Friday, December 2, 2016

Where Pitt recruiting stands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How Pitt's defense looks for the next few years

Defensive Linemen: Ejuan Price, Shakir Soto, and Tyjuan Jarrett are gone, but all is not lost. Pat Narduzzi has begun to add more talent and depth to the unit and though it's not all the way to where he wants it, it's getting there.

At end, redshirt junior Dewayne Hendrix will finally get his chance. The 6'4" 260 pound redshirt junior missed the last two years, one because he transferred from Tennessee, and one for a leg injury.  If he lives up to his massive ability, it would be a huge development for the line, and the defense in general.

At the other end, 6'4" 245 pound senior Rori Blair will be the incumbent, but he will face a lot of competition from 6'4" 245 senior Allen Edwards, 6'3" 245 pound junior James Folston, Jr., 6'5" 250 pound redshirt freshman Patrick Jones, and 6'5" 255 pound redshirt freshman Rashad Weaver. Blair has played a lot in three years but has only totaled 9 sacks in his career, so he will need to improve in his senior year to be an asset. Edwards is a former junior college product that has natural pass rushing skills, but he hasn't had much of a chance on the field yet. Like Blair, next year will be his last chance to make his mark. Folston is former linebacker that played a little more at the end of the season. Weaver and Jones are good developmental players, and both showed promise as a true freshman in the practice. Big 6'6' 240 pound true freshman Carson Van Lynn will most likely redshirt. A wildcard is Zach Gilbert, who missed last season with a heart condition. Though undersized, the 6'0" 240 pound Gilbert has a lot of skill, but there's a good chance that his career is over.

The tackle situation also has some talented younger players, but more are clearly needed. Two new starters will have to come through, and one of those should be 6'3" 280 pound sophomore Amir Watts, an aggressive bull that has a very high ceiling. The other spot could be between 6'2" 290 pound redshirt senior Jeremiah Taleni and 6'4" 275 pound redshirt freshman Keyshon Camp. Taleni was brought in from Hawaii by former head coach Paul Chryst many years ago, but much to his credit he has stuck around and got better each year. He is good enough that he will at least be in the rotation next season. Camp is an elite recruit with a ton of potential. Watts, Taleni, and Camp were all listed at defensive tackle, so if two of the three start one will have to move to nose tackle. Taleni would be the best bet.

Other contenders inside include 6'4" 315 pound redshirt junior Mike Herndon, 6'4" 280 pound redshirt junior Shane Roy, and 6'3" 290 pound redshirt freshman Rashad Wheeler. Roy and Herndon were the backups to Jarrett this year, but it remains to be seen if either could hold down the spot as a starter. Wheeler is too athletic to be wasted at the nose so he will join the tackles. He has very good potential.

Because there are questions in this unit, a true freshman has the ability to play if he's good enough. At end, Tyjuan Garbutt is between Pitt and Virginia Tech, and he has big time potential. If he decides on the Panthers he has a chance to be in the two deep. At tackle, 6'2" 300 pound Jaylen Twyman, 6'5" 300 pound Kyree Campbell, and 6'3" 315 pound Fred Hansard are three of the big time tackles that are still in play, with Twyman the most likely commitment of the three. Any of the three are capable of playing right away.

You never know where else a big time lineman may come from late in the recruiting season, like Watts and Camp last year, but it's very important that at least one more big very talented end and tackle are found.

Beyond 2017: Narduzzi currently has a lot of projects in the mix, and even though one or two projects usually turn into players, more high level talent is needed. But the future still looks better than it does next year at the position since Watts, Camp, Jones, Weaver, and Wheeler are a talented bunch that will only get better and better. Gilbert would be a welcome addition if that happens, but changing the future from good to excellent depends on what the staff adds to finish out this class.

Linebackers: The Panthers linebacker corps has been below average for years, but that should be changing soon. The group will be very young next season, but they will also be much more talented than their predecessors.

In the middle, Matt Galambos will be moving on, and replacing him should be 6'2" 240 pound senior Quintin Wirginis, who (here we go again) should have been starting for the last two years. So that will be an upgrade.

On the outside, longtime lettermen Mike Caprara and Bam Bradley are also gone, and among those vying for their time is returning starter, and former walk on, 6'0" 215 pound redshirt junior Sean Idowu, and 6'2" 225 pound junior Elijah Zeise, who began the season as the starter over Idowu before going down for the year with an injury in the first game. Also returning will be 6'0" 210 pound redshirt sophomore Saleem Brightwell, who is undersized but showed good quickness when he played. He looks like he will be in the mix for the rest of his career because he looks like he could be a playmaker.

The most intriguing part of this unit is the players that haven't seen the field yet. Redshirt sophomore Anthony McKee is also undersized at 6'0" and 210 pounds, and it's a little disappointing that he hasn't made a move yet with such untalented upperclassmen, but he's young and has physical skills so it's obviously too early to give up on him. In the middle, 6'2" 225 pound redshirt freshman Elias Reynolds will try to be the backup to Wirginis.

But the three most promising linebackers are 6'1" 220 pound Kaezon Pugh and 6'3" 230 pound Chase Pine, both redshirt freshmen, and 6'1" 210 pound incoming freshman Cam Bright. Pugh and Pine should definitely be in the mix, if not start, and even though he's a true freshman, Bright has the speed  and explosiveness that makes him a possibility, too.

Incoming freshman Kyle Nunn is not yet big enough at 6'3" and 190 pounds, but he should be a factor in the not too distant future. Floridian Albert Tucker played linebacker on a loaded high school team, but at 6'3" and 205 pounds he will move over to linebacker. Like Nunn, he will probably redshirt. And big time recruit, Nathan Proctor, is still a possibility.

Beyond 2017: This unit is finally starting to look interesting, mostly because Pine, Pugh, Bright, and Brightwell will be around for a long time, and Nunn, Tucker,  and McKee could be good players eventually, too. More are needed, but they are off to a very good start for the future.

Defensive backs: Where do we start? Well, Ryan Lewis and Terrish Webb struggled more than anyone in the secondary this year and both are gone, so that has to be considered a plus. Reggie Mitchell will also be gone, and he's another player that regressed.

Replacing Lewis permanently (starting maybe this season) should be 6'1" 185 pound sophomore Damar Hamlin, who the staff thinks has a very high ceiling. On the other side, 5'9" 175 pound senior Avonte Maddox will probably get the call again. Others joining the mix will be 6'0" 180 pound redshirt sophomore Dane Jackson, 6'0" 190 pound redshirt freshman Therran Coleman, 6'0" 185 pound redshirt sophomore Malik Henderson, and 5'10" 175 pound redshirt junior Philipie Motley.

Only Coleman didn't play this season, and the other three all struggled, but they were also very young and inexperienced. They will obviously get better, the only question is, how much and how quickly?

The obvious huge get is Lamont Wade, who would start immediately, but if I had to guess I don't think he will end up being a Panther. If he does choose elsewhere, the staff will have to either find a hidden gem or hope that another top level back springs open somehow. But with the Panthers adding so many cornerbacks last year it was always going to be add more this year.

