Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pitt Basketball Prospects Bios

Marcus Carr, Montverde Academy (Montverde, FL)- The 6'1" 170 pound native of Toronto is the probable starting point guard so he's going to have to be ready for the rigors of the ACC immediately. Luckily for Pitt, there's a good chance that his skills and maturity will prevent him from getting overwhelmed as a freshman. A good, but not elite athlete, but that doesn't prevent him from being a shutdown defender and getting into the lane. An average to slightly above average shooter currently, but he has the ability to be above average, out to three point range, with some fine tuning. Extremely smart and under control with the ball in his hands. Exceptional passer that puts the ball right where it has to be without having to be showy to get it there. Tough, both mentally and physically. Blew out ACL two years ago, but is completely recovered. Borderline top 100 player that had offers from the likes of Baylor, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Minnesota, and Cincinnati.

Bottom line- Fans will compare him to James Robinson a lot since they have a lot of the same attributes. Both are smart and consistent, but Robinson is bigger and stronger, and Carr is a better defender. If Carr improves his shooting, which Robinson never did to a great degree, he has the potential to be even better. Either way, I'm looking at the potential to eventually be a 10-12 ppg, 5 apg, 2 spg player, while providing excellent defense and steadiness.

Khameron Davis, Forest Trail Academy (Kernersville, NC)- The 6'4" 190 pound Colorado native spent time at various schools, before ending up at a year at a prep school, but he still has four years of eligibility. The combo guard does not have topnotch offensive skills, but he is a good finisher thanks to his excellent athleticism. Defense is his specialty, and the staff think he can be a lockdown defender thanks to his athleticism and ridiculous 6'10" wingspan.

Bottom line- He was about as under the radar as a player could get, but if all he ever does is become a defensive stopper off the bench, then he will be a good pickup. I'm not saying he won't some day develop into more, but at the very least being a defensive stopper is very possible.

Monty Boykins, Lafayette graduate transfer- The Ohio native is a 6'5" SG with nice size and very good shooting ability. He especially has excellent potential as a three point shooter. Averaged only 6.6 ppg in his career, with a season high of 10.7 ppg as a junior, the only year that he started, but injuries have plagued him throughout his career. After starring in high school in suburban Cincinnati, he lost all but the first six games of his senior season due to an ACL injury. At the time he was being recruited by the likes of Notre Dame. After ignoring advice to go to prep school to recover from his knee injury, and get back on the radar of major programs, he decided to go to Lafayette instead, where he played in 21 games before injuring his wrist and sitting out the rest of the year. As a sophomore he played 31 games, starting seven, and averaged 4.7 ppg. As a junior, he finally became a full-time starter, and ended up with a career high 10.7 ppg, while making 54 threes at a 35.8% clip.  He was looking to have a big senior year before missing the entire season again, this time with a shoulder injury. Not a good free throw shooter, and an average defensive player.

Bottom line- Barring injury, which is a big question with him, he can be a three point threat, and the Pitt staff does believe that he can replicate his junior production while at Lafayette.

Parker Stewart, Union City HS (Union City, TN)- The 6'4" SG, a former Ole Miss commit, is an intriguing late pickup for the Panthers, mainly because of his excellent three point stroke. Not an elite athlete, but he's smart and crafty, and he can also play point guard. Good passer and his length may offset his lack of elite athleticism to help get him into the lane. A coach's son, his dad is the head coach at UT-Martin. Other than Ole Miss, he was also offered by the likes of Florida, Georgetown, LSU, Iowa State, Butler, NC State, Memphis, Kansas State, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

Bottom line- A late gift for the Panthers when they really needed one. Will be his best as a catch and shoot off guard, but if he can overcome average foot speed, he could play some at the point, and may even prove to be an above average ACC player.

