Monday, January 28, 2013

Players at Pitt's February 2nd Junior Day ***CONTINUALLY UPDATED***

There are more invitations sent out than what is on this list, and some of these kids may decide not to show up, but this group is known to have offers and have expressed interest in attending.  I will update the list over the next week.

Marcus Allen, Henry Wise HS (Upper Marlboro, MD)-  The godson of Pitt great Curtis Martin, the 6'1" 185 pound safety already holds offers from Pitt, Maryland, Rutgers, and Duke.  Already visited Pitt unofficially. Maryland will be a major player.

Patrick Amara, West Catholic HS (Philadelphia, PA)- A 6'2" 170 pound WR/DB who I think is best suited as a ballhawking safety, though Pitt hasn't decided yet where he would play.  Adding another quality player from Philadelphia would be very beneficial for the program to establish themselves deeper in the area.

Troy Apke, Mt. Lebanon HS (Mt. Lebanon, PA)- A 6'2" receiver that can flat out fly, Apke has been timed at 4.43 seconds in the 40. Pitt seems to have every advantage in landing him with his father being a star Panthers linebacker in the past, and his former coach, Chris Haering being on Pitt's staff right now.  Plus, the position is not deep and he could potentially see significant time as a freshman.

Dorian Baker, Cleveland Heights HS (Cleveland Heights, OH)- Big, strong 6'3" 205 pound receiver with good speed, athleticism, and hands.  Will be one of the most recruited receivers in Ohio. Pitt was the first to offer, he has camped at Pitt, and visited when the Panthers hosted Rutgers.

Noah Beh, Scranton Prep (Scranton, PA)- Great size at 6'6" and 250 pounds.  Has the great wingspan, along with enough athleticism to be a defensive end, where he's equally good against the run or when pass rushing. And if he doesn't make it at end, he has the frame to add weight and move to the offensive line. Pitt recently offered joining UConn and Temple.

Saeed Blacknall, Manalapan HS (Manalapan, NJ)- An elite receiver who will get many offers, but he likes Pitt a lot.  He's 6'2" and 190 pounds, and has run an 11.06 100m, which is a little better than the best time Robert Foster has run.  Already has a Pitt offer.

Alex Bookser, Mt. Lebanon HS (Mt. Lebanon, PA)- Great left tackle prospect at 6'6" and 295 pounds. A huge target for the Panthers who are trying to completely change the offensive line. Could end up being one of the best offensive linemen in the country and already has offers from Pitt, West Virginia, Rutgers, Maryland, and Virginia.  There will be many more.

Brock Boxen, Beaver Falls HS (Beaver Falls, PA)- At 6'3" and 260 pounds, he can play as a strong side defensive end, but more than likely he will gain weight and be a defensive tackle. Tough, tenacious, and quick, he would be a major upgrade for the Pitt line and I wouldn't be surprised if he committed to Pitt early during the recruiting season.

Tyler Burke, Coatesville Area HS (Coatesville, PA)- One of the top prospects in the state, he possesses excellent speed and athleticism at an already solid 6'4" and 240 pounds.  Projects just as well as tight end, but as a linebacker he has the potential to be a big time college player. Holds offers from Maryland, Temple, and NC State but many more are coming.

Chase Caldwell, Washington Area HS (Washington, PA)- A bit of a sleeper who at 6'1" and 205 pounds will probably project to linebacker.

Donovan Cobb, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa, PA)- Smallish linebacker at 6'0" and 212 pounds, but he's athletic and productive.

Sterling Dailey, Stone Bridge HS (Ashburn, VA)- Smallish running back at 5'10" and 177 pounds, but he runs hard between the tackles.  He also has elite level speed with a 10.8 100m.  To get speed is great, and to start to make inroads in Virginia would be just as great.

Anthony Davis, Gateway HS (Monroeville, PA)- The program needs to add some big time corners and what better way than a 6'1" cover corner who can also lower his head and hit you? Should end up with a lot of offers.

Marquel Dickerson, North Point HS (Walford, MD)- Just 5'9" and 180 pounds, but he has good speed and quickness. Had a big junior year as a junior but his size will probably turn him into a cornerback.

Joey Duckworth, Louisville HS (Louisville, OH)- Already a solid 6'3" and 210 pound quarterback with a strong arm and good mobility. More of a pocket passer that can take off than a running quarterback, but he did run a 4.6 40 at one camp. Has some MAC offers but is considered among the best quarterback prospects in Ohio so there will be more. He visited Pitt for the Louisville game and it's apparent that Pitt is very interested.