At safety, 5'11" 190 pound junior Jordan Whitehead did not have a good year, and he's probably at the wrong position. He needs to have a comeback next year because he has All-American potential. His backup should again be 5'10" 190 pound redshirt junior Dennis Briggs. The replacement for Webb at free safety should be among 6'2" 185 redshirt sophomore Jay Stocker, 6'1" 175 pound redshirt freshman Bricen Garner, and 6'0" 170 pound true freshman Paris Ford. All three have very good potential, especially Ford, an elite prospect that will be impossible to keep off the field as a freshman. I expect Ford will also get some snaps on offense, too, and if it wasn't for Quadree Henderson he would be used in the return game. In other words, Pitt will find a way to get him on the field as much as they can, even in his first year. He's that good.

Two other promising redshirt freshmen are 6'3" 205 pound Henry Miller, and 6'1" 195 pound Phil Campbell. Miller has safety size (if not linebacker size), but may have the ability to play cornerback, which would be a huge development because athletic 6'3" 205 pound corners don't come along very often. Campbell is a safety that has the ability to be good, too.

Beyond 2017: Believe it or not, this should actually be a very good unit in the future, and should be improved next year (can't really get worse). Lewis, Webb, and Mitchell are out, Hamlin, Jackson, Motley, and Henderson will be a year better, and Coleman, Stocker, Garner, Ford, Miller, and Campbell will be added to the mix. And with expected improvement around them from the younger players, Whitehead and Maddox should be able to rebound.

How Pitt's offense looks for the next few years

Quarterbacks: Nathan Peterman was a good, but not an excellent quarterback. He simply couldn't win a game when called upon and that's something every football team needs. The staff wants, and expects, redshirt freshman Thomas MacVittie to be the starter next year. MacVittie only played quarterback for one season in high school, but he was excellent against one of the most brutal schedules in the country. Physically, he's 6'5" and the staff wants to add muscle on him to get him to 230 pounds for the season. He's also been timed in the 4.5s. Clearly, the raw physical skills are there. But it takes more than that to be a special quarterback. Intangibles and all of the little nuances that makes an excellent quarterback are something you can't tell until the time arrives. We'll find out soon enough if MacVittie shows those traits, but it should be noted that offense coordinator Matt Canada is very high on him. He also is a perfect fit for Canada's offense because of his mobility.

My guess on the second string quarterback will be Central Florida transfer Bo Schneider. The 6'3" 225 pound redshirt sophomore started as a true freshman for a terrible UCF team. He could be solid as a backup, but doesn't have the high upside to be an ideal starter. He's also more of a pocket passer, which is not the perfect fit in Canada's system.

Ben DiNucci has not progressed much and doesn't appear to a factor at the position. Incoming freshman Kenny Pickett has good potential due to his good mobility, brains, and accurate arm. His accuracy is particularly outstanding, and that's maybe the best trait a quarterback can have. For that reason, he has a chance to be a good player in the future.

The big quarterback target in the 2018 class is Kevin Doyle. He has the potential to be a truly special quarterback, and his dad told me recently that he loves Canada and his system, as well as Pat Narduzzi. Landing him would be huge. Pitt won't reach a high level without a top quarterback, and between MacVittie, Pickett, and Doyle, the chances are that one of the three will be special.

Beyond 2017: Pickett could end up being a good player, and if the Panthers land Doyle he has an even better chance of being excellent, but if either of them turn into a star it will still be a few years down the road. On the other hand, if MacVittie is a success next year the position will be set for two or three years.

Running Backs: James Conner has one more year of eligibility left, but it's so unlikely that he'll be back that I'm not even going to consider him in the mix. That leaves 6'2" 230 pound redshirt junior Qadree Ollison, 5'11" 225 pound junior Darrin Hall, 5'11" 210 pound sophomore Chawntez Moss, and 5'10" 215 pound true freshman Todd Sibley.

Hall was expected to be a bigger part of the running game this season, but he did not grab the bull by the horns. He is very talented, but he needs to get it together or he will continue to get passed over. I hate to speculate like this, but one has to wonder if he will look elsewhere where he could get a fresh start. Especially since Moss and Sibley will be hard to beat out.

Moss was a revelation as a true freshman. When he signed he was written down as a redshirt by everybody. Instead he impressed the coaches enough to be second team for most of the season. He is quick and he runs hard on every play. With those two traits he could pile up a lot of yards in his college career. Sibley runs hard, has very good speed, and has the perfect build for a running back (short, athletic, and strong). Youth matters little when it comes to the running back position, since it's pretty much raw skill that gets it done there, and Moss and Sibley could be a dynamic duo if they both live up to their expectations next year (and are the top duo, of course).

Ollison is strong, runs hard, and has good straight line speed, but quickness at the position in this system is what is needed, and his style really doesn't fit. He's more of a fullback in this system, except that he can't block. But Ollison has been counted out before, and even though I don't see him as a major contributor next year I would never count him out. He's been counted out before and people were wrong.

At fullback, 6'0" 245 pound redshirt junior George Aston has already become a legend. He can block, he can run, he can catch. Generally, he can be awesome.

Beyond 2017: With Moss and Sibley around for a long time, and Aston around for two more years, this position should continue to be a strength for a long time. And any team that can run a lot will have a much better chance of winning games so this bodes well for the future.

Wide Receivers: Coming into this season, this group was considered a weakness, or at least a question mark. They didn't do enough to change the group into a strength, but at least there are signs of life. Junior Quadree Henderson is only 5'8" which hinders him as a down the field receiver, but he's turned into a big threat as a runner on the jet sweep, and is a possible All-American as a kick returner. Kudos to Canada for playing to Henderson's strengths.

Many scoffed at the future of 6'3" 210 pound redshirt senior Jester Weah, but his hands and route running improved, and with his blazing speed he's become a plus player. This season he's leading the team in receiving yards and is on pace for over 800 yards.

Two locals- Tre Tipton and Aaron Mathews- got on the field this year and have bright futures. The 6'0" 180 pound Tipton is a redshirt sophomore that can do a little bit of everything and is just scratching the surface of what he can become. The same goes for true sophomore Mathews, who at 6'4" and 190 pounds has the potential to develop into a top big target. But it's still unknown just how high their ceilings are.

True freshman Maurice French was another player that many assumed would redshirt, but he got on the field and showed some promise in his few snaps. At 5'11" and 185 pounds he has very good speed and elusiveness.

After that, there's a lot of question marks. Much was expected from incoming freshman Ruben Flowers, who at 6'3" 190 pounds has the size, the speed, and athleticism to develop, but he redshirted out of the gate so he's still an unknown. Redshirt junior Rafael Araujo-Lopes saw some action, and had some moments, but he's another smaller receiver at 5'9" and 185 pounds. He does have quickness, though.

Incoming freshmen Montavious Butler and Darian Street are at the same level as the receivers that played this season so they'll probably redshirt.

Beyond 2017: The unit should continue to get better because of added experience, but it still remains to be seen if a star will emerge. The coaching staff has to do a better job of adding, or developing, a big time No. 1 wide receiver.

Tight ends: Scott Orndoff had a fine year, but he's gone, as is Jaymar Parrish. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Devon Edwards and Zach Poker not coming back for a fifth year. For that reason, the staff needed to add tight ends, and they did by adding UCLA transfer Chris Clark in the last class, and adding three more freshmen in this class.

The 6'6" 255 pound Clark had a leg injury that kept him from practicing during this season, though because he transferred he couldn't play anyway. The redshirt sophomore was the former No. 1 tight end in the country so, needless to say, if he lives up to his potential, he could be a big time player. MacVittie loved to throw to the tight end in high school, and with the receivers not a strength yet, Clark could have a big season if it all comes together for him both physically and mentally.

