Thursday, February 20, 2014

2015 Pitt Recruiting Preview- Defensive Backs

Where the position stands now:

Longtime starters K'Waun Williams and Jason Hendricks are gone, but that's not the only changes here. After a disappointing season by the secondary, there's a new leader of the unit. New defensive backs coach Troy Douglas has been around for a long time and is well respected, but he may really have his work cut out for him with this bunch.

At cornerback, junior Lafayette Pitts had a poor second season after a very impressive freshman season. It's safe to say that he will be Douglas' pet project next season because his return to form is essential. Battling Pitts for a starting spot are sophomores Trenton Coles and Titus Howard. Both, like Tyler Boyd, are former Clairton Bears, and both are long, athletic, and fast. Coles is 6'3", an incredible height for a corner, and he can fly. Howard is 6'1" and is highly athletic. Douglas has to be excited about such potential for both, but they both need to add strength and weight so that they can remain healthy.

Also in the mix at corner are redshirt sophomore Jahmahl Pardner, and true freshmen Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley. Both Motley and Maddox are small, but both can fly. Maddox may get some playing time if he ends up returning punts and burns a redshirt.

At safety, it's pretty apparent how the Panthers have failed to recruit well at the position, because both starters may be transfers. Often maligned senior Ray Vinopal was a train wreck in the first half of the season, but in the second half he started making some big plays. He still has to improve even more, though. At the other safety, redshirt sophomore Reggie Mitchell transferred from Wisconsin and he is currently pencilled in as the probable starter.

Two other returnees who will compete at safety are redshirt sophomore Ryan Lewis and sophomore Terrish Webb, while Patrick Amara and Jalen Williams are incoming freshmen.


Future recruiting:

The unit needs a lot of talent and depth added, and it didn't help that the Panthers missed out on top local defensive backs Dravon Henry and Montae Nicholson. There are some excellent defensive backs that the staff has a chance with, and they really need to land more than one of them.

First the players that were offered that Pitt has no chance with. Minkah Fitzpatrick of St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, NY) may be the best cornerback prospect in the country, but he's not going to end up at Pitt.  Neither are Marcus Lewis of Gonzaga College HS (Washington, DC), John Reid of St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia, PA), Rashard Causey of St. Thomas Aquinas HS (Fort Lauderdale, FL), Jay Stocker of Coatesville (PA) HS, Jordan Cronkrite of Westminster Christian HS (Palmetto Bay, FL), and Jalen Christian of Damascus (MD) HS.

That's a lot of big misses but there's still some very good players left.  The obvious one is 5'10" 165 pound cornerback Jordan Whitehead of Central Valley HS (Monaca, PA). I would't consider Pitt a favorite for him, however, and the lack of recruiting in Beaver Valley may continue to kill the program. Also locally, but one step down, is 5'10" 165 pound cornerback Kareem Gibson of Johnstown (PA) HS. He's a very athletic cover corner and would be a good addition. A cornerback possibility at the same level as Whitehead is 5'11" 175 pound Kareem Ali of Timber Creek HS (Sicklerville). Normally Pitt wouldn't be in the running for such a highly coveted cornerback but he's best friends with recently signed wide receiver Adonis Jennings, who also played at Timber Creek, and he has since expressed interest in the Panthers. A sleeper who is becoming less of a sleeper by the week is 5'11" 170 pound Nick Coleman of Archbishop Alter HS (Kettering, OH), a speedster who is teammates with major defensive tackle target Kraig Howe.

At safety, the major target is 6'3" 200 pound Daiquan Kelly of Union City (NJ) HS. His size and athletic ability are exactly what the Panthers need at the position. If he committed today it would probably be to Pitt, but with more offers, things obviously could change. And he's an excellent talent so he will get more major offers. Also offered is under the radar 5'11" 175 pound Ronnie James of Glassboro (HS) NJ. He's teammates with Pitt's top wide receiver target Juwan Johnson.


Bottom line:

Like I said to start, this unit needs a lot of help. The Clairton kids, all three of them, should not have seen the field yet. They fared well considering their youth, but right now they are pretty much just raw athleticism. The same goes for freshmen like Amara, Maddox, and Motley. But they aren't elite prospects and they will take some time to develop.  As far as the safeties, even the starters aren't difference makers. The program is being hurt by a lack of quality recruiting over a few year period. The staff can't let this happen again which is why adding players like Whitehead, Ali, and Kelly are essential.





Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Panthers name a new wide receiver coach

The Panthers have named former NFL wide receiver Greg Lewis as their new wide receivers coach. The 34-year old Lewis is a native of Chicago and played at Illinois where he was a walk on.  He then played eight seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Philadelphia Eagles.  He's probably best known for the pass and catch that he had with Brett Favre when they played for Minnesota in 2009.  That won him an ESPY Award.

As a coach Lewis has only two years experience. In 2012 he coached for San Diego and this past season he coached for San Jose State. Star wide receiver Chandler Jones had 691 yards receiving before Lewis arrived, then 1,356 yards with Lewis.

2015 Pitt Recruiting Preview- Linebackers

Where the position stands now:

This unit hasn't been above average for awhile now and while there doesn't seem to be a sure thing as far as a star, the experience and depth may help the unit move above average for once. The three players that will be pencilled in as starters are seniors Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez on the outside, and sophomore Matt Galambos in the middle. Thomas has been a three year starter and while he's a good player he's down to his last season to become the star that once was predicted of him. Gonzalez has stuck through many position changes and suspensions to also become a solid player. Galambos played a lot as a true freshman and handled himself well for such a young, unheralded player.  His athletic ability isn't high but he plays hard, hits hard, and is smart. He's the kind of player that would be really good if he was surrounded by good players in the front seven.

Three more letterman return in redshirt junior Nicholas Grigsby, and redshirt sophomores Bam Bradley and Mike Caprara. Grigsby isn't big, but he's fast. Bradley is a solid 230 pounds and also moves well. Caprara is a fan favorite despite not being on the field yet.

Beyond that there's redshirt freshman Zach Poker, and incoming freshmen Jamal Davis, James Folston, and Quintin Wirginis. Unless they really surprise they won't see the field this year, but they all have potential.

All in all, six of the top seven linebackers return, and there are four more young players after them so the position should be improved.


Future Recruiting:

Recently committed Kevin Givens was talked about in the defensive line post because he's probably going to outgrow linebacker, but it's possible that the staff will try to see if he can stick here. it would help the unit immensely if he could stay here and produce in the near future because he is strong and fast.

The Panthers desperately need some future NFL quality linebackers if they want their defense to reach the next step, but they're going to have to battle hard to get such a linebacker. The best of the linebackers they have offered is Jahvoni Simmons of Ocean Lakes HS (Virginia Beach, VA), but the Panthers are not considered one of the frontrunners.  Middle linebacker Jake Cooper of Archbishop Wood HS (Warminster, PA) is a personal favorite of mine but once Penn State offered it's just a matter of time until he commits to them.  Nick Conner of Scioto HS (Dublin, OH) is a tough old school linebacker but he's flirting with an Ohio State offer and that would be it for him.

Five others with offers are 6'1" 220 pound Tyriq Thompson of Martin Luther King HS (Detroit, MI), 6'4" 215 pound Chad Smith of Dominion HS (Sterling, VA), 6'2" 200 pound Anthony McKee of Walnut Ridge HS (Columbus, OH), 6'3" 225 pound Christopher Hart of St. Thomas Aquinas HS (Fort Lauderdale, FL), and 6'1" 205 pound Markus Bailey of Hilliard Davidson HS (Hilliard, OH).  I think Thompson will probably stay in the Big 10.  Hart was a teammate of the departed Wade Freebeck and recruited by the departed Brian Bollinger, so things may change in his recruitment. McKee is leaning to Kentucky at the moment. Bailey is a teammate of incoming freshman Phillipie Motley. Smith is active and tall, and he's my favorite of these five, but truthfully none of these five strike me a sure thing difference maker.


Bottom line:

The Panthers can have a good defense and be a top 25 team with a group of good, quick linebackers, but if they ever want to move beyond that they are going to need to had more players with NFL type talent, especially since the defensive line is in the same boat. That's not to suggest that Pitt can't produce a difference maker or two in the near future. But it would be nice to have a big, fast, talented player or two in the front seven.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

2015 Pitt Recruiting Preview- Defensive Line

Where the position stands now:

This is where things may start getting a little iffy, at least as far as proven talent. But on the bright side there are so many actual players now in this unit that the odds of finding five or six that can play next season is not an impossibility.

Let's start at tackle first since that will have a big turnover with Aaron Donald, one of the best Pitt players ever, moving on to the NFL. Paul Chryst and Matt House tends to have a more athletic and quick tackle paired with a bigger, more nose tackle type interior lineman. In fact, Pitt calls the position nose tackle even though it's a 4-3 defense. Donald was the quicker, smaller tackle, needless to say. His most likely replacement will be 6'2" 285 pound Darryl Render, who has shown flashes of potential in his first two seasons.  I can see him becoming a pretty good player now that he's a seasoned junior, and the defense desperately needs him to make that step. Behind him should be promising redshirt freshman Justin Moody, who at 6'2" and 275 pounds practiced very well in his first season. Fifth year senior LaQuentin Smith is a former linebacker and defensive end, who finally moved to tackle, and he may factor in here as well, though he has contributed almost nothing in his career thus far. I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't even come back.

Then comes the big nose tackles, and they are definitely big. The two players that will mostly likely battle it out for the starting position are 6'0" 305 junior bowling ball Khaynin Mosley-Smith, and 6'3" 330 pound redshirt freshman Tyrique Jarrett. Mosley-Smith played in every game two seasons ago but was suspended for the entire season last year. If he comes back, he may be the favorite to start.  Like Mosley-Smith, Jarrett is big, but can move. And like Render, how much they develop is huge.

After them, the drop-off is pretty big. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Taleni is 6'2" 300 pounds, and true freshmen Connor Dintino and Mike Herndon are 6'4" 300, and 6'4" 320, respectively. Dintino is a talented wrestler who moves very well, and Herndon moves well enough that he played middle linebacker in high school. Since Dintino and Herndon would be better off with a redshirt so if one of these are forced into action it will probably be Taleni.

At end, things are just as questionable, even though returning senior starters Bryan Murphy and David Durham return. In fact, their return is one of the reasons why the position is questionable. Murphy has had times in his career where it looked like he may be better than average, but there weren't many of those times. Murphy, a former Ohio State fullback, did practically nothing in his first season as a starter. The three returnees who didn't start most of the season are actually more talented, and therefore are Pitt's best hope to make this group productive. Those three are 6'3" 250 pound sophomore Shakir Soto, 6'0" 230 pound junior Ejuan Price, and 6'4" 255 pound junior Devin Cook. Soto didn't embarrass himself as a true freshman, and an especially young true freshman at that. He could be due for a significant jump in his sophomore season. Price and Cook are returning from season ending injuries.  Price has had a history of injuries for his entire career. He is not big, but he has a lot of talent, especially when rushing the quarterback. If he comes back healthy he should help. The same goes with Cook, who has shown in the past that he can get into the backfield, but he's returning from a torn ACL.

