, and was a destructive force on a weekly basis. At 6'0" and 210 pounds he has wide receiver speed and is a violent player. Has star potential.

Kyle Nunn, Findlay HS (Findlay, OH)- A safety and wide receiver in high school, which shows how athletic he is. At 6'3" and 200 pounds he has the strong, athletic frame to easily add another 30-40 pounds, and Narduzzi thinks there's a chance he could grow into an end. A ballhawk and just a good, solid football player. The offers included West Virginia and Northwestern.

Albert Tucker, St. Thomas Aquinas HS (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)- Played for a powerhouse high school program in Florida, and he got overlooked somewhat because of it. He is a big time athlete with 4.5 speed and a 39" vertical jump. At 6'1" and 210 pounds he played cornerback, but he will play linebacker with the Panthers. Other offers included Colorado and Kentucky.

Summary- The staff did not bring in any big name linebackers in this class, but all three have high ceilings due to their excellent physical traits- mainly speed. None of the three may factor in next year, or maybe the next two years, but once they fill out, and get experience, any of the three has the potential to be a very good college player.


DEFENSIVE BACKS (3)


Paris Ford, Steel Valley HS (Munhall, PA)- One of the best safeties, and athletes, in the country. At 6'0" and 175 pounds he will need to add some weight, but his speed and athleticism are off the charts. Amazing range and hits hard. Very excitable, confident kid and a natural born leader. Can also be a huge factor on offense and returning punts and kicks. Should make a major impact in his first year. Other offers include Penn State, West Virginia, Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Florida, Florida State, Miami, Tennessee, UCLA, and North Carolina.

Damarri Mathis, Lakeland HS (Lakeland, FL)- The former South Carolina commit is a very lean and muscular 5'11" and 185 pounds, but his very long arms makes him play like he's much taller. Excellent speed and athleticism. Will need a redshirt to get more seasoning, but if it comes together for him, he could be a big time player because of his physical gifts. Other than South Carolina, other offers included Louisville, Mississippi, and Minnesota.

Jason Pinnock, Windsor HS (Windsor, CT)- Very similar to Mathis, but a little bigger at 6'0" and 190 pounds. Like Mathis he needs to get stronger, and fill out more, but also like Mathis he has long arms and big time athletic ability. Was originally a Boston College commit.

Summary- Ford is a potential superstar, and I'm sure that anybody reading this already knows that. Mathis and Pinnock are the types of players that when they are redshirt sophomores could translate their big time athletic gifts into being highly productive players.


KICKERS

Kirk Christodoulou, Australia- The best punters in not only college, but also in the NFL, are coming from Australia, which amazingly has become a hotbed for the position. The 6'1" 210 Christodoulou won the staff over and the Panthers are hoping that he continues the Aussie tradition. He'll take over for Ryan Winslow after he graduates next year, and it's possible that he even competes with him next season.

Alex Kessman, Clarkston HS (Clarkston, MI)- The 6'3" 180 pound placekicker was already in the program this year, but that was as a gray shirt. Now, however, he's been given a full scholarship. He has a cannon for a leg and kicked a 56-yarder as a senior. He also booms kickoffs into the end zone. He is expected to be the placekicker next season.

Summary- Chris Blewitt is graduating as a four year starter, and Ryan Winslow will do the same after next season, so the Panthers needed to find their replacements. It's hard to say how well these two will do until they are in game conditions, but the raw talent is apparent.


CLASS SUMMARY

I'm sure that many Pitt fans will look at the "stars" or other ratings that recruiting websites use, and see that the Panthers class is probably ranked somewhere in the 30s. What does this mean? Nothing really. There have been programs that have top 10 recruiting classes on a yearly basis, then end up with a losing record, and there have been programs that finish the season in the top 10 after having recruiting classes that are annually ranked in the 50s or even 60s.

Also, a 4 or 5 star prospect means nothing if he's a bad fit. Conversely, a 3 star recruit that's a perfect fit for a system will probably be very good for that program. A good example of that is Cam Bright, who is called a 3 star prospect by Rivals, and doesn't get a lot of offers, because most consider him a tweener- specifically between linebacker and safety. For the Panthers, however, their star linebacker position is exactly that. Therefore, for the Panthers, this 3 star prospect is more like a 4 star prospect.