His backup should be true freshman Charles Reeves, a 6'5" 265 beast with great receiving skills. His blocking is something he will need to work on, but he's so good as a receiver that that's what he'll be doing for most of his career at Pitt. I wouldn't be surprised to see both Clark and Reeves on the field together a lot.

Two local freshmen are coming in, and they will be used more for their blocking, at least initially. Both are huge already. Grant Carrigan is 6'7" and 250 pounds, and Tyler Sear is 6'5" and 255 pounds. If either can show right away that they can block they could see time as a freshman doing the dirty business.

I know many people expect either Carrigan or Sear to move to a different position in the future, and maybe that will happen, but they are needed at tight end now.

Beyond 2017: Clark is eligible for the NFL draft after next season, and he could leave even if he doesn't have a big year. He could decide that on raw talent alone he could get drafted. If he leaves, the group should still be strong with Reeves and the big locals. The staff is also looking at other big time tight ends in the 2018 class. If Clark decides to stay, then the unit will be even stronger. Either way, this should be a good group for many years.

Offensive Linemen: Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson are gone, but the cupboard is far from bare. Redshirt sophomore right tackle Brian O'Neill could go to the NFL after this season, but even though he will eventually be a high round draft choice, that seems unlikely. But I also find it very unlikely that he will be back for his senior year, though it's always possible that I am wrong about his draft stock (doubtful).

Redshirt senior Jaryd Jones-Smith will finally get his chance in the limelight replacing Bisnowaty next year. At 6'7" and 330 pounds, there may not be much of a drop off, especially since Jones-Smith has something to prove. Redshirt senior center Alex Officer is huge at 6'4" and 335 pounds, and he returns as a starter. It's always possible that he moves to guard if a quality center is found. Otherwise, he'll stay at center. At guard, 6'6" 315 pound redshirt junior Alex Booker is back as a starter and I expect him to take his game up to an all-star level.

Redshirt senior tackle Aaron Reese, redshirt senior guard Carson Baker, and redshirt junior center Connor Dintino were all listed as backups this season, so any could move up to being a starter. Many others will try to move into position for playing time including redshirt juniors Mike Grimm, redshirt sophomores Tony Pilato and Alex Paulina, and  redshirt freshmen Brandon Ford, Bryce Hargrove, and Justin Morgan. Your guess is as good as mine as far as this bunch goes. True freshmen center Owen Drexel, and offensive tackles Carter Warren and Gabe Houy, all have promise, but few true freshmen offensive linemen can see the field. Major tackle target Thayer Mumford is someone that, if the Panthers land him, could possibly be good enough to see time as a true freshman as a backup.

Beyond 2017: The unit will try to make a smooth transition from the veterans of this year and the younger group that includes Warren, Ford, Houy, Drexel, Morgan, and possibly Mumford. It's anybody's guess what will happen here because offensive linemen are the most difficult to predict, but as far as potential there is at least a lot of it.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Narduzzi is right on track at Pitt

Pitt football fans have been frustrated this season because the Panthers will probably be 5-5 after this weekend, and the losses all seemed winnable, even against Miami for most of the game. But the truth is, this is the kind of season that usually happens when a new head coach starts out at a new program.

The first season for a new head coach usually has enough veterans to eek out a decent, or even good season.  In the second and third season, however, those veterans start to depart, along with any other veterans that aren't in the plans, and who have to be replaced by the players that the new head coach brings in. The problem with that is that those players are too young and inexperienced to fill the gap. It's often not until year four that those talented young players turn into talented veteran players, and that's when most head coaches have their first breakout season.

Just to use some examples, Walt Harris took over Pitt and went 6-6. In seasons two and three he went 2-9 and 5-6. Then he won 7 or more games for the next five seasons. Mark Dantonio was 7-6 at Michigan State in his first year, went 9-4 his second year, then 6-7 in his third year. That's a 22-17 record in the first three seasons. In his fourth year he went 11-2.

Dabo Swinney had a head start as an interim coach at Clemson, and actually coached seven games before his first full season. He still ended up going 6-7 in his second full season before turning it around and getting double digit wins the next six years. He was a combined 19-15 in his interim season and first two full seasons. 

There are many other examples. Charlie Strong was 7-6 in each of his first two seasons at Louisville. In season three he went 11-2. In Mike Gundy's first three seasons he went 4-7, 7-6, and 7-6. In season four he went 9-4 and didn't win double digit wins until season six. At Baylor, Art Briles went 4-8, 4-8, and 7-6 in the first three seasons before going 10-3 in season four. At Washington, Chris Petersen when 7-6 and 8-6 in his first two seasons before starting 9-0 this season. Mike Leach was 3-9, 6-7, and 3-9 in his firs three seasons at Washington State before going 9-4 in season four. At Tennessee, Butch Jones went 5-7 and 7-6 before breaking through to go 9-4 in season three. Even the great Nick Saban took time to turn around programs. At Michigan State he was 25-22-1 in the first four seasons. At LSU he lost 12 games in his first three seasons before being co-National Champion. Even at Alabama he went 7-6 in his first season.

Now looking at Pat Narduzzi, he went 8-5 in his first season and will probably be 5-5 after this weekend. The Panthers will be the favorite over Duke and Syracuse to end the regular season. For the same of argument, let's say they win those two since they've yet to lose a game in which they were favored (don't say Pitt won't win another game because it just makes you look crazy). That would make Pitt 7-5. With a bowl, the Panthers could be 7-6, which would be disappointing but still in line with many other coaches in their second year, or 8-5 which would make him 16-10 in his first two seasons. That would be a highly impressive first two years in a middle of a turnaround.

In year three Narduzzi could have a slight downturn since it will be his big gap year between Paul Chryst's players and his own players. Players like James Conner, Scott Orndoff, Adam Bisnowaty, Dorian Johnson, Tyrique Jarrett, and Ejuan Price will be gone and will have to be replaced by younger players. Those younger players are very talented, and if they're talented enough their lack of experience won't matter, but it definitely could. Either way, in year four, Thomas MacVittie will be starting for the second year, and the offense and defense will be loaded with talented starters brought in by Narduzzi. Players in their prime at that time will include Quadree Henderson, Tre Tipton, Aaron Mathews, Charles Reeves, Alex Bookser, Chawntez Moss, Todd Sibley, George Aston, Damar Hamlin, Keyshon Camp, Amir Watts, Henry Miller, Paris Ford, Therran Coleman, Rashad Weaver, Elijah Zeise, Phil Campbell, Bricen Garner, Kaezon Pugh, Chase Pine, Saleem Brightwell, Cam Bright, Jay Stocker, and Rashad Wheeler. Potential wildcards, who will still have eligibility but could leave early for the NFL, are Jordan Whitehead, Chris Clark, Dwayne Hendrix, and Brian O'Neill.

Looking more closely at this year, the offense has been much better than the defense, and when looking at the roster it's easy to understand why. Chryst recruited extremely well on offense but also recruited poorly on defense. Against Miami, the Panthers had two starters on defense that had at least five P5 offers coming out of high school- not surprisingly their two most decorated defensive players, Ejuan Price and Jordan Whitehead. Narduzzi brought in fourteen defensive players with at least five P5 offers just last year. Players like Watts, Camp, Pine, Pugh, Hamlin, just to name some, will be much better in Narduzzi's defense than those that were starting this year. Not only are they more talented than the players starting this year, but they were also brought in by Narduzzi specifically for his defense. 

