Sunday, November 18, 2012

Dorian Johnson to Pitt

One down, two to go.  Belle Vernon offensive lineman Dorian Johnson has committed to the Panthers after spending the weekend visiting, along with fellow elite prospects Robert Foster and Tyler Boyd.  The 6'6" 275 pound Johnson originally committed to Penn State, but changed his mind after the Nittany Lions went on probation for four years.  Considered one of the best offensive line prospects in the country, Johnson also had offers from the likes of Ohio State, Alabama, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Pittsburgh 72 Oakland 62 (OT)


What started off as a potentially devastating loss ends up as the biggest comeback in Pitt basketball history.

1.  I wrote many, many months ago that Pitt fans would fall in love with James Robinson.  Are you in love yet?  Robinson showed he balls of steal as he practically singlehandedly willed the panthers back when nothing seemed to be going right.  He ended the night with 14 points, including 7-8 from the line,  3 assists, and 2 steals.  And all seemed to come when they were needed most.

2.  Robinson was one of two players of the game, in my opinion, with Dante Taylor being the other.  Taylor ended up with 10 points and 9 big rebounds, including 7 offensive.

3.  J.J. Moore led all scorers with just 16 points, including 3-4 from three late in the game, and 10 rebounds.

4.  On the downside, Tray Woodall and Lamar Patterson were awful.  Patterson did have 7 rebounds but he only came up with 2 points on 0-7 from the field.  Woodall was not much better as he was 3-15 from the field, including 2-10 from three.  He did lead with 8 assists but also had 4 turnovers and 4 fouls.  He ended up with 8 points.

5.  Steven Adams was not much of a factor with 4 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, and 4 fouls.

6.  Talib Zanna had a quiet game for him with 8 points and 5 rebounds.

7.  The Panthers shot just 41.7% from the field while Oakland shot 46.8%.  The Panthers also made 7-24 from three (29.2%), and 15-24 free throws (62.5%).

8.  The Panthers out rebounded 41-24.

Bottom line, this could have been a disaster but in the long run  it may actually help the team more in the future than if they had won by 30 points.  It showed them to never give up and if you keep going at it, no matter how much things aren't going your way, you still have a chance.  Learning is an art and Pitt learned to paint a little tonight.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pittsburgh 78 Lehigh 53

Another game, another impressive Pitt win.  The Panthers improve to 3-0 and unlike what some expected, this wasn't close.

1.  Tray Woodall was the leading scorer, the third different leading scorer for the team in the first three games, and all three leaders had over 20 points.  Woodall, who in my opinion has been the most consistent Panther this season, had 23 points, including 4-7 from three, while also grabbing 4 rebounds and dishing out 8 assists.

2.  Talib Zanna once again had an excellent game, and this time was deadly from 12 feet out.  He ended up with 20 points, thanks to 8-9 from the field and 4-5 from the line.  He also added 6 rebounds, one block, and one steal.

3.  Steven Adams struggled for the first time this season and he seemed to be lost and flailing for most of the first half.  He got under control more in the second half and contributed 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal.

4.  I don't think the Panthers are missing John Johnson much because Durand Johnson has come to the rescue.  The redshirt freshman may not have even seen time this season but now is averaging 8.5 ppg.  Tonight he came off the bench with 9 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal.

5.  James Robinson also had his first poor game, going 1-8 from the floor and only getting 2 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal.  But once again he had no turnovers and now has just one turnover in three games.

6.  On the down side, Lamar Patterson continues to have a slow start this season.  He had just 3 points and is averaging 2.7 ppg this season.

7.  The bench didn't do much in the first half but when was all said and done they contributed 24 points and 22 rebounds.  Besides Johnson, J.J. Moore came off the bench with 8 points and 5 rebounds, and Dante Taylor had 4 points and 10 rebounds.  In the last two games Taylor is averaging 9.5 rpg.

8.  Possible lottery pick C.J. McCollum had 17 points but the Pitt defense clearly held him in check.  In fact, McCollum hit two 3 pointers near the end of the game or he would have been even more of a non-factor.

9.  Pitt out rebounded Lehigh 38-20.

10.  The Panthers only had 6 turnovers.  The way they have protected the ball this season has been highly impressive, especially when compared to last season.

My official ballot for postseason awards

As a member of the the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA), I vote for All-American, the Bronco Nagurski Award, the Outland Trophy, and the Eddie Robinson Award.


OFFENSE


Quarterback- Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M, Fr.-  I'm almost positive that Collin Klein of Kansas State will be a consensus first team All-American, and may very well win the Heisman, but the Aggie has had a better season, in my opinion.  Klein has a better record, more rushing touchdowns (19-15), and better passing efficiency (167.44-151.17) but Manziel has more touchdown passes (18-12), more yards passing (2,780-2,020), more rushing yards (1,014-748), and a higher rushing average (6.5-4.9).  He also won at Alabama and has had to play against the best defenses in the country with the SEC, while Klein has played against poor Big 12 defenses.