Jaleel Fields, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa, PA)-  Doesn't have an offer yet, but considering he's coming to this junior day you have to think he'll leave with one.  At 6'2" and 270 pounds, he could join Boxen as a nice local duo to give a big talent upgrade on the defensive line.

Zaire Franklin, LaSalle College HS (Wyndmoor, PA)- The Panthers can always use more talented linebackers, and one from the Philadelphia area is an added bonus.  This 6'1" 215 pounder can run and he hits like a truck.  Potentially a big time player.

Mike Grimm, Bethel Park HS (Bethel Park, PA)- Massive 6'7" 320 pound right tackle prospect who is the perfect Paul Chryst lineman.  Will have a lot of major offers but expect a full court press by Pitt, starting now.  He likes Pitt and is already forming a strong friendship with the Pitt staff.

Connor Hayes, Traverse City West HS (Traverse City, MI)-  Already holds five offers, including Pitt.  A very good 6'4" 275 pound guard who could help open up the Michigan area.

Dravon Henry, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa, PA)- Considered one of the better free safety prospects in the country.  While Quips usually end up at Pitt, Ohio State wants him very much so the staff has to start recruiting him hard right now. And they have.  Has a lot of close friends playing at Pitt.

Jonathan Hilliman, St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, NJ)- One of the best running back prospects in the country, he already holds offers from the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Georgia, Miami, Nebraska, and Oregon. At a muscular and fast 6'1" and 210 pounds, he is the perfect fit for Pitt (or anybody else). His father graduated from Pitt and he was the godson of Craig "Ironhead" Heyward.  Even with those connections, though, the Panthers are considered a long shot.

Courtel Jenkins, St. Anthony's HS (Jersey City, NJ)-  Pitt was on him early and so far the Panthers are his only offer. Pitt likes their defensive tackles big and Jenkins fits the bill at 6'3" and 320 pounds. Needs to lose some weight and he's not very agile, but he strong and would be great at taking up two blockers.

Adonis Jennings, Timber Creek HS (Sicklerville, NJ)- Lanky 6'3" 190 pound receiver with great length and excellent speed.  Pitt already offered, as has Temple and Rutgers.  A game breaker who will get more major offers.

Anthony Khalife, James M. Coughlin HS (Wilkes-Barre, PA)-  Kids in this area don't get noticed much, but the Panthers nabbed Shakir Soto this season and Khalife is also a defensive end at a rock solid 6'4" and 232 pounds.

Chandler Kincade, Blackhawk HS (Beaver Falls, PA)- Already verbally committed to the Panthers, the 6'5" 220 pound quarterback is an unofficial recruiter for the program, especially locally, so it's good to have him there.

Jarrett LaRubbio, Lakota East HS (Middletown, OH)- Outside of Pitt, he has just three MAC offers right now, but he's a 6'5" 270 pound guard who has good feet and is an excellent drive blocker. Got his offer after camping at Pitt and the staff likes him enough that they offered him way back in September.

A.J. Long, Friendship Christian HS (Lebanon, TN)- Small at 6'0" and 170 pounds, but he has a strong arm and he can really run. He moved from eastern PA, where Todd Graham was already well aware of him, so it's interesting that a different staff and a move away from the area did not make Pitt's interest in him wane. Already has offers from UCLA, Arizona, and Syracuse.

Darryl Long,  Westernville South HS, (Westernville, OH)-  The new staff loves tight ends and Long is one of the best in the mideast. An athletic 6'4" and 225 pounds, he already holds a Pitt offer, as well as a few others.

James McHale, Dunmore HS (Dunmore, PA)-  There's no doubt that you have to consider small competition the most when it comes to offensive linemen, and the 6'7" 300 pound McHale plays for Class A powerhouse Dunmore.  But he's right up Pitt's alley when it comes to size.

Shai McKenzie, Washington HS (Washington, PA)- The Panthers need an heir apparent for Rushel Shell and this kid would be a great fit.  He's a muscular 6'0" and 210 pounds, and he also runs a blazing 10.83 100m.  Will be a national recruit with probably 30-40 offers.  A must get.