The current defensive line has been good, mostly because of Price, but a defensive line that has the likes of Hendrix, Watts, and Camp could be potentially outstanding. As for the linebacker and defensive back units, it's a fact that both have been way below par. The seniors in those two groups are Matt Galambos, Bam Bradley, Mike Caprara, Ryan Lewis, and Terrish Webb, and unfortunately all have been highly overmatched. 

Quentin Wirginis will replace Galambos next year, and he'll be an upgrade. Pine and Pugh will be among those that should play a lot at linebacker as redshirt freshmen, and while both will be inexperienced they are both much more talented than their predecessors. Elijah Zeise will also be back from an injury, and he looked promising in camp this season. At defensive back, Hamlin will likely replace Lewis, and Stocker, Garner, and true freshman Paris Ford will replace Webb. Both positions are obviously huge upgrades. 

When at Michigan State, Narduzzi stayed with his system and said to be patient until he got the players that fit it. In his third season for the Spartans, his pass defense finished 112th in the nation. In year four they finished 60th. In the next three years they finished 11th, 9th, and 3rd. In other words, having players like Hamlin, Ford, Coleman, etc. makes a big difference. You need the players. 

Offense shouldn't regress either, especially if Matt Canada stays. Canada thinks MacVittie has NFL potential and at 6'5" and 230 pounds, with speed in the 4.5s, you can see why. Moss and Sibley will be dynamite at running back for the next three years and even Aston will be with the Panthers for the next two years. At wide receiver, Weah is back for another year, Henderson is back for two more years, and Tipton and Mathews are back for three more years. Their natural progression alone should make this unit a strength eventually, and that doesn't even include any players that haven't made their move yet. Tight end is a major strength with Clark and Reeves, and the OL still has Jaryd Jones-Smith and Officer back next year, Booker back for two more years, and O'Neill back for one or two years depending on if he goes early to the NFL after next year. Justin Morgan, Brandon Ford, Gabe Houy, Owen Drexel, and Carter Warren are the next group, and while it's still early they have a ton of upside. The cherry on top would be Thayer Mumford, who turns this very good group into an excellent group. 

Bottom line, it usually takes about three or four years to turn a program into a big winner, and often there isn't much winning going on while that transition happens. The fact that Narduzzi is still winning most of his games despite his defense having very few players that are capable at the moment, is pretty impressive. But when we will really see Narduzzi flourish is when he has the players on defense that are much more talented. The offense started seven players against Miami that had at least five P5 offers, and that doesn't even include Conner, Weah, Aston, or O'Neill- four really good players. When the talent on defense matches the talent on offense, the Panthers will finally arrive. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Why Pitt football recruits at the level they do

I've been meaning to write this article for months, and I kept putting it off, but after the uproar of Donovan Jeter not committing to Pitt, I thought this was as good a time as any.

Let me start by saying that Pitt fans have big aspirations for the football program. I don't blame them for that because I've not hidden the fact that I believe that Pitt has the potential to be so much more than they have been for many decades.

So let me start by saying that there is a pecking order in recruiting, and the Panthers are not currently in the top group of that pecking order.

Let's look at where Pitt stands by going down each category of program when it comes to recruiting. We will start first with the elite group that the Panthers program aspires to be.

Elite level- This is the blue bloods of the college football recruiting world. They are in this group mostly because of money (coaching salaries, facilities, stadium capacity, etc.), tradition (strong, recognizable trademark with decades of success), recruiting area (it's infinitely easier when you have a lot of top players in your local vicinity), and sometimes even a win at any cost lack of ethics (over half of the programs on this list have had at least one major incident, had probation, or have been rumored to employ suspicious practices at times).

This group includes the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State (sorry, but it's true), Clemson, Florida State, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Notre Dame, USC, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU. That's sixteen programs that, for various reasons, often have the potential, because of how well they recruit, to finish in the top 10 in any given season.

Obviously there are circumstances that could prevent each of these programs from having an elite team for a stretch of time, and really only Ohio State and Alabama have avoided that for the most part. But even these programs can be derailed by poor coaching (Michigan, Oklahoma, USC, and Florida are some examples in the past few decades).

But make no mistake about it- and I can't stress this enough- these are the sixteen programs that are at the top of the heap for most kids. When one of these sixteen programs really want a kid, it's hard for for any program not in this group to get them. Not impossible, and there are many instances of top prospects turning down these programs for a program on a lower level, but more often that not these are the programs that kids want to be part of it- sometimes because they truly are the most successful, and sometimes because it's an ego thing from them or their parents to be able to brag about being at one of these blue blood programs.

Here are the recruiting rankings, via Rivals, of last year's recruiting class of this top level- Ohio State (3), Michigan (4), Penn State (23), Florida State (2), Clemson (6), Texas (7), Oklahoma (16), Nebraska (26), Notre Dame (13), USC (12), Florida (14), Georgia (11), Tennessee (15), Alabama (1), Auburn (9), and LSU (5). I didn't even look at the rankings before I listed those teams but I already knew all of their rankings would be high. And they will be just as high next year. And the year after. And so on.

Then there are two types in the second level. One is a traditionally a good, or even, mediocre program that either has a great coach, or cuts corners to win, and the other is very good programs that are below that top level. They are traditionally programs, that with stability, may not be a National Championship contender (unless it's a truly special year when everything goes right), but generally are good enough to be top 25 caliber.

In the first group is the win at all cost programs that will usually end up badly. Currently, that is Baylor and Ole Miss. Both took shortcuts, and both will pay. Enough said on those two. This group also includes schools like TCU, that are likely only in rarefied air because of Gary Patterson. If he's not at TCU, it's questionable whether they would even be in the "very good program" category.

In the second group we have very good programs that could flirt with top 10 status with the right coach. That group includes Louisville, Virginia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Stanford, Washington, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, Utah, and Texas A&M.  None of these programs are always excellent, but they've proven that they are good enough programs that with an excellent coach they can be among the elite.

Again using Rivals, here are last year's recruiting rankings for these seventeen programs-  Louisville (36), Virginia Tech (42), Miami (21), North Carolina (24), Pittsburgh (26), West Virginia (38), Oklahoma State (48), Michigan State (18), Wisconsin (35), Iowa (42), Stanford (19), Washington (37), Oregon (28), UCLA (10), Arizona State (30), Utah (34), and Texas A&M (17).

Once again I listed those programs before I looked at their rankings, and once again it's no surprise that most are indeed a level below in their recruiting. And as you may have noticed, of the seventeen schools on this level, Pitt recruited better than ten of them last year. Now look at the six in in this group that recruited better than the Panthers last year: Miami (big name Mark Richt in an area loaded with prospects), North Carolina (Larry Fedora in his fourth season and coming off an 11-3 record), Michigan State (Mark Dantonio coming off a 12-2 season in his ninth season), Stanford (David Shaw coming off a 12-2 season in his fifth season), UCLA (Jim Mora in his fourth season, and in one of the easiest places to recruit), and Texas A&M (Kevin Sumlin in his fourth season, and in a state loaded with talent).