That's five veterans so the underclassmen may have a hard time breaking into that top group. One that  has a real chance next season is 6'5" 250 pound redshirt freshman Luke Maclean, who already has the size to go with good athleticism. He could eventually be a good one. True freshmen Rori Blair, Shane Roy, and Hez Trehan have redshirts written all over them. Trehan lacks explosiveness but is already 6'4" and 250 pounds. I suspect that he may move inside eventually. Blair has some athletic skills but he's raw. Roy has good length at 6'5", but he's also currently too light at 220 pounds. I'm not as high on him as some of the fans because he lacks explosion and quickness, in my opinion, but he could eventually get big and strong enough to be a strong side end, or even put on a lot of weight and be a defensive tackle years down the road.

The wildcard here is potential star running back James Conner. Not only will he probably be the best running back on the roster, but he may also be the best defensive end on the roster.  Chryst plans on using him some at end, but hopefully the returnees will improve enough so that using him there won't be necessary.


Future recruiting:

So far the Panthers have offered six tackles, and four of them are elite prospects that Pitt has no chance at. Those four are Breiden Fehoko of Farrington HS (Honolulu, HI), Darvin Taylor of Thomas Dale HS (Chester, VA), Christian Wilkins of Suffield (CT) Academy, and Adam McLean of Quince Orchard HS (North Potomac, MD). Two others are pretty good sleepers that Pitt had a better chance at a few weeks ago. One, 6'5" 270 pound Drayton Carlberg of De La Salle HS (Minneapolis, MN), is a sleeper that the Panthers had a good chance with until hometown Minnesota offered. Now it may be a long shot. Kraig Howe of Archbishop Alter HS (Kettering, OH) is a smaller tackle at 6'3" and 255 pounds. He's been to Pitt twice so the Panthers have a chance at the moment, but his recruitment is picking up and there's a chance that he could slip away.

At end, nine offers have gone out and unfortunately Pitt has no shot at six of them. Those six are Jashon Cornell of Cretin-Derham Hall HS (St. Paul, MN), Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. of Canisius HS (Buffalo, NY), Canton Kaumatule of Punahou HS (Honolulu, HI), Arden Key of Martin Luther King HS (Lithonia, GA), Josh Sweat of Oscar Smith HS (Chesapeake, VA), and Shareef Miller of Frankford HS (Philadelphia, PA).

The other three are 6'5" 225 pound Jonathan Holland of The Bullis School (Potomac, MD), 6'5 245 pound Zach Allen of New Canaan (CT) HS, and 6'4" 235 pound Jamie Gordinier of Red Bank (NJ) Catholic HS. All three are big, athletic, and just dripping with potential. If the staff can't land elite prospects at the position (and that's certainly looking like it's the case), then any of these three would be excellent pickups. Holland nearly committed to Pitt on junior day, but was advised by his family to hold off. He's since gone on other visits and the Panthers are trying to hold on to the lead. Allen is under recruited because not many schools go to Connecticut to recruit, so there's a chance that Pitt can steal him. Gordinier is quick enough to play linebacker but may be better suited for end. He already has about a dozen major offers, but so far the elite programs, other than Miami, haven't thrown their hats into the ring.

A wildcard here may be Kevin Givens of Altoona (PA) HS, who just committed to the Panthers. At 6'3" and 235 pounds, he has good size for linebacker, and has really good speed, but like Gordinier he may be best suited as a rush end. He also has the frame to easily add 25 pounds of muscle.


Bottom line:

The current line is a major question mark right now due to inexperience, injuries, and past suspensions.  There is some talent there, and for the first time in years there are at least some numbers.  It's doubtful that any of the players here could come anywhere close to Donald as a player, but Donald was the only good player on the entire line this past season. If the Panthers can come up with four good starters then the line may not miss a beat, but getting four good players out of the returnees is far from a sure thing.

If the staff can land two of Holland, Allen, or Gordinier, and Givens ends up at this position, then they can combine with young promising players like Soto and Maclean to make the future defensive end position very exciting. Defensive ends coach John Palermo is a good coach and could do wonders with this type of talent. This group would also certainly be a big step up from Blair, Roy, and Trehan.

Defensive tackle is still young with seven players returning after next year, eight if you include Trehan who is probably going to end up there. And of that bunch only Dowling won't be back two years from now. For that reason, adding numbers may not be the staff's biggest goal, though a more talented tackle would obviously be great.


Panthers land an in-state linebacker

The Panthers got their third in-state prospect, and like the other two, he's very good. Kevin Givens, a 6'3' and 237 pound linebacker from Altoona HS picked the Panthers today. I was literally just watching tape of him late last night and thinking that he's much better than I had originally thought. The most obvious thing about Givens is that unlike a lot of Pitt linebackers in the recent past he's actually linebacker size already. In fact he's pretty lean at nearly 240 pounds. There's even been talk that he could grow out of the position, but I'm sure that Pitt will do everything they can to keep him at linebacker. He also has good speed and explosion. His only other offers thus far were Temple and western Michigan, but don't be fooled by that. He was coming on strong and would have had bigger offers. He's considered to be in the 11-15 range in the state at the moment.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Future of Pitt basketball

Some may consider a useless exercise to look a few years into the future of a college basketball team, but nothing can be further from the truth. Head coaches like Jamie Dixon look into the future so that he can know exactly what kind of player he will need well in advance. There are only a handful of really excellent prospects every year, and because there is such competition for them a coach has to wrap them before others can get their claws into them. Dixon did not do that in the past, but he has started doing that this season and the result is evident. Damon Wilson, a 2015 recruit, and 2016 recruits Maverick Rowan and Mustapha Heron, have already verbally committed to the Panthers. Wilson and Rowan are in the excellent 50-75 range as prospects, and Heron is in the rarified air of 10-20.

And there are three others that Dixon has also targeted. Those big timers are 2015 top 10 prospect Cheick Diallo, as well as 2016 recruits Kassoum Yakwe and Caleb Swanigan, both top 25 prospects.  The '16 prospects are players that Dixon targeted after their sophomore seasons. In fact, all but Heron in this list was at Pitt's opening season festivities. Pitt recruited them hard early, and the result is that they have a really good shot at all of those that have yet to commit.



2014-2015

Guards: 

James Robinson, Jr.
Cameron Wright, Sr.
Josh Newkirk, So.
Chris Jones, So.
Detrick Mostella, Fr. (?)
Kobe Eubanks, Fr. (?)

Both starters, Robinson at the point, and Wright at shooting guard, will be back, as will top reserves Newkirk at the point, and Jones at shooting guard.  There's no reason why all four won't be better. I don't think any of them will be stars next year, or maybe ever. Robinson and Wright play good defense and have a lot of guts and toughness, but they are limited offensively.  Newkirk is blazing fast, but he has to work on some parts of his game. He sometimes plays out of control and his free throw shooting is awful, but he should make a nice jump in production as a sophomore.  Jones can shoot and is a good athlete. A lot of fans just assumed he would eventually be pushed out but he's played well this year when given the chance. His future is bright if he stays around.

Then comes Mostella and Eubanks.  Both may have more raw alent than anybody on the current roster and could push any of the returnees. While the Panthers are trying to land both of them, I think it's safe to say that they won't get both. Hopefully, though, they will get at least one.  The 6'3" Mostella can flat out shoot from anywhere on the floor, but he can also drive, dunk on anybody, and has a good handle.  He's been a handful in his recruitment, to say the least, but if the Panthers can land him he will add much needed instant offense.

Eubanks is a teammate of incoming 2015 guard Damon Wilson, and 6'9" elite center target Cheick Diallo, another '15 prospect, as well as top '16 prospect Kassoum Yakwe.  At 6'5" he has great height, and like Mostella he is a big time scorer who could help immediately with his offense. Landing him could also help land Diallo and maybe even Yakwe.

Mostella is a little older and a little more advanced so he may be more likely to make an immediate impact, but Eubanks is coming on like gangbusters and is probably the more dependable option.


Forwards:

Durand Johnson, Jr.
Michael Young, So.
Jamel Artis, So.
Sheldon Jeter, So.
Ryan Luther, Fr.

Lamar Patterson is gone, which obviously hurts, but the good news, there will be four good young forwards here who could combine to do a very good job.  At small forward, 6'8" Vanderbilt transfer Sheldon Jeter is trying to make the switch from power forward to small forward, and if he does he could be quite a weapon. He has great height for the position, he's athletic, and he can score from anywhere on the floor, but he has to prove that he can defend at the position. He has to be considered the favorite to be the starter. Also in the mix is 6'6" Durand Johnson who was coming on nicely before an injury cost him the rest of the season. He can shoot threes in bunches, and he can drive which he should do more often. If he comes back healthy he will battle Jeter for the starting spot but since he already proved to be a good sixth man he may be better suited there.

At the four, returning starter Young, and just as good Artis, are both back, and should make big strides.  Young has excellent shooting and rebounding potential but he struggled at times as a freshman due to a lack of confidence.  If he can battle those demons he could be a very good player, as soon his sophomore season. He better improve because Artis definitely will. At 6'7" Artis can shoot, rebound, and pass. Sometimes as a freshman he looked like a real man going for a rebound, and unlike Young he doesn't suffer from lack of confidence. If both make the big jump that sophomores usually do then the Panthers will be okay at the four next year.

Luther is a local product, who at 6'8" can shoot and play both forward positions. He may grow to 6'10" which will put him into a higher level of prospect, but unless he really surprises early I suspect that he'll redshirt.


Centers:

Derrick Randall, Sr.
Joseph Uchebo, Jr.
Shaq Doorson, Fr.
Justin Jamison, Jr. (?)
Tyrone Haughton, Jr. (?)

Randall, the transfer Rutgers, has only played about 10 minutes a game this season but he usually plays tough defense and can rebound. His offense is very limited though. He doesn't seem like starter material but may be forced to play more minutes than he ever has next year. Time will tell if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Uchebo had NBA potential before he had a serious injury before coming to Pitt and while he has surprised some by actually seeing some minutes this season, it's obvious that he's not at 100%. He's a wildcard because if he gets healthy he just may be a surprise next season. Of course there's also a chance that if Pitt signs another center he may not be back at all.

Doorson is huge but I've recently been sent tape of him and he has a long way to go.  And I mean long way. He rebounds well because he's big and aggressive, but he has zero offensive skills and he's not a shot blocker. He's a major prospect. So major that if he ever becomes a solid starter, Dixon should immediately be named national coach of the year.