Jared Wilson-Frame, Northwest Florida State College (Niceville, FL)- Junior college star with a vast array of skills. At 6'5" and 230 pounds, he has the size to be a small forward, and the skills to be a shooting guard. NBA body already, as he's build like a linebacker. He's average to slightly above average defensively, but he's got what it takes physically to be better than that. Offensively is where he shines, though. He can use his big frame to rebound and score inside, and he can make shots all over the floor, including from three point range. He's also a very good passer. The Connecticut native at one time or another received offers from UConn, Providence, VCU, Georgia, West Virginia, Iowa State, and Wichita State. Well coached by Steve DeMeo, a respected longtime assistant in the major college ranks, mostly at Providence. He has two years of eligibility.

Bottom line- There's no doubt that he's the most talented of this group, and he also has the best chance to be a star. If he can live up to his potential immediately the next two years for the Panthers won't be as dire as many expect. That's a lot to put on a newcomer, but he's very mature physically and mentally.

Shamiel Stevenson, Hillcrest Academy (Phoenix, AZ)- Elite athleticism is the best trait for this 6'6" small forward. The Canadian native is solidly built already, and has off the charts hops. Can play some power forward because of his toughness and 230 pound build, but also has the athleticism and perimeter game to be a small forward. He's listed officially by Pitt as both a forward and a guard so that shows you that they believe in his versatility. Very good defensively and has a nice outside shot that should only improve. A sleeper, and late bloomer, that had offers from schools like Georgia Tech, Arizona State, USC, and VCU.

Bottom line- One of my two picks for the biggest sleeper in this class. If it ever comes together for him he has the chance to be a very good college player.

Samson George, First Love Academy (Washington, PA)- A native of Nigeria, via New York City, the 6'7" 220 pound power forward originally signed with Iona, but an eligibility issue sprung him loose to come to Pitt. He still will have four years or eligibility despite actually enrolling at Iona earlier in the year. An undersized power forward with the ability to put the ball on the floor a little, but his real strengths are toughness and rebounding. One member of the Pitt staff described him to me as "crazy tough". Had offers from the likes of USC, VCU, and Rutgers.

Bottom line- You can never have enough junkyard dogs, and that's exactly what George brings to the program.

Terrell Brown, Tilton School (Tilton, NH)- Big 6'10" 240 pound power forward/center with extremely long arms. Brown has very good shot blocking ability and uses his long arms to rebound well. Also a good passer for a big man. But his real strength is his shooting ability, out to three point range. The very well respected New England Recruiting Report, the main source for prospects in the region, raves about what they call his "vast potential". They also say that he has become more aggressive over the last year, which was one of the biggest complains about him. Brown was nearly a full year younger than other kids in his class until he went to prep school for a year. In that prep year, he had an excellent season against elite competition.

Bottom line- My other big sleeper in this group, he has the size, the shot blocking ability, and great shooting range for a big man. He could cause major mismatches if he develops as expected.

Peace Ilegomah, Montverde Academy (Montverde, FL)- Another native of Nigeria, the 6'9" 235 pound center is still developing offensively, but he uses his body and athleticism to rebound very well. Great anticipation and long arms makes him a potentially excellent shot blocker. Runs the floor very well. Didn't start playing basketball until he was 14 years old.

Bottom line- He still has a way to go offensively, but he's big, athletic, he can rebound, and he can block shots.

2018 Additions

Malik Ellison, St. John's transfer- Technically, he's on the team now, but will have to sit out this year due to transferring. The son of Louisville great Pervis Ellison, the 6'6" 215 pound shooting guard has yet to reach his potential, but with two years to play still, his best basketball is still likely to come. Averaged 7.4 ppg over his two seasons at St. John's, and has the potential to be a good shooter. He did make 30 threes at a 34.3% clip as a sophomore. Very good athlete and great length for the position. Good defender. Wasn't a good throw shooter at St. John's. Flashed as a sophomore with 22 points against Penn State, 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists against Syracuse, 23 points against DePaul, 15 points and 6 rebounds against Providence, and 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists against Georgetown.