As we can see, coaches like Bobby Petrino, Frank Beamer, Larry Fedora, Gary Patterson, Mike Gundy, Mark Dantonio, Barry Alvarez, and David Shaw are talented enough to turn good programs into excellent programs. The programs that these coaches elevated may not be elite enough to be great after that coach leaves, but they're good enough that an excellent coach can turn them into a top 10 team, and maybe more. Louisville, currently with Petrino, Beamer at Virginia Tech, Patterson at TCU, Dantonio at Michigan State, and Shaw at Stanford made their programs National Championship contenders (Petrino is possibly in the process of doing that).

Am I saying that Pat Narduzzi will definitely do that? No, I'm not. But it's certainly possible. The level of Pitt's program is such that a great coach could make Pitt a National Championship contender, if they have an excellent coach. Not every program can say that.  The Panthers definitely have that possibility. And if Narduzzi turns into that coach, and if they want to keep the program at it's newly elevated status, they will need to pay him. All of the coaches in the above programs got raises for their accomplishment. But we will worry about that when/if the time comes.

Now let's look at some specifics when it comes to Pitt. The first thing to look at are the local elite prospects that want to stay home. Pitt fans understandably get bummed out when a top local kid goes elsewhere, but just because you want them badly that does not make them immune to wanting, like kids all over the country, to be in one of the blue blood programs. Kids (and their parents) get stars in their eyes. "I can play for legendary Notre Dame?" or "I can't believe Ohio State is recruiting me!" is a natural response for kids.

But look at the bright side. One, not every local kid is swayed by that. Damar Hamlin, Paris Ford, Kaezon Pugh, Tyler Boyd, and Dorian Johnson are just some of the local kids recently that could have gone just about anywhere, but chose Pitt instead. And there will be others that follow.

Secondly, Dantonio at Michigan State and Gary Patterson at TCU are perfect examples of programs that recruited about the same level as Pitt is recruiting now (actually, in TCU's case they were recruiting at a much lower level), but then when they got better, their recruiting skyrocketed.

Thirdly, you don't need top 20 recruiting classes to be a top 20, or even top 10, team. Louisville is currently No. 3 in the nation. Their last four recruiting classes were ranked by Rivals as 41, 36, 32, and 36.  Houston is No. 6 in the nation and Rivals ranks their last four classes as 48, 77, 91, and 41. Wisconsin is No. 11 and their last four classes are 54, 33, 44, and 35. Just a reminder, in Narduzzi's first class he was ranked No. 26. Even Dantonio's last four classes were 47, 22, 22, and 18, meaning even his classes after he already established himself as a great, highly successful coach, were not that much better than Narduzzi already did in his first year. And if Pitt's class this year slips a little bit into the 35 or 40 range, so what? Dantonio just had a No. 47 class not long ago. Some years things just don't go your way. For the record, I still think Pitt's class will at least be No. 35 when all is said and done, which is still good enough with the right coaching.

Bottom line, don't get caught up in recruiting hype. A portion of Pitt fans ink in a Donovan Jeter and then when they don't get him they think the program is doomed. The problem with social media and message boards are that pessimistic and paranoid people can get people worked up way too easily, and then the doom and paranoia feeds itself with more doom and paranoia. There's no need for doom and paranoia. Narduzzi is recruiting well enough to win big at Pitt. I just proved it. I'm not saying he definitely will win big because until he does it, he hasn't done it. But Narduzzi is adding top 25 talent at Pitt, and if he ends up being the coach that most of us expect, he's also recruiting enough to be a top 10 team from time to time. Nothing has changed with Pitt. They are a very good program that could be a national power with the right coach. And for the first time in decades there are legitimate signs that they have that coach.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Pitt 42 Penn State 39

Well, it's never easy with Pitt, and it wasn't this time either, but the Panthers came up with a huge win, for many reasons. Some thoughts:

1.  James Conner is now all the way back, it would seem. He doesn't carry the ball as often as he used to, but he's not being babied either. He ran hard all day and ended up with 117 yards on 22 carries, plus a touchdown. He also caught 4 passes for 29 yards, and another touchdown. However, it should be noted that he also had a crucial late game fumble deep in Pitt territory that nearly cost the Panthers the game.

2.  The player of the game (again) was sophomore Quadree Henderson. The speedster had 3 catches for 43 yards, and a TD reception, plus 4 carries for 58 more yards. And while he didn't get the ball kicked to him often he had a gigantic 84 yarder in the fourth quarter. He is a special talent and don't be surprised if he is an All-American kick returner at the end of the year.

3.  Nathan Peterman was not asked to do much throwing, because to be honest he didn't need to, but he still completed 11 of 15 passes for 95 yards. He also had 3 touchdown passes and interception. He even ran for 52 yards on 8 carries, and some of those runs were very big. He was also not sacked at all.

4.  Qadree Ollison had back to back nice runs in the second half and ended up with 36 yards on 9 carries. Darrin Hall added 33 yards on 4 carries, and Jordan Whitehead added a 28 yard run down to the 2-yard line. Fullback George Aston played, after missing last week with an injury, and he had 2 rushing TDs.

5. Scott Orndoff played very well in the first half, but then the Panthers stopped throwing. He ended up with 4 catches for 15 yards, and a TD.

6. Outside of Henderson's big kickoff return, special teams played poorly. A big Penn State punt return in the first half gave the Nittany Lions much needed momentum, and Chris Blewitt missed yet another field goal, his sixth of the last seven that he's missed.

7.  Defensively, the Panthers started like gangbusters, but in the second half they played rather poorly.  They did have 4 sacks, and gave up only 74 yards rushing on 34 attempts, but Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley threw for 332 yards and Saquon Barkley had five touchdowns (four running and one receiving).

8. Pitt had 432 total yards and Penn State had 406.

Bottom line, it was an even game, just as it was expected to be, but because Pitt almost lost a big lead, people again mention "Pitting" (I can't tell you how much I hate that whiny term). But at the end of the day, they didn't blow it, Penn State did, thanks to a nice interception by Ryan Lewis.

The win was huge, not only because of bragging rights, or because so many top prospects saw a great game in front of a record crowd, but also because with road games to Oklahoma State and North Carolina looming, a 1-3 start to the season was very possible.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Stallings adds a big man

It's been a long time since Kevin Stallings got his first commitment with PG Aaron Thompson, but the first year coach can finally add another name to the list. Terrell Brown, a 6'10" PF from the Tilton School in Tilton, NH, visited Pitt this weekend and it didn't take long for him to tell Stallings that he was committed.

Brown, whose only other offer was Purdue, is surprisingly under the radar when considering his wide array of skills. Brown is long and very athletic, but he also has become an excellent shooter all the way out to three point range. Any time you can get a 6'10" kid that can shoot from all over the court you have something. If that wasn't enough, Brown also has the ability to be an excellent shot blocker. So why is a player with this much skill not talked about more? That's a good question. For one thing, he has always been young for his age so he developed little later than others in his class. But this summer he has quietly been very good. The other perceived weakness is that he is soft. But, like I said, he was a little younger than others in his class, he is pretty thin, and he's got a great perimeter game. For those reasons many considered him soft. But there have been reports this summer that he has toughened up, and that may be as a result of his getting older.

Bottom line, the Panthers need at least five players in this class, and it may be more than that. Getting a 6'10" kid with great athleticism and perimeter skills, to go with a good point guard, is a good start by Stallings. But the remaining members of his first class will really tell the story about how well he will recruit in Pittsburgh.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Pitt 28 Villanova 7

It wasn't pretty, but if truth be told, in past years the result has often been much worse in the opening game of the year. Some thoughts:

1.  James Conner is back and he looked pretty good. They threw him the ball more, and he even caught a TD pass to go with his rushing TD.