These three major question marks are why the Panthers recently offered two junior college prospects, Jamison and Haughton. I've watched tape on both recently and Haughton is definitely a better player. Jamison is 6'9" and 260 pounds, and a former baseball player. In fact, he's 23 years old. He's a really good athlete and can rebound but he's not dominant. Haughton, however, has potential to help. He is a lengthy 6'9" and 210 pounds with arms that go down to his knees and a sleek athletic built. He would have to put on some weight, and he doesn't have much offensive ability at all, but he's a good rebounder and an exceptional shot blocker. It's that last skill that could help Pitt out next season. Both have two years of eligibility left and both are getting high major offers.

The ideal option may be a graduate transfer here, but if Pitt signs one of the jucos then they'll be over the limit. It will be interesting to see if Dixon has something up his sleeve, but since they just offered the two jucos instead of just recruiting them, I'm guessing that he doesn't.


Bottom line:

With Patterson gone nobody stands out as a star next year, but I'm guessing that the Panthers will roughly be at the same level.  Why? The there starters, and nine returnees in all, should all make improvement. That includes Johnson, whose offense will help. But it gets even better since Jeter could make a major offensive impact, and either Eubanks or Mostella could do the same. If Pitt finds a center, a big if, the Panthers could be even better, but that may take a miracle.



2015-16

Guards:

James Robinson, Sr.
Josh Newkirk, Jr.
Chris Jones, Jr.
Damon Wilson, Fr.
Detrick Mostella, So./Kobe Eubanks, So. (?)

Cameron Wright will be gone, but the offensive potential from this unit is much better than the program has had in quite some time. Robinson will still be running the point, and he still won't be a great offensive threat, but with more offensive players on the floor around him he will do what he does best which is run the offense. Newkirk, if he's still around, will now be a junior, and should be a legitimate plus player in reserve. The veteran duo may not be stars at this point, but there's nothing like a veteran Jamie Dixon point guard. Two veteran Jamie Dixon point guards is extremely beneficial.

At the two, Jones and probably Eubanks, should prove to be an enticing duo due to their 6'6" and 6'5" height, respectively, their topnotch athleticism, and very shooting skills. The very promising Wilson, who is also in the 6'5" or 6'6" range, will be eased in. He can play either guard spots.



Forwards:

Durand Johnson, Sr.
Michael Young, Jr.
Jamel Artis, Jr.
Sheldon Jeter, Jr.
Ryan Luther, RS Fr.

This is the exact same unit as the season before, all one year older, so this could be a very good collection of players. Like the year before, Johnson, Young, Artis, and Jeter will all play a lot. Luther will have to continue to fight for minutes.


Centers:

Joseph Uchebo, Sr..
Shaq Doorson, RS Fr.
Justin Jamison, Sr./Tyrone Haughton, Sr. (?)
Cheick Diallo, Fr. (?)

This position could be very weak again or it could get the player that turns the program into a possible top 10 team. Frankly, it's doubtful that Uchebo will still be around, and that Doorson will be able to help much. If a juco center was landed in the previous class then maybe they can be a solid starter here, but the best option is the 6'9" Diallo.  While skinny, and needing some work offensively, he's an excellent rebounder and shot blocker. We're talking a top 10 prospect here that would make an instant impact. Right now it seems like it could be a battle between Pitt and St. John's, but it's important to note that he's high school teammates with Wilson and Eubanks, so that could prove to be the deciding factor.


Bottom line:

Now we're talking a possible top 10 team, and if Diallo commits we could be talking a possible national championship contender. All teams are more successful with a large group of experienced players, but few coaches get more out of experienced players than Dixon.

Veteran point guard? Check? Veteran backup point guard? Check. Depth? Who can't play in this group?  In fact, it may be hard to find minutes for so many good players. Rebounding? Young, Artis, and if he commits, Diallo, will all be good rebounders at this point, and there will guards at 6'3", 6'5", 6'6", and 6'6". Shooting? Jones, probably Eubanks, Johnson, Young, Artis, Jeter, and even Luther if he can get on the floor could give Pitt their best offensive potential in a long time. Shot blocking? Diallo would be an immediate force in that department.


2016-17:

Guards:

Josh Newkirk, Sr.
Chris Jones, Sr.
Damon Wilson, So.
Detrick Mostella, Jr./Kobe Eubanks, Jr. (?)
Mustapha Heron, Fr.

After four years as the starter Robinson will be gone, but even though he would probably have had a good four year career, he may not be missed because of all of the ridiculous talent behind him.  If Newkirk is still around he would have a shot at starting, but Wilson is enticing as a possible 6'6" point guard, and Heron is an NBA caliber talent that will play a lot, if not start, at one of the guard spots.

If Jones is still around he could be pretty good by the time he's a senior, but if he's not then Eubanks, Wilson, and Heron would be involved at this spot, too. That's a lot of raw talent.


Forwards:

Michael Young, Sr.
Jamel Artis, Sr.
Sheldon Jeter, Sr.
Ryan Luther, So.
Maverick Rowan, Fr.
Kassoum Yakwe, Fr. (?)

I have no idea if Young, Artis, or Jeter will be stars, but at the very last all three should be very good, and having three very good seniors at your forward spots is huge. By this time Luther may be able to move into the rotation, though the 6'6" Rowan can flat out shoot and he could definitely be in the mix. Yakwe is yet another teammate of Diallo, Wilson, and Eubanks, and like them he is an elite recruit. If the Panthers can land him, and they are recruiting him hard right now, he may not play a lot as a freshman, but the combo forward could be starting at the three or the four as a sophomore.


Centers:

Shaq Doorson, So.
Cheick Diallo, So. (?)
Caleb Swanigan, Fr. (?)

Something tells that the Panthers may add another big man here sometime in the next two years because Doorson still probably won't add much, and the Panthers don't want to be caught in a bind by having to play him before he's ready.  If Diallo becomes a Panther, and comes back for his sophomore year, then we are probably talking All-American potential by this point.  If he leaves, the 6'8" 270 pound Swanigan may be the heir apparent. For the Panthers, it would be ideal if Diallo was in the program, and there was a general feeling about whether he would be back for his sophomore season because the Panthers would hate to lose the excellent Swanigan. Swanigan likes Pitt, and Barry Rohrssen, a lot, but he will be highly coveted by the big boys. He will not be coming to Pitt if there's any chance that Diallo will still be around. But if Pitt fails to land Diallo, or if it looks like he will be leaving after his freshman season, then Pitt will have a real chance for the top 25 prospect. But players of this caliber usually commit early so Pitt may be out of the running if Diallo commits. Then if Diallo leaves after his freshman season, Pitt is suddenly without a big time center.


Bottom line:

While it's three years down this road this group also has the potential to be one of the best teams in the country. In fact, this will be the first time that Pitt could potentially have the exact mix they need to win it all. Five seniors, including the three top forwards, would alone make Pitt a possible top 10 team. But this will be the first time that they may match it with the kind of elite young talent that can make a major impact right away. Diallo, if he's there, and Heron, are big time talents that would match amazingly well with Pitt's five seniors. The current team has three top 100 players and no top 50 players. This '16-'17 team could have 6 or 7 top 100 players, including two top 15 prospects.

For the first time, projecting Pitt's future success is not a pipe dream. There are always people who will complain that every year somebody is saying to just wait for the future at Pitt, but this is very different. In the past it involved players generally ranked in the 100-150 range that were projected to get better. But now it's a completely different animal.  Now we are talking about the kind of elite talent that Pitt hasn't had since the best days of Paul Evans. But unlike those teams, these teams will match it with great depth. Experience and elite talent. A fan can't ask much more for that, except maybe for a Final Four, and for the first time in the Ben Howland/Jamie Dixon era, Pitt may actually have the talent to do it.









Friday, February 14, 2014

New coaching changes on offense

Quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger has left, and Paul Chryst will take over quarterback coach duties.  The new running back coach is John Settle, who most recently was with the Cleveland Browns, and before that, the Carolina Panthers.  He was also the running backs coach at Wisconsin from 2006-10. Settle was the first undrafted NFL rookie to run for over 1,000 yards in a season, in 1988, and was named to the Pro Bowl that season. He went to Appalachian State and is a native of North Carolina. For what it's worth, I wholeheartedly endorse both developments.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pitt football coaching duties

Pitt announced the hiring of Troy Douglas today, and also reported that Matt House will move from defensive backs to linebackers, and that Chris Haering will work with the outside linebackers and will head up the special teams. I guess the middle linebackers are on their own.

2015 Pitt Recruiting Preview- Offensive Line

Where the position stands now:

In my opinion this is the most fascinating unit in the Pitt program because it's been bad for so long, yet no unit has the potential for a complete turnaround like this one does in the near future.

For next year, it's safe to ink in 6'6" 340 pound guard Matt Rotheram into the starting lineup. He's a probable all-star.  At one of the tackles, another big returning senior, 6'6" 305 pound T.J. Clemmings, will start. He moved from defensive end prior to last season and started at right tackle. He performed well and with another year he should improve even more.  I also wouldn't be surprised that if he did improve a lot that he could move to the left side.

After that, things get more competitive.  If he returns from chronic back injuries, 6'6" 300 pound redshirt sophomore Adam Bisnowaty could start somewhere on the line. He was up and down (mostly down) as a redshirt freshman starter, but has good potential once he gets more experience. But he may be a step slow at right tackle, so he could be better off switching from the left side to the right, or even inside to guard. His situation will be interesting.

If those three start, stay healthy, and improve, then the line may actually be average or better than average for the first time in years.  Especially if 6'6" 290 pound (estimated for next season) sophomore Dorian Johnson rebounds from a less than stellar true freshman season. In Johnson's defense he should have redshirted last season instead of being forced into action, so hopefully it hasn't done irreparable damage to his confidence.  He has the great feet to eventually move to left tackle, but he will probably end up at guard. If he can start at that position, and excel, next season, then the line will get better in a hurry.  After Johnson there is 6'5" 330 pound redshirt senior Shane Johnson, who has seen limited reserve snaps in his career, and may not be back to the team.

Redshirt freshmen about to join in the mix at guard are 6'5" 300 pound Carson Baker and 6'5" 310 pound Aaron Reese, and at tackle with 6'7" 320 pound Jaryd Jones-Smith. At least one of Baker or Reese will have to provide some reserve snaps and it looks like Jones-Smith may be the top reserve at tackle so he better be ready. He does have a great frame and moves well.