Running Back- Kenjon Barber, Oregon, Sr.-  People are mentioning him as a possible Heisman winner but that's going way too far.  Clearly, his 321 yards, 5 touchdown performance against USC made people excited, but after that he's only run up some numbers against the likes of Fresno State and Washington State.  Because of his outburst against USC he has catapulted to 1,360 yards, a 6.8 avg. and 19 touchdowns.

Running Back- Giovani Bernard, North Carolina, So.- I can easily see the current national rushing leader, Stefphon Jefferson of Nevada, or a big name like Montee Ball of Wisconsin, taking this spot but the electrifying Bernard has 1,008 yards in just 8 games, with 11 rushing touchdowns.  He also has an amazing 7.1 avg.  If that's not enough he also has 38 catches, which is the third best total for a running back in the country, and to go with that he has a 10.8 avg. and 4 more touchdowns.  Then there is the return game where he is fourth in the nation in punt returns with a 17.9 avg. and 2 more touchdowns.

Wide Receiver-  Marqise Lee, Southern California, So.-  Hard to believe that he was only a defensive player in high school.  Robert Woods was expected to be the star this season, but the sophomore took over with 98 catches for 1,447 yards, and 13 touchdowns.  He's also No. 13 nationally in kick returning with a 29.4 yard avg. and a touchdown.

Wide Receiver-  DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson, Jr.-  Similar to the Lee situation at USC, the main man at Clemson was supposed to be somebody else, in this case Sammy Watkins.  Instead Hopkins took over to the tune of 66 catches for 1,096 yards, a 16.6 avg., and 14 receiving touchdowns (2nd best in the country).

Tight End- Austin Seferian-Jenkins, So.-  His 55 catches leads all tight ends nationally, and he also has 731 yards, a 13.3 avg., and 4 touchdowns.  Chris Coyle (Arizona State), Zach Ertz (Stanford), and Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) were also under consideration.

Offensive Line-  Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M, Jr.

Offensive Line-  Jake Matthews, Texas A&M, Jr.

Offensive Line-  Chance Warmack, Alabama, Sr.

Offensive Line-  Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina, Sr.

Center-  Barrett Jones, Alabama, Sr.



DEFENSE


Defensive Line-  Damontre Moore, Texas A&M, Jr.- His 20 tackles for loss are the most in the country and his 12.5 sacks are tied for the most in the country.  He also added 74 tackles, 6 hurries, 2 pass breakups, a forced fumble, and even a blocked kick.

Defensive Line-  Star Lotuleiei, Utah, Sr.-  His stats won't wow you, but there's a reason why he's expected to be a top 5 pick in the upcoming draft.  The 6'4" 320 pound beast takes on two, three, and sometimes four blockers but still has 32 tackles and 4 sacks.

Defensive Line-  Jadaveon Clowney, South Carolina, So.-  The one time top high school prospect in the country has lived up to his potential this season with 17 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 43 tackles, and 2 forced fumbles.

Defensive Line-  Bjoern Werner, Florida State, Jr.-  The German import has always had the reputation as a stout run defender but this season he has turned up the pass rush.  On the season he has 8 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, 5 hurries, 6 pass breakups, and a forced fumble.

Linebacker-  Manti Te'o, Notre Dame, Sr.-  The heart and soul of the Irish's excellent defense, he has 92 tackles, 4 pass breakups, and 4 hurries. The most amazing stat, though, is his 6 interceptions, which is the second highest number in the country.

Linebacker-  Jarvis Jones, Georgia, Jr.-  He's missed two games but still has 56 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, and 5 forced fumbles, which is second in the nation.  A top candidate for defensive player of the year awards.

Linebacker-  C.J. Mosley, Alabama, Jr.-  This one was tough as I almost picked Khaseem Greene of Rutgers, but I chose Mosley because he has had to play against better competition, and played well in those big games.  On the season he has 83 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, a forced fumble, and a recovered fumble.

Defensive Back-  Phillip Thomas, Fresno State, Sr.-  Leads the country with 8 interceptions, and nobody else even has seven.  Even more impressively he's returned 3 of them for touchdowns.  He's also added 73 tackles, 3 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles.

Defensive Back-  Dee Milliner, Alabama, Jr.-  His 16 pass breakups are only two off the national lead, and he has 2 interceptions, 41 tackles, a forced fumble, and a blocked kick.

Defensive Back-  Matt Elam, Florida, Jr.-  The hard hitting emotional leader of the Gators defense with 52 tackles and 3 interceptions.