2.  The offensive line, which is expected to be a strong point, played poorly. Center Alex Officer even had two poor snaps out of the shotgun. They better get much better for the rest of the season or the Panthers could be in trouble.

3.  Partly because the offensive line played so poorly, quarterback Nathan Peterman played just okay. He completed 19-32 passes for 175 yards, 2 TDs, and no interceptions.

4.  Tight end Scott Orndoff may finally be living up to his potential and he led the Panthers with 5 catches for 68 yards. Jester Weah had 4 catches for 38 yards, and he also had a TD reception. Almost as importantly, he didn't drop any.

5.  Quadree Henderson had 4 catches for 35 yards, but he was dynamic in the return game, and it's safe to say that he may be one of the best return men in the country this year. He had a 96 yard kickoff return for a TD and returned 4 punts for an average of 14.5 yards a return.

6.  The defense was consistently excellent, and they gave up no points (a fumble recovery was the only Villanova TD). Unofficially, safeties Jordan Whitehead and Terrish Webb led Pitt with 6 tackles, and he also had the lone interception. Avonte Maddox had 5 tackles and 2 late sacks. Ryan Lewis had 5 tackles. Mike Caprara had 4 tackles and 2 sacks.

7.  The second team defense came in on Villanova's last series and Amir Watts looked fantastic. He was destroying his man on every snap. He's going to be a star.

8. Pitt had 261 total yards. Villanova had 172 total yards.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Rating the Pitt Defense and Special Teams for the '16-'17 Season

DEFENSIVE LINE: This unit was pretty weak just a few years ago, but head coach Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator Josh Conklin, and defensive line coach Tom Sims have turned them around. Defensive end Ejuan Price returns for his sixth season after having 11.5 sacks last year. If he stays healthy again he should have another good season, but the fact that he's in his sixth season shows you that health is not a sure thing with him. The starter on the other end is Tennessee transfer Dewayne Hendrix , a redshirt sophomore with a huge ceiling. If healthy they could be one of the best defensive end tandems in the country.

Behind Price and Hendrix, three juniors- Rori Blair, Allen Edwards, and James Folston- provide very good depth. Blair is a former starter who showed promise two years ago as a redshirt freshman, but did not perform well last year. If he rebounds, it will be a huge development for the Panthers. Edwards is a former junior college transfer that redshirted last season, but has the physical potential to develop into a very good pass rusher.  Folsom is a former linebacker that also has good speed and athleticism. True freshmen Rashad Weaver is physically ready to play right now, but the Panthers should be able to redshirt him. Another true freshman, Patrick Jones, came to Pitt early but the head start probably isn't enough to avoid a redshirt.

At tackle, things aren't quite as good, but they are also not nearly as dire as many think. Giant 6'3" 335 pound Tyrique Jarrett has enough talent that he could be a bonafide NFL draft pick if he has a big year, and he is more than capable of that. The other starter inside is former defensive end Shakir Soto, who was forced into being a starting end at the beginning of his career, but has now bulked up to 290 pounds as a senior. He should prove to be a tackle than end.

The most intriguing backups to Jarrett and Soto are true freshman Keyshawn Camp and Amir Watts. Expect them to play a lot as both have star potential. Another former defensive end, Shane Roy, has bulked up (to 280 pounds), and he will also be in the mix, as will 315 pound redshirt sophomore Mike Herndon and redshirt junior Jeremiah Taleni, who played a little last season and performed solidly. A sleeper at the position is another true freshman, Rashad Wheeler, because he already has good size and is mobile.

Summary: This unit has a chance to be very good, especially because of the deep and talented ends. Price has already proved that he can reach double digit sacks and Hendrix has NFL written all over him. As for tackle, many have worried that the Panthers have lost Khaynin Mosley-Smith, Mark Scarpinato, Darryl Render, and Justin Moody, but none of the four were even close to all-star ability. So while numbers were lost, the raw talent is even better because of Camp and Watts. Will they do enough as true freshmen to offset the lack of experience and numbers? It's possible, and at the very least you can do a lot worse than any rotation that has Jarrett, Camp, and Watts in it. If I broke up the ends and tackles the ends would get an A- and the tackles would get a C- since there are questions until they are answered. Grade: B-

LINEBACKER: The coaching staff seems to like this unit much more than most, and the vast majority of talent is still a year or two away from contributing. One player that the staff really loves is starting middle linebacker Matt Galambos, a tough, experienced senior. Galambos has moments when he's really good, but he's also had times when he hasn't been. He's especially lacking with highly athletic teams since he only has average speed, at best. Behind him is junior Quintin Wirginis, who appears to have more ability than Galambos, but for whatever reason has never been given the starting job.

At the two outside spots, the Panthers call the positions the star and the money. Generally, the star linebacker is faster and operates in more space. He's almost like a linebacker/safety hybrid. The money linebacker is more involved in the strong side of the field and has to operate in tighter spaces.

The starter at money linebacker is redshirt senior Mike Caprara, who started as an undersized, supposedly slow late signee that turned into a pretty good linebacker last season. Behind him is another redshirt senior, Bam Bradley, who failed in his bid in camp to be the starting star linebacker. That star position will be manned, at least at first, by walk on Seun Idowu. He's being pushed by former wide receiver Elijah Zeise, a redshirt sophomore that is intriguing because of his athletic gifts and because of the position switch.

Redshirt freshmen Anthony McKee and Salem Brightwell, as well as true freshmen Kaezon Pugh, Chase Pine, and Elias Reynolds will be the next wave of Pitt linebackers but none may get that chance this year.

Summary- Of the six linebackers on the two deep, none are stars- at least yet- but as a unit they have the potential to be at least somewhat productive because Narduzzi and Conklin will put them in positions to be. The Panthers linebackers will fly around and make big plays at times, because that's how the defense is set up, but if they also get lit up too often, it will all even out in the end. Until I see otherwise, I assume that's how it will be. Grade: C

Defensive Back: This is another unit that was hurting badly just a few years ago, but this is also Narduzzi's specialty so it's no surprise that the position is quickly becoming a strength.

The secondary, as well as the defense in general, is led by sophomore strong safety Jordan Whitehead. The fast, muscular Whitehead is already all-conference and is a possible All-American as early as this season. The starting free safety is underrated senior Terrish Webb, who quietly had a good season last year. Former starter, redshirt senior Reggie Mitchell, will give excellent depth, and redshirt sophomore Dennis Briggs should do a good job spelling Whitehead for a small amount of time.

At cornerback, junior Avonte Maddox has already started for the past year and a half, and despite his small size, he has toughness to go with his great speed. The staff asked a lot of him last season, and sometimes it didn't work, but he will only get better and should be well above average this season.

The other corner is much more up in the air. The starter in the opener will be fifth year senior Ryan Lewis, who has been a reserve his entire career, but has great size and speed. If he fails to keep the job, there are many others ready to step in, especially redshirt sophomore Philipie Motley, redshirt freshmen Dane Jackson and Malik Henderson, and true freshman Damar Hamlin. Motley, Jackson, and Henderson are fast and have good ability, but Hamlin has future star written all over him so he will be hard to keep off the field. Incoming freshmen Bricen Garner, Therran Coleman, Henry Miller, and Phil Campbell are the future but they all may redshirt this season unless they can definitively prove that they are a better option than the many players currently above them.