As for center, there were no quality centers in the program prior to the start of last season, but suddenly there will be three next year and four the year after that. However, it still looks to be a possible weak link next season.  Returning starter, Artie Rowell, a 6'2" 305 pound redshirt junior, was below average last season and could easily lose his job if any of the players behind him improve. Gabe Roberts, a 6'5" 305 pound redshirt sophomore, was pencilled as the starter last season but he couldn't handle the snap. Probably not the best weakness to have as a center. If he improves, but still can't handle center, he could also factor into the mix at guard.  Then there's redshirt freshman Alex Officer, who at 6'4" and 300 pounds has brute strength and a lot of promise.

As for the incoming freshmen, 6'6" 300 pound tackle Alex Bookser and 6'5" 280 pound Conner Hayes will likely redshirt. But both have a lot of potential. Bookser is very athletic and could be an ideal left tackle down the line. Hayes is a tough and tenacious mauler.

The wildcard freshman is 6'6" 330 pound Michael Grimm. Normally I wouldn't think twice about redshirting an offensive lineman, but that's mostly because freshman aren't strong enough. That's not the case with Grimm who is already stronger than most linemen in the country. I would not be shocked if he lettered next season.


Future recruiting:

Even though the WPIAL has been a little down for awhile, Paul Chryst can be thankful that the region has been putting out some excellent offensive line talent recently.  Chryst tapped into that well for the third straight year by getting an early commitment from 6'4" 290 pound Alex Paulina of Canon McMillan HS. He won't get a huge amount of offers because centers usually don't, but I wouldn't be surprised if Paulina is an all-star center more than once for the Panthers.

Two big local tackles are also being targeted by the Panthers, and both have offers. The big name is 6'8" 300 pound Sterling Jenkins of Baldwin HS. He has great size and quickness, and he's mostly just potential right now, but he's one of the most coveted lineman in the country. Pitt will battle against Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan for his services. I think eventually he will choose someone other than the Panthers.

The other is somebody that I like a lot, and that's 6'7" 290 pound Tony Pilato of Hempfield HS. Pitt is his only offer thus far, but that should change. A talented basketball player, he has the feet to eventually play left tackle. He's a very good developmental prospect that has a lot to work with.

As for the elite line prospects that the Panthers have already offered, I don't see any of them signing with the Panthers. Those prospects are 6'5" 300 pound Richie Petitbone of Gonzaga College HS (Washington, DC), 6'5 285 pound Ryan Bates of Archbishop Wood Catholic HS (Warminster, PA), 6'7" 330 pound Sam Madden of Barnegat (NJ) HS, 6'7" 290 pound Grant Newsome of Lawrence (NJ) Prep, and 6'5" 280 pound Rob Dowdy of Westerville (OH) South HS. A step below that group is 6'4" 300 pound Kwan Stallworth of Martin Luther King HS (Lithonia, GA). I don't see him venturing north since he has some SEC offers. Another is 6'5" 280 pound Drayton Carlberg of De Le Salle HS (Minneapolis, MN), but the hometown Golden Gophers recently offered and they may be hard to beat.

One local prospect that the Panthers haven't offered yet is 6'4" 270 pound Tyler Hudanick of Seneca Valley HS. He may be a little undersized now for the Panthers, but I really hope he gets bigger because he could be very good. He flat out pancakes people, and moves very well.

If the Panthers simply landed the local center, guard, tackle trio of Paulina, Hudanick, and Pilato, then Pitt fans should be ecstatic. No, it won't cause the national websites to give them high grades, but I really like all three. It's especially nice that now with more depth, they have time to develop.

Other in-state possibilities that haven't been offered yet include 6'5" 275 pound Gabe Spurlock of Mars HS, 6'5" 275 pound Hayden Mahoney of Malvern Prep HS, and 6'5" 280 pound Ryan Bischoff of Plymouth-Whitemarsh HS.

There will be many other linemen to add to this list after the staff holds their camp. Plus, many kids grow into prospects from one year to the next, so it's always a fluid situation.


Bottom line:

If I were forced to bet on what the starting lineup next season would be, I would go with Bisnowaty and Clemmings at tackle, and Rotheram and Dorian Johnson at guard. That's unless there's injuries, of course. Center should be a three player battle between Rowell, Roberts, and Officer. If, as expected, Shane Johnson doesn't come back, the rest of those who should letter will be redshirt freshmen, especially Jones-Smith at tackle, and either Reese or Baker at guard.  And of course there's that wildcard, Grimm.

On paper, unless players like Dorian Johnson and Adam Bisnowaty become very good suddenly, it looks like the line may still not be much better than average. But average is better than it has been, and the future looks even better. Players like Dorian Johnson, Bookser, Grimm, Jones-Smith, Bisnowaty, and Paulina all at least have a lot of natural skills.  And the rest of the underclassmen are maulers who are good fits. The future is bright, even if the present is merely less dark.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

2015 Pitt Recruiting Preview- Tight Ends

Where the position stands now:

For the past two years this unit has had good depth and talent, and now they may finally turn into a real force. Junior J.P. Holtz will be starting for his third year, and he finally got the chance to help in the passing game during the second half of last season. In the first seven games, Holtz caught just 4 passes.  In the last six games he caught 19 passes. Combined with his hard-nosed blocking and toughness, he has proven to be a plus for the offense.

Senior H-Back Manasseh Garner is the biggest pass catching threat of the unit and at 6'2" 230 pounds, he almost operates as another wide receiver. Like Holtz his production skyrocketed in the second half of the season going from 11 catches in the first 7 games to 22 catches in the last 6 games.

The third part of the excellent trio is 6'6" 260 pound sophomore Scott Orndoff, who has the highest ceiling of anybody in the unit thanks to his great size and running ability. Injuries cost him the last 4 games of the season, and he only caught 6 passes on the year, but he showed his great potential in the red zone with 2 touchdowns.  Holtz and Garner may again get most of the catches next year but Orndoff has the ability to explode into another level eventually, maybe this season since his cautious freshman season is in the books.

After those three are 6'4" 255 pound Devon Edwards, and 6'4" 215 pound Tony Harper, both redshirt freshmen. Both were projects when they signed. Edwards lacks quickness and Harper lacks size, so it remains to be seen how much they will play in the future. If the Panthers keep bringing in quality tight ends every year they may have trouble making a big impact. Or Edwards may turn into a blocking tight end, and Harper may take over for Garner as a wide receiver type pass catching tight end. Barring injuries we probably won't know until two seasons from now.

Incoming freshman Brian O'Neill has the length at 6'6" and 230 pounds, and he's got good straight line speed, but he has to get stronger and more aggressive because he was too easy to tackle in high school.

I'll also include in this bunch FB/H-Back Jaymar Parrish, who played as a true freshman this past year. The 6'1" 235 pound Parrish will be used some in the running game as a blocker or even a handful of times as a runner, but he's mostly going to be used in the passing game. As a freshman he ran the ball 4 times and caught 7 passes. He could be the favorite to take over for Garner once he graduates.

Future recruiting:

Garner will be graduating but that still will leave seven tight ends or H-Backs on the roster. But of the six underclassmen already on the roster, only Orndoff has talent that just jumps out at you.  The staff remedied that quickly for the 2015 class as they've already got a commitment from 6'4" 235 pound local Nick Bowers of Kittanning HS.  Bowers is a pass catching tight end that can stretch the field and has great hands.

Even though the unit has numbers they probably wouldn't turn away another talented tight end if they can get him. But I don't really see them wasting much time recruiting another one. They have four other offers out to tight ends and any of the four would be excellent additions. But all four are also being recruited nationally so I don't think they'll end up at Pitt considering the circumstances. But just to cover all bases, those four are 6'5" 225 pound C.J. Conrad of Keystone HS (LaGrange, OH), 6'6" 250 pound Chris Clark of Avon Old Farms HS (Avon, CT), 6'5" 245 pound Jackson Harris of Columbia Central HS (Columbia, TN), and 6'6" 240 pound Bowman Archibald of Pasco HS (Dade City, FL).

Bowers is more of an under the radar sleeper instead of a national recruit like the four aforementioned prospects, but since it was unlikely that the Panthers would have landed any of those four anyway, landing Bowers was a nice get. It's also a good sign that the staff has targeted the best tight ends in the east, and offered them. If Bowers hadn't already committed it would have been interesting to see just how hard Pitt tried to land these elite prospects.

One last note is that one of the better tight ends in the east for the 2016 class will be from PA. Unfortunately, that player, Naseir Upshur, is from Imhotep HS in Philadelphia, so it's not really local.


Bottom line:

Holtz, Garner, and Orndoff are all back next year so the unit should improve even more. And Holtz and Orndoff will be back for one more, and two more years, respectively, after that. And then there's Parrish who may also have a bright future. With that in mind, the unit looks like it's good shape, and hopefully the staff will continue to add an elite prospect at least every two years.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Possible WR coach name

Again, according to Pete Roussel, Montreal Alouettes WR coach Erik "Soup" Campbell is in the mix to possibly be the new Pitt WR coach. He coached at Michigan from 1995-2007 where he coached All-Americans Charles Woodson, David Terrell, and Braylon Edwards, as well as Amani Toomer, Jason Avant, Tai Streets, Marion Manningham, and Steve Breaston.  At Iowa from 2008-2012, he coached Melvin McNutt to an All-American season.  He is from Gary, IN, and presumably has recruiting ties in the Big 10 region.

Panthers may have added new Defensive Backs coach

According to coachingsearch.com Pitt has, or will hire, Iowa State defensive backs coach Troy Douglas. With 27 years experience, Douglas has a good reputation as a coach, is a Jacksonville, FL native who recruits in Florida, and employs an aggressive style that leads to a lot of interceptions. At South Florida in 2007, the Bulls led the nation in interceptions. What this means for the rest of the staff remains to be seen. Hank Poteat coached the cornerbacks this past season, and Matt House doubled as the safeties coach.

It's also important to note that Pete Roussel of coaching search.com, a highly respected website, also reports that Paul Chryst will name a new wide receiver coach in the near future.

NOTE: An Ames, Iowa newspaper reports that Douglas has not decided yet. In typical Pitt fashion, Roussel then asks if Douglas is having second thoughts. Why can't Pitt just hire somebody without theatrics?

2015 Pitt Recruiting Preview- Wide Receivers

Where the position stands now: 

This unit has been overrated under Paul Chryst because they've had a strong starting duo in the past two years.  Unfortunately, there hasn't been much after that.  But now there finally appears to be depth.

Of course we have to start off with sophomore Tyler Boyd. He's a dynamic star who may elevate to college superstar next season.  I really can't say enough about him so I won't even try. We all know that he is a potentially great college player, and I don't throw that word around a lot.

The other starter, and the No. 3 receiver, are much more up in the air. The good news, however, is that there are many interesting candidates for those positions. In fact, I see six players that will battle to get the majority of snaps at those two spots.