Montae Nicholson, Gateway HS (Monroeville, PA)- Maybe the top player in the state, at 6'3" 200 he will probably end up at safety but he could be just as good as a receiver.  Fans doubt Gateway players but this kid has actually done it against top competition in various camps and combines. Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan, and Ohio State are among the early offers and Pitt is probably considered a long shot.

Andre Robinson, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg, PA) Class of 2015-  Stocky and fast rising junior who could be a national recruit at 5'10" and 190 pounds. Has been sharing the duties on a loaded team but eventually he's going to explode.

DeAndre Scott, Imhotep Charter School (Philadelphia, PA)- He's only 5'9" and 175 pounds, but he absolutely destroys people when he hits them.  He's such a vicious hitter that people in the area compare him to former Eagles great Brian Dawkins. Also has excellent 11.37 100m speed. His coach claims Scott has offers from the likes of Texas, Miami, and Tennessee.  Obviously Pitt will offer, too.

Terry Swanson, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa, PA)- Small at 5'9" and 180 pounds, but he is a good back with quickness and speed. He can also project to defensive back.  He has made it pretty apparent that if Pitt offered him he would probably commit to them.

Brenon Thrift, Gateway HS (Monroeville, PA)- Another Gateway player, but he was considered an excellent product even before he transferred from Steel Valley.  Muscular and athletic 6'3" and 245 pounds.  He says schools are recruiting him for middle linebacker but he played defensive end last season and I think that may be the best fit for him. Pitt, West Virginia, and Michigan have offered.

Micah Till, Henry Wise HS (Upper Marlboro, MD)-  Teammate of Marcus Allen on maybe the most loaded team in Maryland, the 6'5" 260 pounder actually played tight end (and often lined up wide) this past season due to his great athleticism. Will likely end up as an offensive lineman at the next level, though he could end up playing basketball in college.

Troy Vincent, Gilman School (baltimore, MD)- The son of the former NFL Pro Bowl defensive back of the same name, Vincent was a surprise attendee, but a welcome one.  One of the best corner prospects in the country at 5'10" and 180 pounds. Already holds offers from Pitt, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, West Virginia, North Carolina, NC State, Maryland, Virginia, Rutgers, and his dad's alma mater, Wisconsin.

Maurice Ways, Detroit Country Day School (Beverly Hills, MI)-  Tall, lanky 6'3" 180 pound receiver with good speed and athleticism.  Has a couple of MAC offers now but bigger offers are on the way.

Antoine White, Millville HS (Millville, NJ)- Explosive 6'3" 255 pound defensive tackle who has great quickness and strength. It would really help the program if they can start to get highly talented players like this out of New Jersey.

Jordan Whitehead, Central Valley HS (Monaca, PA) Class of 2015-  The next big thing in the state of PA, the rising junior has everything it takes to be a superstar cornerback. Just 5'10" and 170 pounds but has elite level speed, quickness, and agility.

K.J. Williams, Liberty HS (Bethlehem, PA)-  A probable top 5 player in the state and one of the best receivers in the east, the 6'2" 190 pounder has everything it takes to be a big time receiver.  Same school as Devin Street.  Already holds a Pitt offer.

Chase Winovich, Thomas Jefferson HS (Jefferson Hills, PA)- One of my favorites before he even had an offer, the former safety is still built more like a safety at 6'4" and 205 pounds, but he has superb range. Once he adds the weight, he could be a beast. Recently picked up a Pitt offer, then followed it up with offers from Florida State, West Virginia, and Northwestern.

Daquan Worley, Coatesville Area HS (Coatesville, PA)- Super fast and quick athlete who at 5'10" and 170 pounds could play at running back, slot receiver, or cornerback. Doesn't hold a Pitt offer yet, but considering he's coming to this Junior Day, one seems imminent.

Elijah Zeise, North Allegheny HS (Wexford, PA)-  Good 6'2" 190 pound size and very good speed. Seems best suited at safety, and that's what most are recruiting him for, but Pitt currently likes him as a receiver. Pitt, Arizona, and Temple have offered. With his dad being Pitt's longtime beat writer you would assume he grew up a Pitt fan.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Some random thoughts

I'm working on a story about the top 2014 kids who will be at Pitt's Junior Day in two weeks.  I'll have a bio on each.  It's impossible to know who they all are because Pitt doesn't officially release that info, but I will update it during that weekend.  That will be out in two weeks.  And by the way, the list is very impressive. The Pitt staff was behind in recruiting year and played catch up, but that's not the case this year. Serious contact is made halfway through a kid's junior season and Pitt didn't have that chance last year.  But this year they are on the ball.