Summary: The one cornerback spot is suspect until, and unless, someone comes through there, but the unit also possesses three really good starters, including a possible All-American. There is also good depth, numbers, and raw talent. For those reasons, I see no reason why this can't be at least a good unit. Grade: B

SPECIAL TEAMS: This is another unit that has struggled over the years, but with a ton of experience amongst the kickers and a potential star returning kicks and punts, it could quietly become a strength this year.

Amazingly, kicker Chris Blewitt is a senior already, and he will be the starting kicker for his entire career when the season is over. Unfortunately, despite some highs, Blewitt's junior season was his worst so he will need to rebound for him to go off on a high note. As a freshman Blewitt made 77.8% of his kicks, as a sophomore he made 76.2%, and last year he dropped to 65.2%.

Redshirt junior punter Ryan Winslow will be the starter for the third season, and at 41.1 yards a punt last year, he still has room for improvement.

Electrifying sophomore Quadree Henderson will return both punts and kicks, and as he showed last year with 28.0 yards a kick return this is a good thing. If he's banged up, Maddox is currently the next in line, and that's not much of a drop off.  Tre Tipton, Whitehead, and true freshman Maurice Ffrench are just some of the others that can do the job if need be, and that's a far cry from when the Panthers would put kids in to mainly just catch the punt.

Redshirt senior Pat Quirnin returns as the long snapper.

Summary:  Blewitt and Winslow have been doing this forever and it's time to take the next step. They certainly have the talent to do so and if they don't then it will be very disappointing. The return game could be exceptional. Grade: B

Monday, August 29, 2016

Rating the Pitt offense for the '16-'17 season

QUARTERBACK: Fifth year senior Nathan Peterman returns as the starter and a senior quarterback that returns as the starter almost always have a good season. There's no reason why Peterman won't do the same. His arm is strong enough, he is accurate, he is mobile, and he's very though. If he stays healthy I expect him to have a very good season. Not an All-American season, or maybe not even all-conference, but he's good enough to be a plus quarterback.

After Peterman, though, things get a little murkier. Another fifth year senior, Manny Stocker, will be the backup. Pitt is Stocker's third school, and he's never been on the field much in his career. He's very athletic, but his passing is very hit or miss. If Peterman goes down for any length of time, the Panthers will be even more run heavy with Stocker, and that won't be good.

Redshirt freshman Ben DiNucci is not nearly ready to see the field in a meaningful game yet and it's very unlikely that he will. The wildcard is freshman Tom MacVittie, who may be the starter next season, so it will be interesting if Pat Narduzzi gets him into a game. It really won't hurt the program if MacVittie doesn't redshirt. If he ends up being a star he could leave after three years no matter what, and if he's not good enough to leave early then it won't matter anyway.

Summary- Peterman should have a good year. If the Panthers need to go to a backup that will be trouble, but the same can be said for just about every team in the country. Grade: B

RUNNING BACK: Football fans never thought they'd see James Conner in a Pitt uniform again. First, it looked like Conner would take his immense skills to the NFL, and then he was diagnosed with cancer. But one of the better players in Pitt history is back, and it appears that he is pretty healthy. Will he regain his All-American form? That's the big question, but because of his health and the Panthers' depth at the position he probably won't match his huge numbers of two seasons ago. But don't be surprised if he still ends up with over 1,000 yards. He's that great of a player.

Behind Conner I think you can expect to see sophomore Darrin Hall the most. Of the reserves he has the most talent and the highest upside. Last year's ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Qadree Ollison is also back, and while he won't carry the ball nearly as much as he did last season, it's good to know that he's there as a safety valve.

Also looking for playing time will be redshirt junior Rachid Ibrahim, who is back this season after a bad leg injury, and true freshman Chawntez Moss, who surprised in camp. Ibrahim always seemed to make good plays in the past, but he still may not be all the way back yet, physically. Moss is good enough to play now, and it seems like the staff seems determined to play him some even though he may not play much because of the depth.

When the Panthers use a fullback, they have redshirt sophomore George Aston, who has already reached mythological status among fans due to his toughness and vicious blocking.

Summary: What's not to like? This may be the best, most deep running back group in decades at the school. At the very least, Conner, Hall, and Ollison could put up well over 1,000 yards if they were the starter. And if that wasn't enough, the Panthers have a vicious blocking fullback, too. Grade: A

WIDE RECEIVER: Tyler Boyd is gone, and no receiver that remains is as talented as he is. That's the bad news. The good news is, the Panthers relied on Boyd entirely too much last season so it may help the offense in the long run to spread the ball around more.

The three starting receivers heading into the season are redshirt senior Dontez Ford, redshirt junior Jester Weah, and sophomore Quadree Henderson.  Ford quietly had a good season last year starting across from Boyd, but it remains to be seen how well he will do as the No. 1 starter. Weah has barely played in his career, mainly because he has shown poor hands, but he also has elite speed. If he has improved his hands, his speed will cause problems. Henderson is just 5'8" but he is electrifying with the ball in his hands. He is my pick as the breakout player on offense. Expect him to be used in a variety of ways.

Behind those top three, redshirt freshman Tre Tipton, former junior college transfer Rafael Araujo-Lopes, a redshirt sophomore, redshirt junior Zach Challingsworth, and tall true freshman Aaron Mathews will be the main backups leading into the season. Tipton is a local kid that could be very good, Araujo-Lopes is a quick slot receiver that will give Henderson competition, and Challingsworth is a veteran that was solid in limited time last season. Mathews has flashed enough that not only will he avoid a redshirt, but I would also not be surprised if he ended up starting before the season is over.

True freshmen Ruben Flowers and Maurice Ffrench have bright futures, but both will probably redshirt, though if needed Ffrench could be called on to return punts sometime during the season.

Summary: This is probably the most interesting unit on the team this season, and may prove to be the most important. None stand out as a sure star, but on the other hand there's a lot of players with promise. Weah and Henderson, especially, can fly, so their development is especially huge. I wouldn't be surprised if this group did well this season, but right now there's too many questions to rate them too highly. Grade: C+

TIGHT END: J.P. Holtz is gone, after starting for nearly four full seasons, and now it's time for senior Scott Ordnoff, who has been as the other tight end his entire career. The 6'5" 255 pound Orndorff has the size and athletic ability to be a star, but so far he has not put it all together. He has NFL potential and this is his last chance to prove it.

After that, the tight end position has more questions. Former fullback and H-back Jaymar Parrish is an excellent blocker and very athletic for his size, but he was mostly forgotten last season. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada needs to find a better way to utilize him because former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney clearly didn't. Redshirt junior Devon Edwards is big, and he has blocking ability, but he's not a threat in the passing game. Redshirt junior Zach Poker is a former defensive end.

Summary- This one is a hard grade. Orndorff has star potential, but he hasn't done it yet, and Parrish has good skills, too. If the Panthers have to go beyond those two, though, it could be a problem, and Orndorff has had injury issues in the past. If Orndorff stays healthy and lives up to his position, this position will be a strength, but he hasn't done it yet. Grade: C+

OFFENSIVE LINE: Back to the good news, and boy, is it good news. The offensive line had been a problem for the program for years not that long ago, but thanks to former Pitt head coach Paul Chryst this unit is absolutely loaded right now.