For the starting position opposite Boyd the best options appear to be 6'2" 200 pound redshirt sophomore Dontez Ford and 6'3" 190 pound true freshman Adonis Jennings.  Ford, who played in high school locally at Sto-Rox, is a transfer from Syracuse where he was a safety. But he has a solid, athletic body and he can run. It remains to be seen whether or not he can actually be a good receiver but the size/speed combo is intriguing.  As for Jennings, he originally committed to Rutgers but switched to Pitt just before signing day. He is close to Boyd in raw skills, and if the starting position was determined on paper then he will be a slam dunk starter because he is long, quick, and can really run after the catch.

A sleeper for the starting spot, and possibly the No. 3 receiver, is 6'2" 195 pound redshirt freshman Zach Challingsworth. The local South Fayette product has nice size, better than average speed, and great hands. He's definitely somebody to monitor because he could be a quality college receiver.

The incumbent No. 3 receiver is 5'10" 170 pound redshirt senior Kevin Weatherspoon, who missed the bowl game due to an injury but still caught just 14 passes in 12 games. He made some important third down catches, and had some drops. He's solid, and he's a senior, but he may have trouble getting as much time this season due to much improved depth. I'm not saying he won't keep his position, but he will really have to battle to do so.

One of those players improving the receiver depth is 5'8" 170 pound redshirt junior Ronald Jones, a former Todd Graham recruit that was suspended all of last season. If he stays around, he could be an ideal candidate to use his speed and quickness in the slot.

The last of the candidates who could see time is 6'2" 205 pound former walk on Chris Wuenster, a redshirt sophomore who has played well in practice but rarely has seen game time. I'd be somewhat surprised if he started or was the main No. 3 receiver but he is in the mix for more snaps.

After that group comes 6'2" 200 pound Reggie Green, and 6'3" 190 pound Jester Weah, both redshirt freshmen who have length and speed but are still playing catchup, and 6'2" 170 pound Jaquan Davidson, and 6'2" 185 pound Elijah Zeise, who both should be a factor in the future, but who will presumably redshirt next season.


Future recruiting:

Despite the newfound depth and some interesting developmental projects, this unit still only has two elite talents, and one of them hasn't yet proven that he will be an elite player in college.  That's why another elite receiver in this class would be an excellent development for the program, especially since Boyd will probably go to the NFL after his junior year.

But here's where things get tricky because right now the Panthers don't have a WR coach since Bobby Engram left to take a similar position for the Baltimore Ravens.  And most of the top receiving prospects that the program has already been recruiting hard were being recruited by Engram. If that alone doesn't throw a wrench into things, Chryst has been historically slow when hiring coaching replacements. If he does so again it may put Pitt permanently behind for their top elite WR prospects in this class.

Of course that doesn't mean they won't come up with an elite receiver. If the replacement has connections to any of the current targets, or connections with top prospects that the Panthers have yet to target, then things could change back to the positive.

For the moment at least the staff has targeted a very specific type of receiver, and it's the same type that most programs crave- big and fast.  Of the handful of of elite prospects that they've offered, 6'4" 210 pound Irvin Charles of Paul VI HS (Haddonfield, NJ) and 6'5" 215 pound Matoaca HS (Chesterfield, VA) are big, highly coveted prospects that Pitt has no chance with. The same goes with a fast slot receiver, 5'9" 160 pound Brandon Polk of Brian Woods HS (Ashburn, VA).

But the Panthers may still involved with some very good receivers, and in one case, an excellent receiver. But again that's only if the staff can convince them to stay around until they can possibly find a good replacement for Engram. The best of this bunch is 6'5" 195 pound Juwan Johnson of Glassboro (NJ) HS, who wanted to make a decision in the spring and had Pitt high on his list until Engram left. Johnson, whose brother played at Rutgers, has been recruited hard by Pitt for two years, and was a teammates of former Pitt commit Corey Clement who eventually signed with Wisconsin. Johnson is not a speed demon, but he has good speed to go with his great size, athleticism, and hands. He would be a different kind of weapon for the Panthers, and it would be great for the program to land an elite New Jersey product.

Other possibilities include 6'3" 185 pound Najee Clayton of Paramus (NJ) Catholic, 6'4" 190 pound Jabari Greenwood of Gonzaga College HS (Washington, DC), and 6'3" 200 pound Tavin Richardson of Byrnes HS (Duncan, SC). Greenwood is teammates with major Pitt QB target Nick Johns, as well as two other elite Gonzaga products. As for Richardson, some thought that Pitt led for him until Engram left.

A level down from that bunch, but still a good recruit is 6'3" 190 pound Cameron Stewart from Shiloh HS (Snellville, GA).  Right now Pitt is his lone offer.

As for smaller, quicker slot receivers, look for a local product, 6'1" 155 pound Tre Tipton of Apollo Ridge HS, who appears to be a possible backup plan at this time. He has yet to receive an offer. He's a good sleeper but with probably only or two receivers being signed in this class, Pitt will first try to aim higher.

The same can be said for one of the two wide receivers/all-purpose backs that the Panthers are recruiting. One, a local product from North Catholic HS, is tiny, but dazzling P.J. Fulmore, who at only 5'8" and 175 pounds, may just be too small for an offer. But he may be hard to pass up because he really is fun to watch. A lot will depend on just how small he is. If he's under 5'8", like he's usually listed, then he may be too small, but the Panthers have been showing a lot of interest in him so it's something worth monitoring.

If the Panthers are determined to add a smaller, quick as a cat player, then he'll probably be a backup plan since they haven't offered him yet. A similar player that they did offer is just as dazzling, but a little bigger, and that's 5'9" 175 pound Quadree Henderson of Alexis I Dupont HS (Wilmington, DE). Henderson, who also has offers already from Clemson, West Virginia, and Rutgers, would be a great addition for the slot in Pitt's offense.


Bottom line:

Boyd will be a star for the next two seasons, and Jennings has the potential to be very good from the start. And there's finally some actual numbers in the unit. At the very least, Boyd, Jennings, Weatherspoon, Ford, Jones, and Wuenster should at least form a solid bunch.

But this unit still only has one elite talent, and one projected elite prospect, so more topnotch talent is needed.  If the Panthers can land a nationally recruited big, fast, receiver in the 6'4" range, the unit goes from good to excellent.  Throw in a quick game breaking slot receiver like Henderson and suddenly it would be one of the better young receiving corps in the east. But first the Panthers need a WR coach who can close the deal on these types of talents.




Sunday, February 9, 2014

2015 Pitt Recruiting Preview- Running Backs

Where the position stands now:

Coming into the 2013-2014 season the Panthers running back situation looked dire, at best. But suddenly it looks like a potential strength.

It begins with sophomore James Conner, a 6'2" 230 combination of elusiveness and bulldozering. Conner came out of nowhere as a true freshman to run for 799 yards, 8 TDs, and a 5.5 average. He should only get better and he has star potential. Paul Chryst has recently stated that Conner will play some defensive end in the upcoming season. Personally, I think that's a mistake but they didn't ask me for my opinion. Conner already takes a beating at running back, and he's too important to the offense. It also means that more has to be expected of his backups.

One of those backups is senior Isaac Bennett, who ran for 797 yards, 7 TDs, and a 4.7 average. His numbers may be close to Conner's numbers, but his talent is not. In fact, if incoming freshman Chris James lives up to his potential he may be the main back to give Conner a breather. At 5'9" and 210 pounds, James is a stocky gamebreaker. He would be a much better change of pace than Bennett, not to mention that he has the home run potential that Bennett, or Conner, does not.

Sophomore Rachid Ibrahim impressed with his quickness in his freshman season but if James takes over as the third down threat, Ibrahim may find himself without carries. On the bright side, if he does get phased out, he can move to the defensive backfield where his nice length and quickness could make him a nice safety.

The depth continues to get much better thanks to two more freshman. One, 6'1" 226 pound Qadree Ollison obviously has the size to make a difference. He also has pretty good speed. He may redshirt if things go well.  The other freshman will redshirt, and that's 5'11" 190 pound Dennis Briggs.


Future recruiting:

With Conner, James, and even Ollison already in the fold the chances of adding another top back is probably not very good. That doesn't mean the Panthers won't try, though. You can't ever have enough, especially when James and Ollison are not proven yet.  Luckily for them, there are three excellent prospects right in the state.

The best of the bunch is 5'9" 205 pound Andre Robinson of Bishop McDevitt HS in Harrisburg. He's very similar to James, which is another reason why he may not want to go to Pitt. Look for Penn State to make him a priority. The other two in-state backs are from the eastern part of the state. One, 5'11" 195 pound Saquon Barkley of Whitemarsh HS has already committed to Rutgers. But the talented Barkley has taken note of the recent recruiting problems at Rutgers, and has been a little more open. One of the schools he's now looking at more closely is Pitt.  Lastly is 6'2" 185 pound Josh Adams of Central Bucks South HS in Warrington. Adams is a dynamic athlete but he may also be outgrowing the position. Tall running backs are generally a bad idea because they're just too big of a target. That's why many expect that he'll end up at wide receiver. He also tore his ACL late last season so right now more schools are taking a little bit of a wait and see approach. Put all of those things together and I don't really think Pitt will even recruit him hard.  In summary, when looking at all of the info available, I don't see any of these three ending up at Pitt.

Outside of PA, elite prospects that Pitt is recruiting include 6'1" 220 pound Larry Scott of Hubbard (OH) HS, 5'10" 175 pound Taj Griffin of McEachern HS (Powder Springs, GA), and 5'8" 180 pound Tim Irvin of Westminster Christian HS (Palmetto Bay, FL).  All are big time running backs and Pitt isn't expected to be a major player with any of them.

But even though the Panthers likely won't land these backs, it's interesting to note the size of some of them. While it's assumed that Chryst prefers big backs that move the pile, for the 2015 class at least he's looking for some smaller, faster, quicker backs that can be a change of pace game breakers who can also be utilized in the passing game as well as special teams.

Two in-state backs that match that criteria are 5'9" 180 pound Olamide Zacceaus of St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia), and 5'9" 180 pound Nasir Bonner of Imhotep Institute (Philadelphia). Zacceaus already holds a Pitt offer, as well as offers from Miami and Temple. The Panthers have yet to make in person contact with him.  Bonner has offers from programs like West Virginia, Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Arizona State so it's a little surprising that Pitt hasn't offered yet, but they likely will.

An out of state back that the Panthers are interested in is 5'11" 220 pound Sekai Lindsay of Palm Bay HS (Melbourne, FL). The Panthers have yet to offer the fast bowling ball but he could make a nice addition to the unit.