It also doesn't matter if you don't fill needs. Former Pitt head coach Dave Wannstedt had a few classes in the 20s, but those classes would not be good in certain positions. Another former Pitt head coach, Paul Chryst, did an excellent job with the offensive line, and found some hidden games like James Conner and Jester Weah, but he could't recruit a quarterback or defensive players to save his life.

With that in mind, I will now explain why I think this class is very good. Let me start by saying that, to me,  recruiting classes are divided into two groups- players that can help immediately, and those that can help a few years down the road. Unfortunately when people look at this class, for instance, they will see how many 4 or 5 star prospects there are, and think that the class is not made up of impact players. Not only is that not right, but it's also shortsighted since (and this is the most important part of this whole article) most players do not make an impact in college until they are in the program for 3 or 4 years. So for most players, it doesn't matter where they are in their first year, it's where they are when they are, say, redshirt juniors. In programs with good depth, most players won't become major contributors until they are redshirt juniors anyway because they have to wait their turn.

For this particular class, I have targeted 15 players that I think project as impact players no later than than their redshirt sophomore year, at the latest. History shows that not all of these 15 will pan out in that time frame, or maybe ever, but they do have a real possibility to do so. The three most obvious impact players in the next two seasons are Max Browne, because he's a fifth year senior already, and the two kickers, Alex Kessman and Kirk Christodoulou, because they are the two scholarship kickers on the roster.

Of the other 12, starting with offense first, running backs Todd Sibley and AJ Davis, wide receiver Michael Smith, tight end Charles Reeves, and offensive tackles Jerry Drake and Carter Warren, are projected to make an impact as underclassmen, and maybe even a major impact.

There are also six on defense that project as making an impact as underclassmen, and those players are defensive tackles Kam Carter and Jaylen Twyman, linebacker Cam Bright, cornerbacks Damarri Mathis and Jason Pinnock, and safety Paris Ford.

The other 11 players in the class may take a few years, but of course that is hardly a sure thing. This past season, Chawntez Moss is a perfect example of a player that made an impact sooner than expected. It's not necessarily an indictment against their ability if they do take a few years. In some cases it's because they aren't physically big and strong enough yet, and in other cases it's because their position takes more time to learn. The latter would include Kenny Pickett, who has the talent to be a good quarterback some day, but like most quarterbacks he will need to learn for three years or so. Others, like offensive lineman Gabe Houy and Owen Drexel, need a few years to get bigger and stronger, as does wide receiver Darian Street. Another nice receiver, Dontavius Butler, is physically ready, and could progress sooner than expected, and the same can be said of huge tight ends Tyler Sear and Grant Carrigan, especially as blockers in the running game.

On defense, ends Dreslin Alexandre and Carson Van Lynn have huge frames, and tantalizing potential, but they need to fill out their bodies with more muscle. Linebacker Albert Tucker is a big time athlete, but he also needs to fill out, and fellow linebacker Kyle Nunn needs to add probably another 30-40 pounds over his career, but once he does, he also has a ton of potential.

Looking at the group as a whole, every single unit got an influx of talent and numbers, including the kicking game. Going down the list, starting with offense, the program added a promising quarterback, two big time running backs, three athletic receivers (including possibly an elite one), three tight ends (including a definite elite one), three giant tackles (including two that were highly coveted), and a future center. On defense, there are two very long, athletic ends, three really fast, athletic linebackers, and three more really fast, athletic defensive backs, including a potential superstar free safety that should help the secondary immediately.

Not all of these players are going to live up to their potential, of course. That's just a fact. But I can't remember a Pitt class where every single player has very good potential. Even the supposed lowest rated prospect on the list- Drexel- is strong, smart, and mean, and could easily start at center in the future.

There's speed throughout the class, not only at the skill positions and the secondary, but also at tight end, defensive end, and at linebacker. And then there's the insane size. Look at some of the heights- 6'5", 6'7", 6'5", 6'5", 6'6", 6'6", 6'6", 6'5", 6'5", and 6'6".