While I expect Chandler Kincade to stay committed to Pitt, the Panthers are wisely recruiting other quarterbacks just in case.  One, A.J. Long, who played in eastern PA before moving to Tennessee, will be at Pitt's Junior Day. Another is Joey Duckworth from Ohio.  I'll have more info on these guys in the future.

The Panthers still look for an occasional prospect in the midwest, beyond Ohio.  In fact, they are interested in Minnesota cornerback Tim Gordon, who may get a Junior Day invite, as well as various players in Wisconsin and Michigan again.

It remains to be seen just how good the top end of the 2014 WPIAL class will be, but there are at least a dozen really good prospects.  The good news is, I see Pitt making a killing this year.  In fact, I think the Panthers are in strong with at least Brock Boxen, Jaleel Fields, Dravon Henry, Toy Apke, Alex Bookser, Mike Grimm, Chandler Kincade, Shai McKenzie, Elijah Zeise, and Chase Winovich.  In fact, I will be surprised if Fields, Henry, Boxen, Apke, Kincade, Zeise, and Winovich don't become Panthers.

If the Panthers can land Grimm and Bookser, the future Pitt offensive line will be just plain scary.  The bookend tackles will join Dorian Johnson, Adam Bisnowaty, Gabe Roberts, Aaron Reese, Jaryd Jones-Smith, and Alex Officer to give Pitt an offensive line that at least potentially can be fantastic.

I tweeted today about a report that revealed that at the Under Armour Game practices, Robert Foster's family were all wearing Pitt jerseys.  All it means probably is that the family are big Pitt fans, but it may be something to look for.  I'm always a believer that a kid is committed to somebody until he's not, and I don't want to give anybody false hope, but from what I'm hearing Alabama is worried that Pitt is still recruiting him.

Who will be the defensive coordinator? I don't know and no other media member knows.  There are websites devoted to these things with very connected people, and they know nothing either.  Chryst may have his eye on a coach who is still coaching, and will wait to interview him. The only person who jumps out at me is San Francisco secondary coach Greg Jackson.  I would consider that a good hire, but not a slam dunk hire, and to be honest, I would consider that a step down for Jackson.  And that's no offense to Pitt, but you can go further in your career with the 49ers over most college jobs, unless it's a head coach job.  Other than that, I have no idea.  My personal choice would be Randy Shannon, who is currently a linebackers coach at Arkansas.  He wants a DC job and recently interviewed at East Carolina.  He would create huge buzz in the coaching ranks and would recruit like crazy in Florida.

I haven't been writing much about the Pitt basketball team because I've been too busy after the games, but clearly there are some problems.  I defend Steven Adams a lot because the truth is, he helps the team in ways that don't show up in the box score, but there's no reason why he's rebounding just 4.2 rpg a game in his 5 Big East games.  James Robinson is also struggling, making just 29% of his shots from the field in Big East play.  These are two big time recruits who many thought would make a huge impact right away.  The fact that they aren't makes one wonder about the job that Jamie Dixon and his staff is doing.

I don't think Dixon will go to USC, but it's naive to think that one of these times he won't actually leave.  Coaches don't last a long time in one place anymore and Dixon has some of the longest tenure at any school in the country, believe it or not.  I don't think there's any doubt that he has struggled with the program the last two seasons, but he's too good of a coach to ever go into a tailspin.  For that reason, I find it highly unlikely that Pitt would ever fire him, unless he missed the NCAA tournament for at least three years in a row.  But if he misses this year, that will be two, so things will start to get iffy.  Especially if a new president and athletic director come in.

What's disheartening about Dixon's mini-demise is that he actually has highly coveted recruits on this team.  Any team with Adams, Robinson, J.J. Moore, Talib Zanna, and Lamar Patterson should be better than they have performed over the last few weeks.  Throw in a lot of dead weight that transferred and there are clearly cracks in Dixon's facade.

I was never a big fan of Tray Woodall and now it's apparent why.  His inability to be a senior that can be leaned on is obviously a major factor in the team's problems.