Bottom line- The probable starting shooting guard in 2018.

Bryce Golden, Saint James School (Hagerstown, MD)- Tough as hell 6'9" 240 pound power forward that can do a little bit of everything. Very competitive and always plays hard. Good basketball instincts. Surprises defenders with his athleticism. His AAU coach calls him a "bully". Has some good offensive skills but needs to look to score more. Very good rebounder. Currently a poor free throw shooter.

Bottom line- Has some good skills for a power forward and could pair with Brown in the future to form a nice one-two punch.

Summary- Like the Kevin Stallings era, it will probably take a few more years to really know how good, or how not good, this class is. I mentioned throughout about the potential of each prospect, but it's common sense that not all of these players will reach their potential. But likewise they will not all fail. How many succeed, and to what degree, will determine what the university does with Stallings a few years down the road. Wilson-Frame has star potential, and Carr, Stewart, Stevenson, Brown, Ellison, and Golden have the ability to be good all around players in the next few years. Davis has a chance to be a defensive specialist, Ilegomah can be a shot blocking force, and George's hustle and toughness can only help the program. The raw talent is there to be good eventually. Stallings is good coach, and if given enough time he'll turn Pitt into a winner again. But with a new AD, and a segment of very vocal fans who never bought into Stallings from the start, he won't have many seasons to prove that. Whether the Panthers are good enough, fast enough, to get back into the NCAA tournament before the administration at the university gives up on Stallings is the race that we'll all have to watch now. But at least he now has his players, so he will live or die with them. And that's the only way to truly judge him.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How Pitt football can finish out their 2018 class

QUARTERBACK: The Panthers will only take one, and that one will be 6'3" 195 pound Nick Patti. For the longest time it looked like Kevin Doyle would be the man, but he continued to drag his feet, and the Panthers moved on to Patti. The New Jersey native has a good arm and is very athletic. With Patti, Kenny Pickett, and Thomas MacVittie the three quarterbacks taken in Pat Narduzzi's three full classes, the Panthers still have not brought in that guaranteed big time talent, though all three have very good potential as developmental quarterbacks.

RUNNING BACK: With what should be a small class (probably around 16-18), and Chawntez Moss, Todd Sibley, and AJ Davis all with many years of eligibility, this is not a position that the Panthers will spend much time on this year. Of course if a big time halfback wants to come, they'll probably take him. Big, tough 6'4" 255 pound Massachusetts native Jay Symonds has been brought in to be used much the same way as living legend George Aston, which is as a fullback and H-Back, with some blocking and receiving skills. It's not often you see kids that big used as a fullback, and that's a testament to his good agility for his big size.

WIDE RECEIVER: Again, with a small class and a young group already, they will probably not take many- quite possibly just one- this year. Who that will be is anybody's guess because they don't appear to be close to landing anyone obvious yet. Like at quarterback, Narduzzi still hasn't landed that guaranteed big time No. 1 receiver talent at the position, and ideally the one that he lands in this class could be that type of talent. I wouldn't be surprised if it came late, maybe from Florida where they grow elite wide receivers on trees (not literally).