The staff has also shown that they have a remedy for those Pittsburgh area kids that want to leave the area. Ford was the best prospect in the region, so at least the staff landed the best one, and overall they added 5 from the state. But even more impressively, they added 8 from Florida, 4 from Ohio, 3 from New Jersey, and one each from Washington, DC, Alabama, and Connecticut. And to show that the program will get players any way they can, they also got a transfer, a junior college player, and a player from Australia.

Bottom line, I really like this class. I think they're big, I think they're fast, and I think they're good. So don't worry about stars, or ratings, or any of those things. Pat Narduzzi continues to add talent, and depth, and very soon that will add up to big things for the program.



Friday, December 2, 2016

Where Pitt recruiting stands

There are just two months left before players can sign their letter of intent, and I expect a lot to still happen when it comes to the Panthers. There could be a graduate transfer or two, and there will probably be at least 8 or 10 more commitments. I also expect that Pitt will flip other commitments, even players that we don't know about yet. And with coaching changes on the horizon, more players will find themselves available, and that's where Pitt could swoop in. With that in mind, let's look where things stand as we enter into the stretch run. This info will change quickly, and often, and I wouldn't be surprised if something changed by the time you read it, so keep in mind that this info is very fluid.

Quarterbacks: Kenny Pickett is in the fold, and I don't expect that he will flip, and I don't expect Pitt to land another high school prospect. But that doesn't mean they won't land another quarterback. Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire graduates this month, and then he can transfer to another school with immediate eligibility. Right now, it is believed that Pitt and North Carolina lead for his services. If current North Carolina star quarterback Mitch Trubisky goes to the NFL, and it would be very surprising if he doesn't, then the Tar Heels immediately become a big possibility. There is also the chance that Larry Fedora gets mentioned for another job, which may also influence Zaire. Obviously, if the Panthers land Zaire, he would start, and the Panthers would be significantly better next year, so this will be a huge development one way or the other. Other than that, the focus is on the 2018 class, and as quarterbacks commit early, the time to land one in the class is now. The prize here would be 6'3" 190 pound Kevin Doyle of Malvern Prep in eastern PA. Doyle's dad told me that his son absolutely loves Matt Canada, and also loves how Canada uses the quarterback, so this could actually come to fruition. It would be a huge deal if it does.


Running Backs: Ohio back Todd Sibley has verbally committed, and he is solidly in the fold. He has the ability to be a future every down back, so it's not imperative that the Panthers add another running back in this class. But Anthony "AJ" Davis, a fast water bug type of athlete from Florida, has suddenly come back into the picture, and he'd simply be too good to pass up. An elite prospect, Davis is expected to visit next weekend, along with his teammate, cornerback Damarri Mathis, who the Panthers apparently lead for. There is room for both Sibley and Davis, should it come to that. They are two different types of backs and I would expect Davis would be used, not only as a change of pace with Sibely, but also out in space in many of the same ways as Quadree Henderson is used.


Wide Receivers: The recruiting of this group, since Narduzzi has been there, has been a little disappointing thus far. The staff has added good receivers, but they still haven't added that one elite, All-American potential player yet. As a prospect, Ruben Flowers is the closest they've come to that, but he had to redshirt this season so the jury is still out until he actually plays. In this class, Floridian Dontavius Butler and in-state legacy Darian Street have verbally committed so far, but once again that elite prospect is missing. Trying to rectify that, the staff is still looking at two Florida speedsters- Carmoni Green and DJ Edwards. Green, inexplicably committed to Illinois a few months ago, despite better offers, and so far he's still sticking with them. But the Panthers are still trying to get him to flip. Edwards is visiting Pitt next weekend, and he has been vocal about liking the Panthers lately. Rutgers commit Bryce Watts can flat out fly and he is a possibility at wide receiver or cornerback. The staff, clearly trying to add the topnotch talent that it's been missing, has been offering big time southern athletes in the '18 and '19 classes, but in this class at least one big time athlete is still needed. In the summer, a possible bonus is former local gem Robert Foster, who could be graduating from Alabama, and could be a graduate transfer with immediate eligibility. It's unknown if he is going to definitely transfer, and if he'd be interested in Pitt, but if he does end up with the Panthers that would be a huge development because he has the immense talent to still have a breakout season, especially in a Matt Canada offense.