With transfers, Pitt will have to add two new players.  A big man will be one, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was a juco. The other scholarship could go to Jamel Artis who is more like an old school Pitt player.  A 6'7" SF, he can really handle and pass well, but, surprise!!, he isn't a big offensive threat.  The two signed players, Michael Young and Josh Newkirk, are very good prospects.  Young is a 6'8" combo forward who can rebound like hell when he wants, but can also go outside and stroke the three. He definitely has a little bit of Sam Young to his game, and hopefully he will be just as good because the program clearly needs a star.  Newkirk is a 6'2" combo guard who will mostly play at the two because of Robinson.  He can jump out of the gym and his offensive game has really improved over the  last year.  The staff was legitimately surprised that they got him because they thought both Duke and North Carolina would want him.

I'll go into detail in the future about what I think is going on with the Pitt basketball program but the truth is, it takes awhile to watch them because it's so complex. I don't want to just say they need to rebound better or shoot better because that's obvious.  The real question is, why don't they rebound or shoot better?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Panthers land big Philadelphia tackle

Entering the season, the Panthers clearly needed a big influx of talent and depth on the offensive line.  While only one, Dorian Johnson, can be considered an elite recruit, Alex Officer and Aaron Reese have high ceilings, and Carson Baker adds depth on the inside.

But to top off the five person offensive linemen class is 6'7" 310 pound Jaryd Jones-Smith of West Catholic HS in Philadelphia, who chose the Panthers today over his other finalist, Virginia.  Other offers included Wisconsin, Michigan, NC State, and Virginia.

Jones-Smith obviously has a great wingspan, but he also moves very well and has the frame to add more weight.  He must, however, work on  the strength in his lower body.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pitt 2013 football schedule complete

While the dates for the ACC schedule are not set yet, the opponents were just announced.  Needless to say, the move to the ACC is already paying off.


Villanova 8/31
New Mexico 9/14
Notre Dame 11/9
Florida State
North Carolina


Navy 10/26
Georgia Tech
Virginia Tech

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

10 Must Gets from the WPIAL for 2014 class

This is the point when some people say that there is no such thing is a must get, but if Pitt doesn't get the best players in the WPIAL every year then they aren't going to have a successful program.  Obviously if the Panthers manage to get an elite prospect to commit at one of these positions, then the must get on this list won't be as much of a must get.  But for the most part, the more of these ten that Pitt ends up with a year from now, the better chance that the program has for the future.

Troy Apke, Mt. Lebanon- The Panthers need more speed at receiver to go with Tyler Boyd and losing out on Robert Foster really hurt, but Apke, the son of former Pitt linebacker Steve Apke, has speed to burn.  He's also 6'2" and has great hands.  A future receiving corps that includes Boyd and Apke would be fast and explosive.  With current Pitt linebacker coach Chris Haering Apke's head coach prior to this season and his dad being a former Panther, you have to think Pitt is in the driver's seat.

Alex Bookser, Mt. Lebanon- Like Apke, he was coached up until this past season by Pitt's current linebacker coach Chris Haering.  You have to think that will really help the Panthers. He's already 6'6" and 290 pounds so he has the frame to have the giant build that Pitt wants, and he can really move too. Bonafide future star at left tackle.

Brock Boxen, Beaver Falls- The talent level of the defensive line needs improved obviously and this 6'3" 260 pounder can play inside or outside.  He is a high energy and aggressive player that could into a very good 285 pound tackle someday.

Anthony Davis, Gateway-  The only player on this list that doesn't have a Pitt offer yet but I would be shocked if it didn't come when official offers are extended in February. You can never have enough corners and the program hasn't brought in an elite corner prospect since Darrelle Revis. Davis is a true lockdown corner with 6'1" height and speed. Could prove to the one of the better corner prospects in the country.

Mike Grimm, Bethel Park- He's already 6'6" and 320 pounds and if it's possible he looks even bigger than that. His mother and father are fitness professionals and he is one of the strongest prospects in the country.  Alabama already told him that they will offer him so that should tell you something.  A perfect example of the quintessential Chryst lineman. His feet aren't as quick as his body is large but that's okay. He'd be a perfect right tackle that could lean on a defense all game until they just give in. With Grimm and Bookser, Pitt would have two future stud tackles with Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson both having the ability to move inside.

Dravon Henry, Aliquippa-  Big time athlete that could be an excellent running back at 5'11" and 190 pounds, but will probably end up at safety where he prefers.  Ed Reed-type of player with superb range and speed. Already has offers from not only Pitt, but also Ohio State, Rutgers, West Virginia, and a handful of others.  The Quip Pipeline will hopefully come through again.