Defensive Back-   Jordan Poyer, Oregon State, Sr.-  Many in the east may not know about him, but he blankets receivers in the Pac 12.  On the season he has 32 tackles, 5 interceptions, 4 tackles for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble.



SPECIAL TEAMS


Punter-  Ryan Allen, Louisiana Tech, Sr.-  The nation's leading punter with a 48.2 avg.

Kicker-  Dustin Hopkins, Florida State, Sr.-  He's made 20 of 24 field goals this season and became the ACC's all-time leading field goal maker when he nailed a 56-yarder this season.

Return Man-  Tavon Austin, West Virginia, Sr.-  There were a lot of candidates here but Austin gets the call for me because he did both kick and punt returns, and because he is also an All-American caliber receiver.  He has an 8.9 avg. and a touchdown on punt returns, and a 30.3 avg. and a touchdown on kick returns.



AWARDS



Bronco Nagurski Award (Best Defensive Player)- Manti Te'o, Notre Dame-  This is a three man race between Te'o, Jarvis Jones, and Damontre Moore but the 6 interceptions for a linebacker is something that stands out as special.  You can't go wrong with any of the three, though.


Outland Trophy (Best Interior Lineman)-  Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M-  Barrett Jones won the award last season as a tackle so he's somebody who has to be considered, and Lotuleiei is a great player, but Joeckel has had a great year.


Eddie Robinson Award (Best Coach)-  Bill Snyder, Kansas State-  Anybody who votes for anybody else has to have his head examined.  He turned one of the worst programs in the country into a national power not once but twice.  And the second time he did it, he did it when he was in his 70s.  He's currently 73.













Monday, November 12, 2012

Pittsburgh 86 Fordham 51

Two games, two really impressive performances.  Some thoughts:

1.  John Johnson is transferring and to be honest I don't see his departure hurting now or in the future.  In fact, Duran Johnson replaced him in the rotation and looked good with 8 points.

2.  Steven Adams again looked good but unfortunately it was in front of a lot of NBA scouts.  This time he came up with 13 points on 5 for 5 shooting and 3 for 4 from the line, 5 rebounds (all offensive),  2 steals, and a block.  Through his first two games, he is averaging 10.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 2.5 bpg, and 1.5 spg.  And to be honest, I don't even think he is in animal mode yet.

3.  James Robinson is so good with the ball in his hand that it's kinda ridiculous.  How good?  How about just one turnover in two games?  He had no turnovers in this game with 6 points again, with 3 assists, and 2 rebounds.

4.  Adams and Robinson are a combined 15-18 (83.3%) from the field this season.

5.  Trey Woodall had 12 points, 5 assists, and 2 steals while Lamar Patterson added 5 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists.

6.  In the opener Talib Zanna led the way with 20 points, and tonight had 8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal, and a block.  But it was his sometimes backup J.J. Moore who led the way offensively with 20 points and 3-5 from three.

7.  The Panthers only had 6 turnovers and 3 of those were made by Dante Taylor.  But Taylor also led the way with 9 points.

8.  The Panthers leading scorer this season is Moore who is averaging 14.5 ppg.  Second is the player who starts in front of him, Talib Zanna, who is averaging 14.0 ppg.

9.  Pitt's starters had 44 points.  Their bench had 42 points.


Friday, November 9, 2012

UConn 24 Pittsburgh 17

I'll make this brief.  This was a terrible loss.  Not only did Tino Sunseri stink, but the entire team stunk. They were lifeless and clueless.  Paul Chryst once again made some very strange decisions.

Basketball: Pittsburgh 80 Mt. St.Mary's 48

Very impressed, as I expected I would be.  This team has the potential to be excellent.

Other thoughts:

1.  Talib Zanna had 20 points on 10 of 12 shooting but I'm not sure I'm ready to call him a major offensive threat.  The truth is, they were the easiest 20 points he'll ever seen with easy transitional baskets coming at will. He also added 2 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block.

2.  Welcome Steven Adams and James Robinson.  Adams had 8 points on 4-5 front he field, with 8 rebounds, 4 blocks, and a steal.  What struck me most is that unlike most big men, he never, ever stops moving.  And Jamie Dixon didn't exactly take it easy on his freshman playing him for most of the game.  Robinson was as steady as can be with 6 points, 4 rebounds, a steal, and just one turnover.  Amazingly, though, he did not have one assist.

3.  Travon Woodall had a good all around game with 14 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, and an assist.  He had 3 turnovers but the team had only 8 turnovers, a big improvement over last season.

4. Lamar Patterson had no points or rebounds, and the fact that the Panthers looked so good without him shows just how deep they are.

5.  I was very impressed with Trey Zeigler.  His defense was excellent and he apparently got the message that that matters at Pitt.  On offense he showed that in transition he is as good as gold with 11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a block.