Tight Ends: The Panthers have already added elite Ohio tight end Charles Reeves, as well as two locals in Tyler Sear and Grant Carrigan. No other tight ends will be added in this class.


Offensive Line: Two very big tackles- Carter Warren and Gabe Houy- have committed, and tough center Owen Drexel is also in the fold. There appears to be room for one more tackle, and the two elite ones in the mix are Thayer Munford and Mekhi Becton. Many prognosticators have pencilled in Munford for Pitt for awhile now, but apparently nobody has told him because he's been visiting everywhere but Pitt. He is clearly waiting to see if Ohio State offers, and they may. If they do, he will end up a Buckeye. But if they don't, Pitt could be the pick. That's if Becton doesn't commit first. The Virginia native has been pegged to stay home and play for the Cavaliers for a long time, but the Panthers have stuck around and are now making a big time push. If Pitt land either then this would be a superb OL class.


Defensive Ends: The defense needs more ends, and the only end the staff has added so far is Carson Van Lynn. With an All-American in Ejuan Price, Tom Sims' great personality, and Narduzzi's reputation, it's very surprising to me that the staff has been unable to land an elite prospect or two at the position. Don't get me wrong. There is some interesting potential already on the roster, and they are currently courting the same kind of prospects, but that elite prospect continually eludes the staff. Tyjuan Garbutt could rectify that, but the former Virginia Tech commit may be leaning back towards the Hokies. After him, there's only projections, though some are enticing. The two most enticing, in my opinion, are Kofi Wardlow, a late bloomer from Washington, DC, and 6'6" Stephon Mayas, a skinny Floridian that's long and athletic. Syracuse commit Zach Morton is a player that the Panthers have been trying to flip for many months, but so far the Detroit native has not bit. After that, the end prospects get even more raw. Those would be Kevince Brown and NC State commit Dreslin Alexander (both Florida), and Zion Debose (North Carolina).


Defensive Tackles: The program has three very good young tackles in Amir Watts, Keyshon Camp, and Rashad Wheeler, but at least one more is needed, and that would be a big space eating nose tackle. The two big options here are Washington, DC native Jaylen Twyman, a 6'2" 300 pound fireplug that can move very well, and 6'4" 300 pound former North Carolina commit Kyree Campbell, an elite prospect that has been at prep school this year. Both are so good that they'd find a way to add both if possible, but at least one of them needs to be added to round out this unit.


Linebackers: The staff has done well here, landing Kaezon Pugh, Chase Pine, and Elias Reynolds last year, and Cam Bright, Kyle Nunn, and Albert Tucker in this class. But the staff are still attempting to land two elite prospects in Drew Singleton and Nathan Proctor. Singleton, from New Jersey, and Proctor, from Maryland, are big timers that have the ability to start right away at Pitt. Unfortunately, the Panthers aren't leading for either, but they are hanging around, and are involved enough that they could get visits. And with a visit anything is possible. If they don't nab either, they will probably be done at this position, unless you include Connor Heyward, who could end up at this position if he commits. It's still very much up in the air where he would play at Pitt, and it probably wouldn't even be decided until he started practicing.


Safeties: Elite local Paris Ford is already committed, and despite overtures from the likes of Michigan and USC, he is firmly committed to the Panthers. No other safeties are needed in this class.


Cornerbacks: A lot of cornerbacks were brought in since Narduzzi has been at Pitt, but you can never have to many, especially since the ones you have are still suspect. The main prize here is obviously elite local Lamont Wade, who would be Pitt's biggest recruit in many years. If I had to guess I think he will end up at Penn State, but nobody knows yet for sure despite what you hear. If Wade does go elsewhere then it will be even more important to land a few more quality corners. Ambry Thomas and Donovan Johnson are an elite Detroit duo, but both are long shots, especially Thomas. Not as polished yet, but still with a high ceiling are Maryland commit Kenny Bennett, Kentucky commit Michael Nesbitt, and former South Carolina commit Damarri Mathis. Bennett is a big, athletic corner that Pitt has been very fond of for a long time. He is perfect fit for a Narduzzi defense. As is Mathis, who is visiting next weekend. Both are raw, but they are also both big, athletic, and loaded with potential. Nesbitt has a big time offer list, and he's another kid that the Panthers have been enamored with for a long time.