Chandler Kincade, Blackhawk-  A big 6'5" 210 pounder with a strong arm, sneaky athleticism, and leadership abilities.  It's unknown just how high his ceiling is, but many expect him to explode over the next year.  Already committed to Pitt when Todd Graham was the coach, and he re-committed to the current staff. With Chad Voytik already on the roster, and Tra'von Chapman about to join the program, Kincade in 2014 and local stud Brett Brumbaugh in 2015 would mean the program has no problems at the position for a long time.

Shai McKenzie, Washington- I expect Rushel Shell to be an elite college level running back for the next two years, but an heir apparent needs to be lined up.  McKenzie is a faster version of Shell and will be a national recruit.  At 5'11" and 210 pounds he's strong, but he can also fly.  He will get a lot of major offers and has said he wants to go down south, but he also considers himself a Pitt fan.  Ideally, he would get a lot of carries behind Shell as a freshman, then take over full-time as a sophomore.

Montae Nicholson, Gateway-  An elite 6'2" 200 pound safety prospect that can also be a big time receiver if that's where he ends up.  The full package as evidenced by his offers from Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan, and Ohio State so far.  Fans always point out that Gateway players are overhyped but Nicholson actually put on a show at every camp and combine he attended in the last few months.  I can see him ending up at Ohio State, but you never know.

Brenon Thrift, Gateway- Yes, a third Gateway player but he was considered a future gem since he's been a sophomore at Steel Valley.  He's a rock solid 6'3" and 235 pounds, and can play defensive end or middle linebacker.  Pitt needs both.  The Panthers have already offered as has Michigan and West Virginia.

While these ten are already considered the top prospects in the WPIAL right now, there are others who could join this group soon.  Some of those include defensive lineman Jaleel Fields (Aliquippa), linebackers Allan Cratsenberg (Highlands), Justice Rawlins (Monessen), and Chase Winovich (Thomas Jefferson), and athletes Clintell Gillaspie (Monessen) and Elijah Zeise (North Allegheny).

Panthers offer Keller Chryst

Keller Chryst, of Palo Alto (CA) HS, is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation for the 2014 class.  He is the son of Geep Chryst, the 49ers quarterback coach, and the nephew of Paul Chryst.  The 6'4" 225 Chryst also has offers from USC and Stanford.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why Pitt football is better off now than a year ago

Obviously the Pitt program is far from where they and the fans would want it to be, and obviously there are things that need work, but the fan base is mostly down at this time because the season didn't end well.  With that in mind, here's some reasons why you shouldn't be so down.

1.  Paul Chryst and his staff now has one year under their belt.  It's no secret that Chryst wasn't my ideal choice to be the head coach but that's not because I didn't think he could eventually be a good coach.  In fact, I said that I felt that he could eventually be at the same level as Walt Harris and Dave Wannstedt.  After that, who knows?  The problem I had was that the program was desperate for an experienced head coach that could give the program an instant influx of talent and buzz.  Chryst was not experienced, and it showed, but at least that first year is out of the way, and you have to expect that his newfound experience will only help him to improve. The same goes with his staff, where coaches like Bobby Engram, Brooks Bollinger, and Matt House showed that they are at the same level as well regarded veterans like Joe Rudolph, Jim Hueber, and Desmond Robinson.

2.  The recruiting should only get better.  The staff did not start quickly in recruiting but they clearly improved as the recruiting year went on.  Most importantly, the staff was able to keep elite local talent like Dorian Johnson, Tyler Boyd, and Scott Orndoff at home.  There is a lot of talent in the WPIAL and the state in the 2014, and 2015 has some potential superstars, and Chryst and his staff did not have to wait until January like the past class to start making their moves.  The longer they have to make a connection with recruits, the better their chances, especially for WPIAL kids who will be around Pitt a long time before it's time to make a commitment.

3.  There will be a change at quarterback.  I don't want to dump on Tino Sunseri, but to say he was divisive is an understatement.  He also had limited physical ability and even more limited ability to win a game when called upon.  Tom Savage will likely be the new starter and he has a lot more physical skills.  He's a mature fifth year senior who has waited a long time for this chance.  He also has been tutored under Chryst for a year so he's not going to come in totally out of the blue. Lastly, he has NFL skills from a physical standpoint so he has a possible NFL career to play for.  Worst case scenario, Savage flops and Pitt doesn't win a lot of games, but at least Chad Voytik and/or Tra'von Chapman can start to learn the position for the future.  But I don't think it will come to that, because...