Bottom line:  As long as Conner and James look good next season it will be difficult for the Panthers to land a topnotch running back.  Yes, elite running backs go to elite programs every year but Pitt isn't that at this time. Kids come to Pitt to play and if Pitt has a star sophomore running back with a freshman behind him that's also looking like a star, then the better backs will probably go elsewhere. If the Pitt backs do not look good next season then players like Robinson and maybe even Barkely could come into play.

Otherwise, as of now the most realistic possibilities are Zacceaus or Lindsay. But the Panthers have merely offered Zacceaus without really recruiting him hard yet, so if they don't do that soon then they probably aren't interested that much. Lindsay is more of the same kind of back that they have but right now his only offer is Cincinnati. If he gets no elite offers, and Pitt does offer and pursues him, then he may end up at Pitt, but that's a long way away.

To summarize, Pitt probably won't be desperate to land a top running back this season. A quick all-purpose back may be a nice addition, but otherwise they may find that convincing a top back to join a unit that already has top young backs to be a tough proposition. One more important thing to note is that Pitt is probably the favorite for elite 2016 running back Miles Sanders from Woodland Hills (Pittsburgh). With Conner, James, and Ollison, and the possibility of adding Sanders in the future, any added running back in this recruiting class would just be a nice bonus.

Friday, February 7, 2014

2015 Pitt Football Recruiting Preview- Quarterbacks



Where the position stands now:

For next season, and maybe for three seasons, Pitt's fortunes will probably rest on sophomore redshirt Chad Voytik.  He is a one time Elite 11 participant so he has talent but for some reason many fans seem to have doubts about him. There's no reason to.  We haven't got to see him much, but when we have he has shown a lot of promise. He's not big at 6'1" and 210 pounds, but he's big enough. He also has a strong arm despite what many Pitt fans seem to think. In fact at the Elite 11, then No.1 QB recruit Gunner Kiel singled out Voytik by saying "Voytik's got a gun".  National recruiting writer Barton Simmons, who covered the event, reported that Voytik had "one of the strongest arms at the event".  He also has a lightning quick release. Well regarded Scout national recruiting analyst Scott Kennedy said of him at the Elite 11, "he had the quickest release of any of the participants". He also wrote that, "he's got the arm, the release, and the footwork".

These are just some of the many raves that Voytik has received for his arm and delivery. Throw in in his elusiveness, smarts, and leadership, and he has the potential to be special.  Especially with Paul Chryst and Brooks Bollinger coaching him.

Unfortunately after Voytik, things get frighteningly thin. The second string quarterback next season is former walk on Trey Anderson, a senior who, to his credit, has stayed at Pitt for four years despite being a Texas native that was brought in by Todd Graham.  The senior is listed at 6'0" and 195 pounds by Pitt, but I can only assume he was measured in a roomful of funhouse mirrors because it's more likely that he's around 5'10" and 180 pounds. While I admire him, if he is forced to play in anything other than mop up duty, the Panthers are in big trouble.

The best scenario for Chryst was to add two quarterbacks, with one being a player talented enough to play next season in an emergency, and then to compete with Voytik in two seasons. However, it didn't work out that way. The Panthers had two developmental quarterbacks commit to them- Wade Freebeck, from Florida, and Adam Bertke, from Ohio. Both were good developmental prospects, though neither would probably be ready to compete for a starting job for about three years. Worse case scenario, one would think, was that maybe Bertke could provide some snaps as a freshman, while Freebeck redshirted. Then in two years they can reverse that with Freebeck getting some snaps as a redshirt freshman and Bertke taking his redshirt. Then in three years, both could be redshirt sophomores, and both, or at least one, would be ready to provide more. They could take over for Voytik if he is struggling or could provide quality backup snaps. Then in four seasons both would be redshirt juniors and should, at least theoretically, be ready to take over the staring job.

But as we know, Freebeck changed his mind and decided to sign with Vanderbilt instead. That leaves just Bertke, who at 6'6" has great size, while also having a good arm. He's still a project, as most incoming quarterbacks are, but he's a good addition to the program.

Bottom line, behind Voytik, who despite his talent is not totally proven yet, there is a 5'10" walk on and a freshman who isn't ready to play yet. It can't get any more worrisome than that.

Future recruiting:

Obviously landing two quarterbacks, including an elite quarterback, is a necessity.  The good news is that there are some very good possibilities.

Let's first look at that elusive big time quarterback that Pitt needs to get them over the hump.  I mentioned earlier on this blog that I have found the ideal possibility. Pitt has not offered him yet, but he fits in every way. He will be ranked as one of the best quarterback prospects in the country, he's exactly the type of quarterback that the staff likes, and as if he was sent from heaven, he's actually from Wisconsin, which means Paul Chryst and Joe Rudolph are already in love with him.

The quarterback that I'm talking about is 6'4" 205 James Morgan of Ashwaubenon HS in Green Bay, WI. I'm not saying that he'll ever come even close to Aaron Rodgers, but he has the same size, he's from Green Bay, and his school colors are even green and yellow. Physically it's like watching Aaron Rodgers in high school. He is very accurate, has a good arm, and amazing touch.  In a nutshell, he is just flat out good.

There will be competition for such a talent, of course.  I'm assuming that he will get some Big 10 offers, and Notre Dame is interested.  But here's the good news. Many of the Big 10 programs who would usually be interested in him have already filled their quarterback needs this season, including Wisconsin who has already got a commitment for 2014 from an elite Florida quarterback that has drawn comparison to Russell Wilson, and for 2015 from an elite Utah quarterback that has drawn comparison to Johnny Manziel. In other words, unless things change, there's no reason why he would want to end up at Wisconsin.

Morgan visited Pitt in late November and he enjoyed it.  In fact, as of now he has named Pitt and Michigan State as his leaders.  Neither have offered yet.  In fact, nobody has offered yet. With true quarterbacks like this, coaches like to see them throw in person. That means Pitt has to either go watch him throw, and offer, or have him attend Pitt's camp, and offer.

Hopefully the Panthers will be aggressive here. He's the perfect fit in every way, and with Chryst, Rudolph, and Brooks Bollinger, the Wisconsin ties are deep. Hopefully Pitt doesn't blow this one because this is the type of quarterback that Pitt needs to get to a higher level, and he's right there for the taking.

But even though I just went on and on about Morgan, there are at least two other elite quarterbacks that Pitt has shown interest in, and either would also be an excellent addition. One is 6'3" 215 pound Nick Johns of Gonzaga College HS in Washington, DC. Physically solid, Johns also shows good arm strength, mobility, and mechanics. Like Morgan, he visited Pitt for the Miami game and enjoyed it. Also like Morgan, Pitt wants to see him throw first before offering. Virginia is his lone offer so far, but he broke his collarbone and missed much of this past season so schools want to really watch him throw in person. Bobby Engram was his recruiter so a new contact person will be needed. By the way, on an added note, his team is flat out loaded with national recruits in the 2015 class so that's a bonus for landing him.

The last of the elite possibilities is 6'2" 190 pound Alex Malzone of Brother Rice HS in Bloomfield, MI. Coming from the most dominant program in Michigan, he's a winner, but there's more than that. The thing that jumps out the most about him is his arm. The ball absolutely jumps from of his hand effortlessly. That means his mechanics are impressive, too.  And that arm strength comes in a 190 pound package. Once he gets bigger and stronger his arm will become even better. The good news for Pitt is that since he's not big, he may not get a lot of big time offers. He already holds offers from seven MAC programs, but bigger programs will offer once they see him throw in person. He did throw at Michigan, and got raves. He is under consideration for a Wolverine offer, and is also being monitored by the likes of Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State. But he did visit Pitt on junior day recently and said it was the best place he's been to.

The next on the list may also prove to be an elite caliber prospect and that's 6'4" 210 pound Kyle Shurmur of La Salle College HS in Wyndmoor, PA. So far he's the lone quarterback in the class to get a Pitt offer and there's a good reason why. He's clearly got the size, but he also has a very good arm. An added bonus is that his dad is long time great offensive mind Pat Shurmur, the current offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, so you know he is getting good tutoring on the side. He also holds offers from Illinois and Central Michigan. He has visited Pitt.

After those big four, there are the developmental quarterbacks.  Of course first on that list is local favorite Brett Brumbaugh of South Fayette HS in McDonald, PA. The 6'4" 190 pounder is limited because of his lack of athleticism and arm strength, but he's highly productive, accurate, and smart. Even though he lacks too much to be an elite prospect, he just may be one of those special players that finds a way to succeed anyway. It just may be worth a shot as long as an elite prospect is also signed. He currently holds offers from Akron and Temple.

Another in-state possibility is 6'4" 200 pound lefty Alex Hornibrook of Malvern Prep in Malvern, PA.  Like Brumbaugh he doesn't have a cannon for an arm, but also like Brumbaugh he has a lot of intangibles. He has visited Pitt early in the season. He recently picked up an offer from Akron.

Outside of PA, possibilities include 6'4" 195 pound Joe Burrow of Athens HS in The Plains, OH, who  had a huge year and was named Gatorade Player of the Year for Ohio this past season, and big 6'5" 215 pound Brett Gasiorowski of Glenbard North HS in Carol Stream, IL, who could be very good down the line because of his size, arm, and athleticism.

Bottom Line: It's still early in the recruiting cycle so more quarterbacks will come on the scene. Bu this is an impressive bunch. What's interesting is that the staff was aggressive contacting quarterbacks even before they knew Freeback was not committing. Now that they are really in trouble as far as numbers, I'm hoping they ramp up their aggressiveness even more.

The best case scenario, in my opinion, is that the staff lands two of these prospects. Obviously it would be great to add two elite quarterbacks but that's not realistic. However one elite prospect and one developmental prospect is realistic.

Pitt desperately needs to add either Morgan, Johns, or Malzone. My personal preference is Morgan because I think he has both the highest upside and is also the quickest to be ready. Malzone is very talented and could be excellent, so if the Panthers land him instead then the fans should still be excited. Johns would also be a big time coup but I think at the time that the Panthers are a little more beyond with him.  Shurmur may prove to be just as good as that group, but right now I see him between elite and developmental.

Of the developmental possibilities I think Gasiorowski is the best of that group. He has a lot of tools. But if the Panthers land one of the big boys he may become a long shot because he's not going to want to compete with him.  That's why the best possibility, if one of the elite quarterbacks is in the fold, is Brumbaugh, because he is a local kid that may not bolt if he's behind somebody more talented, and because he just may be one of those players that has enough intangibles to be good despite some limitations.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Top PA Prospects in 2015 Class (And Some Top 2016 PA Prospects, Too)

1. John Reid, St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia) CB- He's only 5'10 and 175 pounds, but his quickness, hips, closing speed, anticipation, and smarts are off the charts.  In a nutshell, he was born to be a shutdown corner. Has already put on a show for two years on the combine circuit and has an impressive offer list of Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, and Notre Dame, among many others. It's doubtful that Pitt will be a serious option.