6.  J.J.  Moore came off the bench with his normal offense.  This time it was 9 points.  Cameron Wright played despite his father dying and showed great heart by doing so.  He looked much improved with 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists.  His defense was exceptional.

7.  The Panthers had 10 steals.

8.  Only 1 for 6 from three but it wasn't a needed weapon since there was no defense for their transition game.

A preseason look at Pitt basketball

Perimeter Players:  Senior Tray Woodall has had his share of ups and downs in his career, but now with his experience and change in roles he may finally break through as one of the better players in the Big East.  The New Jersey native was never the quintessential point guard, even though his assists totals are very good.  He is also not the ideal two guard either because he's only 5'11" and he would have trouble guarding big, athletic shooting guards.  But with the emergence of true freshman James Robinson at the point, head coach Jamie Dixon has been playing Woodall at the two.  Because of Robinson's strong 6'3" body, he could be capable of guarding any big two guard.

Robinson is not exceptionally quick, but he's so strong and smart that he's an excellent defender.  Woodall is only average defensively which is surprising because you would think his quickness would let him have over two steals a game.

From an offensive standpoint, Robinson is an extremely smart quarterback and an intelligent and accurate passer, while also having enough shooting and driving ability to keep defenses honest.  He's basically a bigger, more athletic Levance Fields so to say he's going to be huge for Pitt's program over his four year career is an understatement.

With Robinson running the point, Woodall moves to shooting guard, and that is a move I really like.  While defense may be a bit of problem, offensively this gives Pitt two excellent passers and it enables Woodall to concentrate more on providing offense instead of quarterbacking and trying to score at the same time.  Woodall surprised many last season when he hit a very good 38.6% of his threes.  He also made an excellent 81% of his free throws and as he's a much better free throw shooter than Robinson, Pitt can easily put the ball in his hands to cement games from the line.

In reserve, sophomore John Johnson should be the first player off the bench, both at the two and the point.  At 6'1" he's also not the ideal two guard size but he was a pleasant surprise as an outside shooter last season hitting 38.4% of his threes.  He also made an excellent 83.3% of his free throws.  His defense and offensive consistency must improve but that should happen in his sophomore season.

At small forward, the starter will be Lamar Patterson, who may be the program's top overall player this season.  At 6'5", the junior is an excellent passer and a good rebounder, while also turning into a real offensive threat.  He doesn't have above the rim athleticism or great quickness, but he uses his solid frame to score in the paint and his shooting is burgeoning on excellence.

Patterson averaged 9.6 ppg last season but averaged 13.3 ppg in the CBI tournament along with 49.1% from the field, 46.7% from three, and a superb 17 for 20 from the line.  On the season, he hit 41% of his threes.  It remains to be seen if Patterson can truly be a big time offensive weapon but 15 ppg is not out of the question.

The reserves behind Patterson, Woodall, and Johnson on the perimeter depends on whether or not Dixon wants offense of defense.  If he wants defense, 6'5" sophomore Cameron Wright will get the call.  The Ohio native's offensive game is limited but he is an above the rim athlete who has the potential to be a defensive stopper, while also adding some offense in transition.  His offensive weaknesses were exposed last season because he was unable to bring in any offense when called on, but that problem has been solved by adding 6'5" Central Michigan transfer Trey Zeigler.

Much has been made of Zeigler's slow start early in the season, but in my opinion it only shows how much talent this team has because the coaches aren't forced to play somebody who isn't a well rounded player yet.  Zeigler played for his father at Central Michigan and to be blunt he was left to do whatever he wanted on the court.  The result of that is that Zeigler doesn't know how to play on a team like Pitt that demands every player do the little things.

But make no mistake about it.  Zeigler has ability, especially on offense.  He is a horrid free throw shooter and not a good three point shooter, so you aren't likely to see him at the end of a game, but he is  excellent driving the lane and scoring.  He will provide some instant offense at times this season, and if he ever gets the nuances down, not to mention his defense, he could see significant minutes eventually.

There is also small forward Durand Johnson, who redshirted last season.  The redshirt freshman has great 6'6" height and can be a white hot outside shooter at times, so he could also come in at times when the offense is struggling.

Lastly, 6'5" true freshman Chris Jones has shown in practices that his length, intangibles, athleticism, and all around game means he should have a bright future, but there doesn't seem to be much room for him this season.  Therefore I suspect he will be redshirted.

Low Post Players: For the inside players, all eyes will obviously be in 7'0" new Zealand man child Steven Adams.  Much has been made about the fact that Adams has not been a force offensively yet, but for the life of me I don't understand why anybody would expect that.  It's extremely rare for a big guy like Adams to have much offensive game early in his carrer.  In fact, I've predicted that he will probably somewhere around 8-10 ppg this season, and that's mostly going to be because of put backs and free throws.  But that doesn't mean Adams won't be a major force this season.