TIGHT END: The staff landed a good group of tight ends in the last class, but there's room for one more, and there's two excellent options for that spot. Local star TJ Banks is already a well put together 6'5" 250 pounds, and he has the athleticism to match. He has big time potential, and landing him would be huge. The secondary option is Ohio native Keaton Upshaw, who at 6'7" 225 pounds is a different kind of tight end. If the Panthers land either, they succeeded at this position.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Local lineman Jake Kradel, who has already committed, could factor in at guard here, but the 6'4" 290 pounder could also end up at defensive tackle. The staff is in good shape with linemen on both sides of the ball, and how well they do with each side may end up determining where he begins. Other real possibilities are Jimmy McKenna, Chris Bleich, Blake Zubovic, Chase Brown, and TJ Bradley. Ideally, they land three of this group, though I don't know if they would turn away four if they could get them. McKenna needs to add a lot of weight to his 6'5" 250 pounds, but he has excellent feet. The 6'5' 305 pound Bleich is a former Penn State commit that many think is leading towards Nebraska. Zubovic went to the same local high school as Dorian Johnson, and the 6'5" 300 pounder seems to be leaning pretty heavily to the Panthers. The 6'6" 310 pound Brown and the 6'7" 290 pound Bradley are juco teammates that currently play in Scranton. Brown has two years of eligibility, and Bradley has three. With Bleich more of a long shot, if the Panthers can land Zubovic, McKenna, and Brown and/or Bradley (all very possible), that would be a magnificent haul for the program.

DEFENSIVE LINE: At tackle, the aforementioned Kradel could be a factor here, but two other local tackles could also be major additions. Devin Danielson is a 6'3" 290 pound force, and Pitt is probably the favorite with him. There is also David Green, a smaller, yet very athletic tackle at 6'2" and 255 pounds. He has been very quiet during his recruitment, but the Panthers are heavily in the mix. Other possibilities include massive Washington, DC native Cam Goode, who at 6'0" 310 pounds is a nose guard-type, and 6'5" 270 pound Spencer Anderson, a Maryland native that could project on offense, too.

At end, the Panthers have already got commitments from Danielson's high school teammate, Noah Palmer, as well as Maryland native John Morgan. Palmer is thin, but has good length and quickness. Morgan is a stocky 6'3" and 240 pounds, but he's strong and knows how to rush the passer.

LINEBACKER: Commit Wendell Davis has already committed, and the 6'2" 220 pounder is a very good start. There could be a few more since the Panthers have made inroads with some very good talent at the position. The best of this group is Columbus native Brian Asamoah, who at 6'0" 210 pounds is ideal for the star linebacker position. Pitt has to beat out the likes of Michigan and Penn State for him, but from what I hear the Panthers are very much at or near the top currently. Floridian Kenny Bastida recently named Pitt and Michigan State his top two. Another Ohio native, Jeslord Boateng, has the Panthers in his top group.

DEFENSIVE BACK: Cornerback Judson Tallandier, a high school teammate of Morgan in Maryland, is already in the fold, and that's a good start. There's no other cornerbacks that are reportedly close to joining him (which doesn't necessarily mean there aren't any that are close), and since you can never have enough defensive backs (and athletes), I could see the staff adding another if it's possible.

As for safety, local star Kwantel Raines can be a safety or an outside linebacker, and he would be a fantastic pickup. Another local, Marcus Hooker, can also project to safety or linebacker.

Summary: The Panthers currently have seven commits, and could add roughly ten more, though the exact number is never fully known until much later in the recruiting season. For the sake of argument, let's go with the number 17. Here would be an example (not a prediction) of how this class could realistically shake out:

QB- Nick Patti
FB- Jay Symonds
WR- Probably one from the south
TE- TJ Banks
OL- 2 of 3 of Jimmy McKenna, Chase Brown, TJ Bradley
OL- Blake Zubovic
OL/DL- Jake Kradel
DT- Devin Danielson
DT- David Green
DE- John Morgan
DE- Noah Palmer
LB- Wendell Davis
LB- Brian Asamoah
LB/S- Kwantel Raines
LB/S- Marcus Hooker
CB- Justin Tallandier

Like I said, that's just a general idea. It never goes as planned. But that would be a very good smaller class. They won't get all of those, though if they get similar to that, and especially land Raines and Asamoah, then this class will be a major success.

And is usually the case, I'm sure there will be one or two major names toward the end of the cycle that the staff will try to swoop in and steal at the last minute. Just like they did with players like Keyshon Camp, Amir Watts, and AJ Davis, three big time prospects that at this time of the year where not mentioned prominently with Pitt.

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.