2. Jordan Whitehead, Central Valley HS (Monaca) CB- When he was a sophomore and former teammate Robert Foster was a senior, it was common for local fans to say Whitehead was already better. It remains to be seen if he'll ever be as good, or better, than Foster, but there's definitely a chance.  He's not big at just 5'10" and 170 pounds, but he's fast, with excellent athleticism and quickness. Also a big time return man. Offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Arkansas, and Tennessee, among others. As of now, I'd say it's a four school race between Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, and Ohio State.

3. Andre Robinson, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg) RB- Yet another short player at 5'9", but he's a strongly built 205 pounds. Runs well between the tackles and has the strength to stiff arm defensive backs with ease. Very good speed and excellent quickness and vision. Also has good hands. Dynamite running back who could be a big star in college. Holds offers from Pittsburgh, Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Maryland, and Boston College. Penn State may be a slight favorite but, like Ohio State, they are going to offer a lot of elite backs. Penn State may try hard to land him anyway, just to prove that they can. Pitt may have an outside chance but it's going to be hard to land a top running back in this class if James Conner and/or Chris James plays well.

4. Ryan Bates, Archbishop Carroll HS (Warminster) OT-  Already 6'5" and 285 pounds, and he has the frame to get much bigger.  Tenacious blocker that explodes into the defender.  Very quick with great feet. Sterling Jenkins gets all the publicity but right now Bates is the better player, and he has the potential to be an excellent college player. Early offers have come from Pittsburgh, Penn State, Virginia, South Carolina, Miami, Boston College, and Georgia Tech.  Penn State is the heavy favorite at this time.

5. Sterling Jenkins, Baldwin HS (Pittsburgh) OT- Very large at 6'8" and 305 pounds.  Obviously his wingspan is enormous which makes him an ideal left tackle candidate. Good feet.  Highly coveted because of his naturally size and quickness, but he hasn't performed up to that potential yet. National recruiting sites rate him higher than he should be at the moment, mostly because he performs well at combines.  But he hasn't been as good in games.  Major offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss, and Tennessee.  Look for a four school race between Pitt, Penn State, Michigan, and Ohio State.

6. Saquon Barkley, Whitehall HS (Whitehall) RB- Solid build at 5'11" and 200 pounds. Good speed and even better quickness. Tough runner for a scatback type. Excellent vision.  Basically he's just very good at every facet. Could be very good good at the college level. Committed to Rutgers months ago but in the past month or so he's been more open to different suitors. With the Rutgers program struggling it would surprise nobody if he didn't end up there.  Pittsburgh, Penn State, North Carolina, and Syracuse has also offered.

7. Josh Adams, Central Bucks South HS (Warrington) RB/WR- As far as pure athletic ability he's  up there with Reid and Whitehead. At 6'2" and 198 pounds, he's long and lean, and he's fast with long, gliding strides. The problem right now, if you want to call it that, is that he may be too tall to play running back in college, and that's where he plays now. So can he project to wide receiver, or is he going to be a tall running back? That's the biggest question with him. He also tore his ACL late in the season so he's recovering from that. Offers have come from Pittsburgh, Penn State, Notre Dame, Stanford, Boston College, and Temple. I don't expect Pitt to be a major factor.

8. Jake Cooper, Archbishop Wood HS (Warminster) LB- A prototypical middle linebacker that can do it all. Already a rock solid 6'2" 230 pounds, Cooper is old school and new school all wrapped up into one excellent player. Excellent wrestler and like most high school wrestlers he's tough as hell. But he's also very athletic and moves well. Plays against the run and the pass equally well. Wonderful player and exactly what Pitt needs. Pittsburgh has offered as has Penn State, Northwestern, Virginia, Duke, Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Rutgers. Pitt had a real chance at first, but now that Penn State has offered I think it won't be long before he commits to them.

9. Jay Stocker, Coatesville HS (Coatesville) S- Like big, pass catching tight ends that run like receivers, playmaking safeties are the hot thing in all levels of football. And this excellent player fits the bill. At 6'2" and 190 pounds, he is athletic and strong, which he uses to make plays all over the field like a heat seeking missile.  Offers include Pittsburgh, Wisconsin, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia Tech, and Rutgers. Could easily pick up bigger offers as the recruiting season goes on. I don't see Pitt as a major player at this time.

10. Ryan Buchholz, Great Valley HS (Malvern) DE- Already has NFL size at 6'6" and 235 pounds, and he combines that with tenacity, speed, and excellent football instincts. Could be a big time player.  Another player that Pitt desperately needs but Pitt hasn't offered for some reason. Penn State has, as has Northwestern, Boston College, Maryland, Virginia, Rutgers, and Duke. Like most on the list, I'd be surprised if he didn't end up at Penn State.



2016:
(alphabetical order)

Cary Angeline, Downingtown East HS (Exeter) WR/TE- Already 6'7" 210 pounds so needless to say he has intriguing possibility as a receiving possibility. Already holds Miami and Virginia offers.

Anthony Long, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg) DT- Bull strong 6'3" and 292 pounds. A terror in the middle of the line and could be a national recruit. Has already started off with offers from Georgia Tech, Maryland, Purdue, and Temple.

Aaron Matthews, Clairton Area HS (Clairton) WR- The next great Clairton Bear, he's an excellent athlete at 6'5" and 175 pounds.  And he can fly.

Brandon McIlwain, Council Rock North HS (Newtown) QB- The most exciting quarterback in the state and he just completed his sophomore season. He's been an inaccurate passer thus far so he needs help with his delivery, but he's an athletic 6'1" 195 pounds, has a strong arm, and is a dynamic runner. May be a big timer.

Michal Menet, Exeter Township HS (Reading) OT- It's extremely rare that an offensive lineman who just completed his sophomore season is ranked among the top players in his class already, but the 6'5" 250 pounder already has an impressive offer list of Pittsburgh, Penn State, Michigan State, Virginia, and Rutgers.

Kaezon Pugh, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa) LB- You can't have a list of great PA prospects without an Aliquippa player and like many Quips before him he has the looks of a star. Currently a 6'1" 195 pound running back but with his build it's expected that he could keep growing into a linebacker. But he's talented enough to play running back if he doesn't grow, and defensive line if he grows a lot. Cousin of Dravon Henry (who isn't?). Pittsburgh and West Virginia have offered and there will be many, many more.

Miles Sanders, Woodland Hills HS (Pittsburgh) RB- A big time player at a big time football factory. Already 6'0" and 180 pounds but he's still young and will likely gain more size. Game breaking speed, with topnotch athleticism and vision. Should be a national recruit. Pittsburgh and Michigan have already offered and Pitt should be a major contender.

Naseir Upshur, Imhotep Institue Charter School (Philadelphia) TE- Another football factory, this time on the eastern part of the state. Great size already at 6'4" and 235 pounds. Great pass catcher and a vicious blocker, the latter quite rare for any tight end prospect, let alone a high school sophomore. Arizona State, Temple, and Cincinnati have offered but there will be many more.

Kobay White, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg) WR- The football factories in the eastern part and western parts of the states were represented, and now this is the second player for the football factory of the central part of the state. Stands at 6'0" and 180 pounds right now, and should grow more. Very good speed and athleticism. Already a star at a high level of competition.














Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Pitt Football 2014 Class

QUARTERBACK

Adam Bertke, Marion Local HS (Maria Stein, OH)- Very tall at 6'6" and possibly growing even more.  Historically there seems to some evidence that extremely tall quarterbacks don't do well so that's something worth watching for.  He also has to add more weight as he is around 200 pounds right now. Needs some work on his mechanics but doesn't have any major flaws in his delivery. Has had some injury problems. Otherwise he has a stronger than average arm and decent mobility for his size. Also a good student and good leadership ability. Played at a small division but his particular conference has been known to develop major college quarterbacks, like Bobby Hoying. Was offered by Illinois and a handful of MAC schools.

Unit Synopsis:  I had to assume that Wade Freebeck was still committed to the Panthers when I originally wrote this, and I had a long explanation as to why I thought the staff failed in recruiting topnotch quarterbacks. I thought I would have to argue my point because there would be many fans who wouldn't agree with me.  Now I don't think anybody would disagree with me.  How a guy with Paul Chryst's reputation with quarterbacks can't land a nationally recruited quarterback, especially with practically no quarterbacks on the roster, is mind boggling.  In fact the only such quarterback that the staff even offered was Chryst's nephew, Keller, who decided to stay home and play at Stanford.

I just don't get it.  I don't know why the staff is looking for projects at quarterback instead of looking for legitimate big time talent. I love the idea of adding a developmental quarterback in every class because you never know, but only developmental quarterbacks- when you desperately need a big time quarterback? Then to lose Freebeck to Vanderbilt, who has been recruiting him for just two weeks, is almost epically bad. That's not to suggest that Bertke won't be good someday.  He may be the next Ben Roethlisberger for all I know.  But it's still a head scratcher why they wouldn't at least try to land more of a sure thing.  At least try.

RUNNING BACK

Dennis Briggs, Shady Side Academy (Pittsburgh, PA)- Maybe the biggest surprise offer by many in this class. Not big, but solidly built and muscular at 5'10" and 195 pounds. Decent speed, but not a speed burner. Was not highly productive at the high school level. Was offered when he impressed the coaches at their camp. Could end up on defense. Doesn't jump out at you physically but he's a hard worker who continually tries to improve. Only other offer was Toledo.

Chris James, Notre Dame HS (Niles, IL)- Muscular and powerful at 5'9" and 210 pounds.  Runs hard through the tackles. A workout warrior that is a solid block of muscle. Doesn't have breakaway speed but has better than average speed and quickness. Good hands out of the backfield. Very productive at the high school level. Almost committed to Michigan State, then Wisconsin, but both moved on when other targets committed first. Their loss is Pitt's gain because he has the potential to play as a freshman, and even to star in the future. Arizona State, Iowa, Minnesota, and Tennessee were some of his other offers.

Qadree Ollison, Canisius HS (Buffalo, NY)- Strong between the tackles runner at a healthy 6'1" and 225 pounds. Doesn't have great speed or quickness, but both are a good level for his size. Dominated a small classification at the high school level. Could also end up at H-Back if he doesn't pan out at running back.  Some pretty impressive offers, including Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Boston College, Maryland, and Rutgers.

Unit Synopsis: The big target at this position was local running back Shai McKenzie, who the Panthers had a strong chance to land until they landed James. In the long run, it may turn out very well since James has star potential. Ollison is big and runs hard so he may turn into a good player also.  The recruiting for this unit has to be considered a success because of James.