Where Adams will make a huge contribution is in rebounding and defense.  He is so big, strong, and active that I would be shocked if he didn't at least have 8-10 rpg this season and 2-3 bpg.  There's a reason why kids this big and talented are so coveted at every level of basketball.  What he will bring to the court goes beyond numbers. He will take opponents out of their game plan on both ends of the court.

To help Adams rebound and defend in the low blocks, the Panthers will start junior Talib Zanna at the four.  At 6'9" and 230 pounds, the bull strong Zanna may finally be able to come into his own now that most defenses will be geared to contain Adams.  Former Pitt assistant coach Tom Herrion told me not long ago that he thinks Zanna's ceiling may be higher than anybody on the roster (this was before Adams).  In the six game CBI tournament last season Zanna averaged a very promising 11.8 ppg and 7.0 rpg.

Maybe the most talented offensive player on the team will not even begin the season as a starter, though  if 6'6" junior J.J. Moore continues to improve as quickly as he did last season he will be hard to keep off the floor.  In Moore's last 13 games last season, he hit double figures 9 times.  In those 13 games he averaged 11.8 ppg and made 20 of 48 threes, an excellent 41.7%.  He even got to the line a lot and made 31 of 40 free throws.

The senior veteran Dante Taylor will spell Adams in the middle and though he's never lived up to what was expected for him in his career, he should be a solid influence on Adams.  Behind him will be 6'11" Malcolm Gilbert, who still isn't developed enough to see a lot of minutes, though he may be able to help in future years.

Bottom line:  It's no secret that I wasn't a fan of the makeup of recent Pitt teams so I'm not being a homer when I say that this team can be very good.  The veterans Woodall, Patterson, and Moore all have the potential to be 15 ppg scorers.  I doubt that will happen because there's only one basketball, but that's the offensive potential on this team.  And that's not even including Ziegler, who has averaged that at Central Michigan.

Ballhandling, a weakness in the recent past, should be significantly better with the steady and smart Robinson running the team.  And while Woodall isn't as good with the ball, the fact that he isn't forced to quarterback the team the entire game will only make him better.

With the offense apparently not being as problem, that leaves the two biggest facets of Pitt basketball historically- rebounding and defense.  Rebounding will definitely not be a problem and I see no reason why Pitt isn't one of the best rebounding teams in the nation this season.  Adams, Zanna, Patterson, and Robinson are all excellent rebounders at their respective positions.

Defense was a major weakness for the Panthers last season and while they have more offensive players than defensive players in the program, the two newcomers, Adams and Robinson, should make a huge difference.  Robinson is aggressive and tough at the top of the key, and in the rare occasion that he lets somebody get by him, that player will be met by Adams.  Will the Panthers be great defensively?  Probably not.  Will they be good enough?  I say yes.

A nice mix of offense and defense, athleticism and toughness, youth and experience should excite Pitt fans.  Especially since Dixon is too good of a coach to not correct last season's problems.  He has a chip on his shoulder, as do the players.

Prediction: 26-7 record and finishing No.15 in the nation

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What Pitt's Defensive and Special Teams personnel looks like for the future

Defensive End:  A strength last season turned into a weakness in the first half of this season, but the unit is starting to come around some and the future looks even brighter.  The strength of the line is on the inside and the main man there is Aaron Donald.  Because of his lack of size he probably won't be a high draft pick and for that reason I would be very surprised if he left early for the NFL.  That would obviously be great news for the team since Tyrone Ezell, Khaynin Mosley-Smith, and Darryl Render will also be back.  Terrell Jackson will be in the rotation after a redshirt season and huge prep school lineman Tyrique Jarrett, who I mentioned on the offensive side of the ball as a possible guard, could be a huge help clogging up the middle on the defensive side of the ball.  After Donald, none have shown that they are special yet, but then again they can be a very solid five man rotation.

At end, there is more of a question mark because there is no player of Donald's caliber.  T.J. Clemmings, Bryan Murphy, Jack Lippert, and Devin Cook are all back and promising incoming freshmen Shakir Soto and Luke Maclean are in the mix.  James Conner, who I mention before at running back, may also end up here.

Bottom line, outside of Donald, there is nobody yet who has proven that they can perform at a high level, but with eight of the top nine back, and at least three others joining the mix, depth problems will be a thing of the past.

Linebackers:  This is another unit that has struggled but that should be better next season.  Seven of the top nine are back, and there will be some new blood and a few returning injured players that could help a lot.

In the middle, Dan Mason shocked everybody when he came back from a mangled knee injury and was playing like an all-conference performer before being lost for the season again, this time because of a lacerated liver.  While this is a tough injury it should be easier to come back from then his knee injury so unless the unforeseen happens, he should be back at his ten tackle a game level.  If not, Shane Gordon is a good player in own right.  If both are healthy, the middle is in great hands.