4.  Chryst knows offense.  Pitt ended up 92nd in rushing, 46th in passing, and 72nd in total offense.  That doesn't sound much but then again this is an offense that had Sunseri at quarterback, one receiver with any speed at all, a running back recovering from a major knee injury, an untalented offensive line, and a tight end corps that included a perpetually injured senior, a true freshman, and a guy with concentration problems.  But every unit on offense has an influx of young talent and Chryst has proven that if you give him any offensive talent at all then he can put up a lot of production.

5.  More speed in the passing game.  Mike Shanahan had a big senior season which proves what Chryst can do with a passing game, but he wasn't the quickest player out there.  Neither was Cam Saddler who lost any quickness he had after blowing his knee out the previous season.  But enter Boyd, Orndoff, a recharged Ed Tinker, and possibly Demitrious Davis.  They will combine with the returning Devin Street to give the program some much improved speed at the position.

6.  Excellent tight end play.  On a lot of teams, saying that improvement from the tight end position will make a big difference is a bit of a stretch, but not with Chryst who utilizes tight ends greatly in the passing game.  True freshman J.P. Holtz showed that he was the real deal and will likely make big strides in his sophomore season.  Orndoff has already enrolled at the university so he will be in spring practices.  He has a tantalizing size and speed combination, and he should pair with Holtz to give the Panthers an excellent unit that Chryst will utilize a lot.

7.  Rushel Shell?  Okay, this one we don't know for sure yet.  Ray Graham is gone and in his last three years he always had around 900 yards.  That's excellent, but because of injuries he never had the huge year.  Shell is determined to have a huge sophomore year and let's be honest, would anybody be surprised if he ended up with 1,500 yards rushing in the upcoming season?  I'm not saying he will.  He needs to work on his quickness in the offseason and he runs so hard that injuries are always a concern, but at least the realistic potential of a huge season is there.  And he did he did have 641 rushing yards and a 4.5 avg. as a true freshman so clearly the college level is not going to be much of a problem for him.

8.  The offensive line will be better.  I mean, it has to be right?  Chryst, Rudolph, and Hueber are too good at developing linemen to not show improvement in year two.  Only Chris Jacobson and Ryan Turnley are gone, and both were mediocre talents.  Redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty is a genuine talent who has been drawing raves in practice, and incoming freshman Dorian Johnson may be good enough to start immediately.  At the very least I expect him to play.  The suspended Juantez Hollins will presumably also return, and even though he's not great, at least he provides depth.  Then there's T.J. Clemmings, who may finally find his calling at tackle. The best part of those four being in the mix is that the slow tackles from this season can move inside to guard and center.

9.  The defensive line will be better.  Only Shayne Hale is gone.  Everybody else is a year older and Darryl Render and Devin Cook should be making more of an impact. Incoming freshmen Shakir Soto and Tyrique Jarrett are both physically ready and will be available for spring practice. I can see both being heavily in the mix.  This may not be an excellent unit but the numbers are better and that means there's a better chance that one or two players break out.

10.  The linebackers will all be there and be healthy?  I have to ask that rather than declare it because it's never happened yet.  Miracle man Dan Mason came back and for two games was playing at an all-star level.  It was a fluke injury, not his surgically repaired knee, that cost him the rest of the season, so if his knee continues to hold up he could be a major addition.  Todd Thomas was injured for the first third of the season but then did play at an all-star level the rest of the season.  He may finally break though with an excellent season.  Then there is Ejuan Price, who showed flashes of great potential as a pass rusher as a true freshman before missing all of last season with an injury.  He seems to have trouble playing the linebacker position, but he is a natural pass rusher, exactly what the program needs, so they need to find a way to utilize that talent.  Throw in returnees Nicholas Grigsby, Shane Gordon, and Eric Williams, plus talented redshirt freshmen Bam Bradley, Deaysean Rippy, Devon Porchia, and Mike Caprara, and you have to think that the staff can find at least five that can play well.

11.  The secondary could be amongst the best in the nation.  Ballhawk Jason Hendricks somehow was not named all-conference despite leading the team in tackles and the conference in interceptions.  He even came up with 17 tackles and an interception in the bowl game.  Cornerbacks K'Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts didn't give up much in most games.  In fact, the Panthers were No. 20 in passing yards defense and No.21 in pass efficiency defense.  They gave up 15 touchdowns through the air and had 15 interceptions.  And with three starters returning, there's no reason why they can't be even better.