WIDE RECEIVER

Jaquan Davidson, Elizabeth Forward HS (Elizabeth, PA)- High school quarterback who will be given a shot at wide receiver even though he actually has a strong arm and could probably play quarterback at a lower division. Tall, lanky, and skinny at 6'3" and 170 pounds.  Has to put on a lot of weight but he's a long strider that can get from point A to point B in a hurry. Glides when he runs and often had his way at the high school level. Has the ability to end up at safety if he doesn't make it at receiver. Other offers included West Virginia, UConn, Temple, and Illinois.  A real sleeper.

Adonis Jennings, Timber Creek HS (Sicklerville, NJ)- The former Rutgers commit changed his mind and committed to Pitt late in the recruiting cycle. That's good news for the Panthers because he may be the best player in the class. Long, athletic build at 6'3" and 190 pounds, and he has the frame to easily add more size. Speed is good, but not great when timed with the stopwatch, but in games nobody seems to ever catch him. Dynamic runner with the ball in his hands. Has star potential. Other offers included Clemson, Virginia Tech, Arizona, Iowa, Boston College, and Arkansas.

Elijah Zeise, North Allegheny HS (Wexford, PA)- Solidly built at 6'2" and 185 pounds with a frame that could add a lot more weight. Physically he does not have one trait that stands out at an elite level, but he is good to very good in size, speed, athleticism, and hands. A good football player that could also project at safety or even linebacker some day. Other offers came from West Virginia, Arizona, and Temple.

Unit Synopsis: The more I think about this group the more I like it. At the moment Jennings may be the best actual player in the whole class.  He could see a lot of time this season.  And Davidson and Zeise have potential at the position, with the potential to move to another position if need be.


TIGHT END

Brian O'Neill, Salesianum School (Wilmington, DE)- Tight ends usually get a lot of offers and therefore they get a little overrated. That's why it's baffling as to why the Panthers are his only major offer. At 6'6" and 235 pounds the frame is there to be a weapon.  Especially since he can also get down the field in a hurry with his long strides.  On the downside, he goes down too easy for a player his size, and because he operated like a receiver he has little experience with blocking.

Unit Synopsis: The Panthers have some nice young tight ends on the roster already so the staff was not making this unit a priority for this recruiting cycle. But even so, O'Neill is a good developmental prospect.


OFFENSIVE LINE

Alex Bookser, Mt. Lebanon, HS (Pittsburgh)- Land the top offensive lineman in the state known for great offensive linemen? Check. Already a fit 6'6" and 300 pounds, and he can get bigger. Very quick feet which could make him an ideal left tackle candidate down the road. Like most freshmen linemen he will need to get stronger, so he'll very likely redshirt. But in a few years, if he lives up to his potential, he can be a big time left tackle. And if he doesn't? He very possibly could be an all-star defensive tackle since at the moment he's actually a better defensive player.  A lot of big time offers included Penn State, West Virginia, Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Florida State, Nebraska, and Georgia.

Mike Grimm, Bethel Park HS (Bethel Park, PA)- A giant 6'6" 325 pound monster who despite the size is not fat.  Both parents are fitness professionals and he is also a workout warrior. Already stronger than most college linemen. Feet are better than he's given credit for, but not good enough to be a left tackle. That's fine because at right tackle or guard he could develop into one of those linemen that leans on his opponent all day until they eventually give up. Committed early but still picked up offers from West Virginia, Wisconsin, Baylor, Boston College, Arizona, and Virginia.

Connor Hayes, Traverse City West HS (Traverse City, MI)- Strong, bulldozer type at a solid 6'4" and 290 pounds. Tough as hell. Will probably line up at guard but he could play center, too. Committed early but still had offers from programs like Syracuse, Indiana, and Duke.

Unit Synopsis: A potential all-star left tackle and two tough as nails maulers. What's not to like? Back to back excellent offensive line recruiting classes. This unit is getting better in a hurry.


DEFENSIVE LINE

Rori Blair, Upper St Clair HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- Recovered two years ago from a stroke and so far has made a great recovery. Very skinny at 6'3" at a listed 220 pounds, and he looks skinnier than that. But he has the frame to get bigger. Needs a lot more strength. Right now he gets overpowered too often. Good straight line speed and athleticism. Could potentially be an outside linebacker if he can't put on enough weight. An interesting project for many reasons. He's come a long way but he still has a long way to go.

Connor Dintino, Choate Rosemary Hall (Wallingford, CT)- Who knew kids from Connecticut boarding schools could be so big and tough? Dintino was being recruited by most schools for offense but the Panthers liked his combination of size and quickness for defensive tackle. At 6'4" and 300 pounds, Dintino is built like a house- or maybe an apartment complex.  An accomplished wrestler, which has helped him with learning about leverage. Quicker than you'd expect when you see his size. UConn and Buffalo also offered.  A real sleeper.

Mike Herndon, Riverheads HS (Staunton, VA)- It's not often that you see a 6'4" 325 pound middle linebacker (okay, never), but that's what he played in high school. He'll move to defensive tackle for the Panthers. With his big size and the ability to move well, he could turn into a solid player. Virginia Tech offered at one time, and he had some smaller offers.

Shane Roy, Reading Community HS (Cincinnati, OH)- Lanky and aggressive end with the frame to add much more to his 6'4" 220 pound frame. Plays hard.  Good quickness.  Other offers included Boston College, Illinois, and Toledo.

Hez Trahan, Roman Catholic HS (Philadelphia, PA)- Solidly built at 6'4" and 250 pounds. Not explosive or quick so he may move to defensive tackle down the line. Other offers were UMass and Coastal Carolina.

Unit Synopsis: The Panthers desperately needed an influx of talent and numbers on the defensive line and five linemen means they got numbers.  But unfortunately none of the five screams of star potential. That doesn't mean they can't be at least solid, of course. They have enough talent to help down the road. I especially like Dintino the more I watch him. But the staff seems to have trouble targeting and landing highly talented linemen on the defensive side of the ball, especially at end. That's a problem.


LINEBACKERS

Jamal Davis, McKinley HS (Canton, OH)- Looks smaller than his listed 6'2" and 220 pounds. Needs to add strength. More straight line fast than quick or explosive which is why his offer list wasn't better. Those offers did include Louisville, Indiana, Minnesota, and a host of MAC schools.

James Folston, Jr., Cocoa HS (Cocoa, FL)- This kid is growing on me the more tape I watch of him. The son of a former NFL linebacker (with the same name obviously), and a former high school wide receiver and safety. Way too thin right now at 6'3" and 200 pounds but the frame is there to add a lot of weight. Has some speed and more importantly some good quickness and explosiveness. Has a chance to develop into a good college linebacker. Other offers came from South Florida and Minnesota.

Quintin Wirginis, Fox Chapel HS (Fox Chapel, PA)- My biggest sleeper of this class. At 6'2" and 225 pounds he is solidly built and he can get bigger. Aggressive and flies all over the field. Can play in the middle or on the outside. Good speed and athleticism. Got lost in recruiting because he had a late growth spurt then missed all of senior season with an injury.

Unit Synopsis: This is another unit that needs a desperate influx of talent. This is a decent bunch with some promise but it's going to take a lot of development for any of them to emerge as elite college players, and that's something the Panthers defense desperately needs.


DEFENSIVE BACK

Patrick Amara, West Catholic HS (Philadelphia, PA)- A fan favorite already because he talks so lovingly of Pitt on twitter, but he's also good enough to be a fan favorite on the field. Long frame at 6'2" and 175 pounds. Not a blazer on the stopwatch but he plays much faster on the field because of his smarts, anticipation, and quickness. Could turn out to be a very good college player. Other offers included California, Georgia Tech, and Central Florida. His biggest offers came late after a very impressive senior season.

Avonte Maddox, Martin Luther King HS (Detroit, MI)- Small at 5'9" and 160 pounds, but he can flat out fly. Probably the most electrifying player in Michigan this season and that's saying something.    Would be a big time slot receiver in some offenses, but at Pitt he will be at cornerback. Could be a star return man. Good student and leader.

Phillipie Motley, Hilliard Davidson HS (Hilliard, OH)- Another player that is faster in a straight line than is quick or explosive, but he runs in the 4.4s and that's really good. Needs to add weight like most freshman, and at 5'10" and 170 pounds he's not really big. A very willing tackler which isn't always the case with cover corners.

Jalen Williams, Newburgh Free Academy (Newburgh, NY)- Nice sized safety at 6'1" and 175 pounds. He has to get bigger but he has a great, long frame for the position. Moves well.  Very underrated prospect. Reminds me a lot of Jason Hendricks.

Unit Synopsis: I like all four of these recruits but when you lose two elite defensive backs in your own backyard, like Pitt did with Dravon Henry and Montae Nicholson, then it's a bit of a letdown. But I can foresee both Amara and Williams having nice careers at Pitt. And Maddox and Motley, while both small, at least have excellent speed. And if Maddox lives up to his potential as a return man, that alone makes him an excellent addition.


BOTTOM LINE

With the roster depleted in the next few years, a big influx of talent in every unit was needed. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. I like what the staff did at running back, because of Chris James, and at wide receiver and the offensive line. James, Adonis Jennings, Alex Bookser, and Michael Grimm are the best of the bunch and the prospects with the most upside.

After that things start to drop quite a bit. I didn't like the quarterback recruiting to begin with, as I stated above, and now that Freebeck was lost, the quarterback recruiting was even worse. And very inexplicable, to say the least.

On defense there's some good developmental prospects but not one- not one- is an elite prospect. That's twelve recruits, on a defense that's easy for any top prospect to get immediate playing time, and not one is a big time prospect. That doesn't mean that I don't like some of these defensive players. Connor Dintino is intriguing. The linebackers may turn out to be good, and the secondary has a lot of potential. But when you have twelve prospects and all twelve are developmental guys, then you need to recruit better. The truth is, I'm not sure if any of these players on defense can be in the two deep this season.

But the most troubling thing is that the staff clearly looks for developmental prospects almost exclusively. They offer some big time prospects very early, just like have this year, then usually are out of the running before they even get around to hard selling. In the meantime, they start offering very under the radar players, and getting commitments from them, very early, instead of using them as a back up plan. It's as if the plan is to look so hard for under the radar types that the staff doesn't spend as much time wooing the more elite prospects.

Don't get me wrong. Getting under the radar types is a skill, and the staff may prove to be excellent at it. But you can only get so far with a team loaded with developmental projects.

The running back, wide receiver, tight end, and offensive line recruiting for Chryst's staff has been excellent, so we know they have it in them. But quarterback and defense recruiting needs to be much better. That's two extremely important facets of a football team, needless to say. Failing to recruit impressively in every unit is what eventually limited Dave Wannstedt. Chryst must improve his recruiting, maybe even a lot, or is he's going to put an awful lot of stress on an inexperienced coaching staff to get the most out of talent that's simply okay.