On the outside, Todd Thomas missed a lot of the first half of the season but he has regained his quick all over the field style this season.  He has yet to turn into the star that many expect, but he will still only be a redshirt junior next season so it may finally be his time.  The other starter on the outside, Eric Williams, will also be back, as well as lettermen Emanuel Rackard and Nicholas Grigsby.  The real talent that may contribute next year, however, did not see the field this year.  Talented Ejuan Price missed the season and if he ever reaches his potential, look out.  Bam Bradley, Deaysean Rippy, and Devon Porchia all redshirted this season and all have the potential to be very good.  Mike Caprara, who redshirted this season, is a wildcard, and incoming freshman Matt Galambos will probably redshirt.

Like the defensive line, the depth will be much better, but will any be a star?  That's the question.  In a perfect world, Mason is healthy and Thomas, Price, Bradley, and Rippy all live up to their potential, but we'll have to see how perfect the world gets.

Defensive Backs:  This was expected to be the best unit, by far, on defense, this year, and they are finally living up to that expectation.  K'Waun Williams was hurt against Louisville, and it showed, but for the rest of the year he has been very good.  But even better has been redshirt freshman Lafayette Pitts, who is on the verge of stardom already.  Top reserve Cullen Christian will also be back.  He'll be joined by Jahmahl Pardner, who tore his ACL early in the season, and redshirt Ryan Lewis.  Both showed talent in preseason practices.  Two tall Clairton kids, redshirt Trenton Coles, and incoming freshman Titus Howard, will probably have to wait beyond next season to see time.

At safety, Jarred Holley and Andrew Taglianetti will be moving on, but Jason Hendricks will be back, and he's had a very good season.  Ray Vinopal may get another chance to start opposite him and he's come on much better this season after a bad start.  The depth is currently not so great behind them with redshirt freshman Roderick Ryles and Steve Williams not making any impact at all in their first two seasons.  Will Anthony Gonzalez get a chance?  He definitely has the talent to be a good safety but he has to behave off the field before the staff can believe in him.  Incoming freshman Rachid Ibrahim may have a chance to play if he shows anything in preseason practices. A late addition who could see time immediately if the Panthers can steal him during his upcoming visit is Iowa commit Delano Hill, a Detroit native who is good enough that LSU and Notre Dame are courting him.

A starting secondary that would include Williams, Pitts, Hendricks, and Vinopal could be one of the better secondaries in the country, especially if the depth rounds into shape.


Special Teams:  Kevin Harper is graduating and that may be a good thing.  Then again, things could get worse.  Incoming freshman Chris Blewitt will be just that, a freshman.  Some freshman kickers come in and are excellent right away, while some don't have a chance of succeeding.  It's a total unknown in how well he do, if he is even the chosen kicker.  Brad Lukasak is a walk on this season who showed in high school that he has talent, and he could very well be the man.

The rest of the special teams look to be excellent.  Matt Yoklic will be back for his third season as a starter and incoming freshman Ryan Winslow looks to be the heir apparent.  Cam Saddler will be gone so a new punt returner will be found.  Ronald Jones is the current backup so he'll be in the running for the job again. For kick returning, Pitts has a chance to go the distance every time he touches the ball, and he has definite all-star potential at the position.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What Pitt's Offensive personnel looks like for the future

Quarterback:  The bad news is that whoever the Panthers start in the opener next season will have his first start as a Panther.  The good news is, I'm not very worried about it.  Because he's a fifth year senior  and has had success in the past, the much travelled Tom Savage is the favorite to start.  He's 6'5" and 230 pounds, with a cannon for an arm.  He set a Big East record for a true freshman when he threw for 2,211 yards, along with 14 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He was also named Rutgers' team MVP and a Freshman All-American.  Heading into his sophomore year, he was named on the watch lists for both the Davey O'Brien Award and the Maxwell Award.  But a hand injury early early in his sophomore season cost him his job.

Savage has NFL ability, even first round ability, when you look at his size and arm.  This is a player who had offers from the likes of Michigan, Penn State, Miami, Florida, LSU, Georgia, and Florida State. Even when he was looking to transfer, Michigan, Miami, Florida, and Florida State were interested but they were denied by then coach Greg Schiano.  Savage has one last chance to reach his high ceiling, and Paul Chryst is the man to lead him there.  I think the stars are aligned for Savage to have a very successful senior year.