12.  The special teams should be better.  Kevin Harper will be gone and that can't be a bad thing.  He missed seven field goals on the season, and many of them were big misses.  Redshirt freshman walk on Brad Lukasak and incoming freshman Chris Blewitt both have strong legs.  The best thing about kickers is that it doesn't seem to matter much if they are a freshman.  Punter Matt Yoklic is back for a third season.  Lafayette Pitts started off strongly as a kick returner but then leveled off.  Worse case scenario, he's returning kicks again, which he proved he can do at a high level.  The other scenario is that Boyd will return kicks.  I would be surprised if he doesn't return punts, taking over for the mediocre Saddler.  Needless to say, that would be a huge upgrade.

Obviously not all of these best case scenarios will actually happen.  That's just the law of averages.  But none of these things are long shots.  In fact, most are probable.

Todd Graham left the program because he knew that the roster had to be torn down before it could be built back up, and he didn't want to put in the work.  Chryst proves he is willing to do it, as you can tell by the huge amount of players who are moving on.  I always thought Dave Wannstedt was a good hire because I thought he had the potential to be a great recruiter.  I still think Wannstedt was a good hire, but I said at the time, and it's been proven, that his recruiting was top heavy.  He brought in a handful of   top prospects, but there were way too many prospects with low ceilings.  Too many players didn't amount to much, then they were combined with two coaching change classes that were obviously less than stellar under the circumstances.

Fans are upset that the record is the same as last season, and that both included a bowl blowout.  But this is all part of building a program for Chryst.  With a lot of dead weight on the roster, and the coaching changes, the program was a runaway train to mediocrity.  But just like a train needs to be stopped before reversing course, so does a football program.  Chryst spent this season applying the brakes.  He is established recruiting areas, showed the current players how to run his system, set a tone both on and off the field, and eliminated the dead weight. Entering year two, any potential recruits have been in contact with Pitt for two years instead of one, all players on the current roster now have the system down, all players know what is expected and demanded from them on and off the field, and the dead weight is being purged.  The current class will be large in numbers, which will help build the depth back up, and even the lesser rated players have potential.  As an example, Wannstedt brought in Saddler to be a receiver, a 5'8" kid who doesn't have great speed.  There was only so good he could be.  By comparison, Chryst is bringing in Zach Challingsworth and Reggie Green, who may or may not end up being good players, but both are 6'2" and fast so at least there's potentially to develop into something more than mediocrity.

Bottom line, I have no idea if Chryst will succeed.  Personally, I would prefer he was a bit more aggressive in recruiting and his game decisions need to improve, but this season proved to me that he was not a total flop.  A strong offense needs coaching and talent.  Chryst has proven that he has a great offensive mind as normally mediocre talents like Sunseri and Shanahan put up big numbers against all odds.  You have to wonder what he can do with one of these other quarterbacks, along with Shell, Boyd, Holtz, Orndoff, Bisnowaty, Johnson, etc.  Throw in another class or two and I would be very surprised if Pitt didn't have one of the better offenses in the country in the next two years.

Defense is coaching and aggressiveness.  The Panthers finished No. 17 in total defense this season so coaching and aggressiveness doesn't seem to be a problem.  The Panthers have hard nosed, tough players on the roster so the result isn't really a surprise.  The defensive recruiting doesn't have the same highly rated players coming in, but they are smart and tough which tells me the defense has a chance to keep shining (though they will need to step it up with better physical talent eventually).  A talented offense with a great offensive mind, and a defense loaded with tough kids is a recipe for success.  It may take a year or two for us to know if the train has reversed direction yet, but in my opinion the train has at least stopped.  That's all that can be expected for the first season and it's the first time that a Pitt coach actually applied the brakes as hard as was needed.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Tyler Boyd chooses the Panthers

It's been expected for awhile now, but citing a desire to help his home school, Clairton superstar wide receiver Tyler Boyd chose the Panthers over his two other finalists, West Virginia and Michigan State.  The 6'1' 170 Boyd needs to get more strength but he's an excellent prospect with great speed and quickness.  He also is an excellent return man.  I expect him to play extensively at both positions as a true freshman.