If Savage for whatever reason fails, there is still some very good talent in the mix.  For some bizarre reason, some Pitt fans are writing off Chad Voytik because he couldn't beat out Tino Sunseri.  That of course is crazy.  Voytik has impressed the staff a lot in his first year on the team and a year of getting stronger and more prepared will do wonders for him in the future.  Like Savage, he has a cannon arm and a lightening quick release.  At only 6'1" he doesn't have Savage's height, but he's tall enough.  He also has excellent mobility and great leadership skills.  His future is very bright.

Lastly, there is incoming freshman Tra'von Chapman, who is very similar to Voytik.  I know there is a groundswell of fans who expect Chapman to immediately come in and star, but that seems very unlikely.  Let's not forget that none of the elite programs, even in the Big 10, saw him as a quarterback. There's a reason for that.  He has a slight build and he needs a lot of help in his mechanics. But that doesn't mean he can't be a star down the road.  In fact, Pitt fans have every right to be excited about what Chryst can do with Chapman in the future, because the kid really is somebody that many could look back on someday and wonder why they didn't try to get him.

To summarize, the ideal for the Panthers is to have Savage live up to his ability and come up with a huge senior season.  Voytik can get some snaps as a backup and be ready to full-time action as a redshirt sophomore in 2014.  He'll have to battle Chapman who as a redshirt freshman should be up for the battle.  If Chandler Kincade signs with the Panthers then he would be an ideal redshirt candidate in 2014.

Bottom line, there are a lot of questions at a position where you don't want questions, but the combination of talent and Chryst's ability should answer any questions.

Running Back:  The excellent Ray Graham is moving on so that means the main man becomes Rushel Shell.  He's shown in his freshman season that he has great talent.  The only thing I worry about is that he carried the ball a ton in high school, and Pitt may be better off not running him into the ground.  For that reason Isaac Bennett will be called on again to contribute.  He hasn't had the chance to do much this season but he will have to be in the mix more next year.  After that, there's nobody who we know for sure can contribute.  Malcolm Crockett?  Corey Davis?  Who knows, but one of them may be forced to contribute.

The loss of Corey Clement was a big loss for now.  He's a big time talent who could have been the No.2 back, and a No.2 back with little or no drop off at that.  Incoming freshman James Conner says the staff wants him as a running back now.  Most scouts and coaches I talk to tell me that Conner is a better defensive prospect, and it looks like his move to running back is because they have a hole to fill.  But that doesn't mean that Conner won't stay there, and even excel.  At 6'2" and 235 pounds, he has intriguing size and he has very good speed and feet for his size.  He just may be a real find, but right now his contribution as a freshman and beyond has to be a question mark, especially since he still has some academic hurdles to get over.

Of course the name that many Pitt fans talk about for the future, no doubt because I talk about him a lot myself, is Washington HS phenom Shai McKenzie.  At 5'11" and 210 pounds, McKenzie is strong, quick, and fast.  I can see him being a national recruit before all is said and done.  He is a big Pitt fan and it would be huge to sign him.  With Shell having children and already having a lot of mileage on him, it seems virtually guaranteed that he will leave after his junior season if he is successful over the next two years.  That would mean that theoretically McKenzie could get carries as a true freshman than take over as the main ballcarrier in his sophomore season.  But first Pitt has to get him, and that does nothing to help next season when Pitt doesn't appear to have a single game breaker coming out of the backfield.

At fullback, Mark Giubalato and Adam Lazenga are back, Ohio State transfer David Durham will be eligible, and Gateway's Jaymar Parrish will be arriving.  Needless to say, the position is well stocked.

Wide Receiver:  This is a position that could go two very different ways.  Mike Shanahan and Cam Saddler are gone, and Devin Street may follow.  Street doesn't appear to have great speed to me (though many claim he has excellent speed), but if he times well enough, his size and production will combine with his speed to make him a player who would go in rounds 2-4.  Does that mean Street will leave early?  Who knows?  He may want to leave his college troubles behind and go for it.  If he does, Pitt's receiving corps could be in big trouble.  There are many names on the roster who will be back, and Wisconsin transfer Manasseh Garner will be eligible, but none have accomplished anything yet and none look like a sure thing to ever do so.  That doesn't mean I am writing them all off, it's just that none have shown signs of doing anything yet and until they do we can't assume they will.

Of course like it was with Walt Harris, somebody will fill the void and put up good numbers because that's what happens in an offense with an excellent passing game mind at the helm.  But putting up numbers and being a difference maker are two very different things, and Pitt hasn't shown signs of having a future difference maker at the position.

Of course that would change if they could land Central Valley superstar Robert Foster.  It's a battle with Alabama right now, and nobody really knows which he will choose, but if it's Pitt he immediately becomes the biggest threat on offense.  He is more than just a great athlete, as he's already advanced enough in his receiving skills to make a major impact immediately.

There's still an outside chance of getting Tyler Boyd also, though I'm definitely not predicting that.  West Virginia is failing this season and are losing most of their top offensive players, so the Mountaineers may have lost some of their buzz for Boyd.  Like Foster, Boyd would play immediately, both as a receiver and as a return man.  Both are the difference makers Pitt needs.

Getting at least Foster is a must, and getting Boyd will be the cherry on top, even though the 2014 wide receiver class in PA also looks very good.  K.J. Williams (Bethlehem Liberty), Ricky Rogers (Gateway), and Troy Apke (Mt. Lebanon) are three prospects that the staff will try hard to get, but like incoming freshman Zach Challingsworth and Reggie Green, they don't look to have the immediate impact that Foster will.

In summary, if Street and Foster are Pitt's starters next season, it will be one of the better duos in the country, and the immediate future of the unit looks exceptional.  If Street leaves and Foster decides against the Panthers then the wide receiver unit will have a lot of work to do to contribute.

Tight End:  This unit was a bit of a disappointment this season but the future looks very bright.  J.P. Holtz has already shown as a true freshman that he has star ability.  Drew Carswell has had an awful year so his snaps may be taken by incoming freshman Scott Orndoff, who has the potential to be an excellent receiving threat.  Brendan Carozzoni barely played this season but he'll get another chance next year.  Incoming freshmen Devon Edwards and Tony Harper will also be added to the mix next year and the staff is still recruiting tight ends for the 2014 class.

This position all comes down to two players, in my opinion, and both are local kids.  Holtz could be all-star caliber as the sophomore starter next season and Orndoff has the ability to be a major receiving threat as a freshman.  If they come through as expected then this unit could be excellent both next season and for years to come.

Offensive Line:  It's no secret that this unit is poor but the numbers will at least improve next season.  Ryan Turnley and Chris Jacobson will be gone, but neither are exactly irreplaceable.  Turnley should be respected for playing hurt a lot in his career and for getting everything he could out of his ability, but he was not much more than mediocre.  Jacobson was, quite frankly, a huge disappointment.

The good news is, not only is everybody else back, there will be reinforcements.  First, the starters coming back are Cory King, Ryan Schlieper, and Matt Rotheram.  None have been great but you have to think that by next season they will have spent so much time with Chryst, Joe Rudolph, and Jim Hueber that they should make some improvement.  Giant Arthur Doakes has had to fill in for an injured Schlieper recently and has handled himself well.  Shane Johnson may also be in the mix.  Juantez Hollins, who was suspended for the entire season, would help if he comes back, Tom Ricketts will be back after an injury, and promising freshmen Adam Bisnowaty and Gabe Roberts may finally be able to contribute.  Artie Rowell appears to be the heir apparent at center but it will be interesting to see who else is moved to the position to compete with him.  Rowell is 6'2" and 300 pounds, and Chryst, Rudolph, and Hueber prefer giant 6'5" 330 pound centers.  Incoming freshmen Carson Baker and Aaron Reese will likely redshirt.

Two players who could conceivably help immediately are Belle Vernon lineman Dorian Johnson and former prep school giant Tyrique Jarrett.  It's rare for a true freshman lineman to play a lot, especially since the 270 pound Johnson is highly undersized, but if he shows anything at all I can see him getting some time at guard with an eventual move to tackle down the road.  Many expect Jarrett to end up on defense, and he just may, but the 6'4" 330 pound monster has many scouts and coaches salivating about his potential at guard.

Bottom line, I don't see a huge upgrade on the line next season, but I suspect better line play, especially if Johnson, Jarrett, and Hollins are in the mix.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pittsburgh 26 Notre Dame 29 (3 OT)

1.  Paul Chryst has been a disaster at game coaching this season and he proved it more than ever in this one.  He does get credit, however, for having his players mentally ready to go and not be intimidated, and his staff deserves credit for improving every unit on the team.  But the actual decisions that Chryst has to make during the game are a huge weakness.

2.  Ray Graham was spectacular and for the most part the offensive line played well despite the fact that Notre Dame has an excellent defense.

3.  The defense was not great, but they were okay.  They were clearly tired at the end when the offense gave them no help at all.

4.  Lafayette Pitts is already a star and K'Waun Williams is also good.

5.  Todd Thomas makes a big difference on defense with his mobility and Joe Trebitz was solid.

6.  Neither Mike Shanahan, who had at least three drops, and Devin Street, played particularly well.

7.  Robert Foster tweeted Pitt as "we" during the second half of the game, for what that's worth. Shai McKenzie also expressed disappointment in the loss.

Bottom line, the Pitt staff and players get credit for coming to play, but when they depended on the brain trust to help them out, they got nothing.

Edit:  We have some crybabies trying to post and apparently they aren't mature enough to handle Pitt losing so for the time being at least I will have to monitor the comments so that the mature people won't have to put up with them.