Left tackle Adam Bisnowaty and left guard Dorian Johnson, both locals in their last year, have all-star and NFL potential. Expect the Panthers to run behind them constantly. But they are far from the only two good players on the line. In fact, there are at least four more really good lineman.

On the right side, there are a pair of redshirt sophomores that are at least as talented, even if they are less experienced. Another local, Adam Bookser, will be the right guard, and former tight end Brian O'Neill will be the right tackle. I would not be surprised to see O'Neill be a first round draft pick in the future if he continues to improve as quickly as he has so far. At center, giant redshirt junior Alex Officer will get the start after starting at guard last year and taking over as the starting center two years ago when Artie Rowell was injured.

All five of the starters have NFL potential, as does big redshirt junior Jared Jones-Smith, who should be the top reserve at tackle, and who can also play some guard. Redshirt senior, and former walk on, John Guy, has improved enough to see time at guard if he's needed. Redshirt juniors Aaron Reese and Carson Baker, as well as redshirt sophomore Connor Dintino, are all listed on the second team and may see action.

Summary: There's at least six very good offensive linemen in this group, and there are a few others who would do well in a pinch. It has to be considered one of the better offensive lines in the country, with at least the top six of them having NFL potential. Grade: A

Overall: Barring injury, this offense, on paper, has very good potential. Peterman now has the experience to be very good this season, and the running backs and offensive line are both loaded. Any team that has those three factors should be a really good offense. In fact, there isn't a coach in the country that wouldn't kill to have all three of those strengths. The key, other than injuries, will be the wide receivers, and to a lesser degree, the tight ends. Opposing defenses will stack the line to stop the Panthers running attack and Peterman and the receivers will need to make them pay. If they can, the offense could be one of the most efficient offenses in the country.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A look at where Pitt football's roster stands and what they still need to add

QUARTERBACKS:  The Panthers have Thomas MacVittie and Central Florida transfer Bo Schneider coming in this season and Ben DiNucci will be a redshirt sophomore next year. Schneider will have to sit out this season so he will also be a redshirt sophomore next year. Verbal commit Kenny Pickett will also be added to the mix next year. With four young quarterbacks returning, the numbers won't be a problem. Many fans may want to add yet another quarterback in the 2017 class but that is unlikely. You never want to use too many scholarships on quarterbacks because only one can play at a time which means you have a lot of scholarships being used for players that won't be on the field. On the other hand, you have to make sure you have at least one that can be a quality starter.

The most likely of the group to fit the bill as a potential quality starter is MacVittie, who hasn't even started attending classes at Pitt yet. That's obviously not ideal. Unless he really shows he's ready to see time, which is unlikely for most true freshman quarterbacks, he may redshirt, which means he could be the starter next year without ever taking a snap. Schneider has some skill and appears to be the most likely competition for MacVittie, but since MacVittie has a much higher ceiling it wouldn't be ideal if he can't beat out Schneider. DiNucci is a wildcard but he didn't see the field last year and he probably won't see it this year so his future is currently very much up in the air. And of course Pickett will be a true freshman in '17 so he will likely redshirt.

Bottom line: Not to much too much pressure on him, but it's not an understatement to say that the success of the Pat Narduzzi era pretty much depends on the success of MacVittie. Of course there's always a chance that somebody else comes in out of the blue, and that someone could be either someone on the roster already, or not on the roster currently, but as of now it pretty much comes down to MacVittie. Pickett could also turn into a very good quarterback but that's at least three years down the road. Pitt's program can go far with a good quarterback but an All-American quarterback can take them to a completely different level. That's why finding a quarterback with excellent potential every year is a must, and why finding an elite talent is even better. Whether or not this staff is capable of finding that special quarterback is still left to be determined. It could be MacVittie or it could be Pickett. But it will be a constant struggle to find that special one that the program needs to become a top 20 caliber program.

RUNNING BACKS: This may be, along with the secondary, the deepest and most talented group for the near future. Returning ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Qadree Ollison will be back for two more years after this season, and Darrin Hall, who has all-star potential, will have three years. That's good enough right there, but then Rachid Ibrahim will be back for two more years, and spring camp surprise Chawntez Moss will just be a true freshman this year. If that's not enough, highly talented Todd Sibley has verbally committed to Pitt and big time Florida athlete Bruce Judson is still a possibility. Fullback is even strong for the future as excellent blocker George Aston will have two more years after this season.

Bottom line: This unit is an embarrassment of riches for the Panthers and with running backs like this Pitt will be running the ball down the throats of opponents for many years.

WIDE RECEIVERS: There's a lot of candidates in this group, but it still remains to be seen if any of them have all-star potential, and truthfully only incoming freshman Ruben Flowers even looks like a possible No. 1 receiver. The good news is that there are some really good, if untested, possibilities as a No. 2 and slot receiver. Zach Challingsworth and Jester Weah will be redshirt seniors in '17, and beyond that will be Tre Tipton, who will be a sophomore this season, and incoming freshman Aaron Mathews and '17 verbal commit Darian Street. There's some potential there, but none have produced much yet, if at all, so their future contributions are still very much up in the air. In the slot, Rafael Araujo-Lopes and Quadree Henderson will have two years left after this season, and incoming freshman Maurice Ffrench, like Henderson, has speed to burn. Henderson could be very good and may get his chance to show if he's a special player starting this season. Judson, if he ends up at Pitt, could join Henderson and Ffrench to form a ridiculously fast trio in the running back/wide receiver/return man jack-of-all trades game breaker department.

Bottom line- This unit is in desperate need for an elite talent that will help the No. 2 and slot receivers succeed. Without a big time No. 1 receiver opening things up for the rest of the offense, it will be more difficult for the other receivers, and the running game, to flourish. Flowers may fit the bill, but there needs to be at least one elite receiver added in each of the '17 and '18 classes. One wildcard here may be '17 verbal commit Paris Ford, an elite talent that's been pencilled in at free safety, but has the ability to be a big time receiver too.

TIGHT ENDS: Former UCLA transfer Chris Clark is scheduled to start in '17 after sitting out this season, but behind him there isn't much. And even though Clark will only be a redshirt sophomore next season, if he shows a lot he could leave early for the NFL draft. Even if Clark stays for the '18 season there won't be much to go with him unless the staff adds two more tight ends in the '17 class.

Even with the former No. 1 high school tight end in the country on the team, which Clark was, there appears to be an opportunity for a good prospect to play right away at Pitt. For that reason, one would think that it's possible that the staff can land two good ones. And they have offered many, which is all the proof that you need that Narduzzi knows just how much two tight ends are needed. One option is big, athletic Charles Reeves who would be a huge pickup at the position because the other tight end then could be a developmental tight end with a high ceiling.

Bottom line- The numbers here are very week and if for whatever reason Clark doesn't work out things could get ugly. On the other hand, if Clark lives up to his potential and the staff lands a talent like Reeves then the unit is suddenly a strength. It's a very important time for Tim Salem's unit.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: The unit is pretty loaded at the moment but thanks to former head coach Paul Chryst most of the talent are in the upper classes. Stars Dorian Johnson and Adam Bisnowaty will be gone after this season and Jaryd Jones-Smith and Alex Officer will only have one more season after this year. Converted tight end Brian O'Neill will be a redshirt sophomore this season but he has potential to be a high draft choice so there's no guarantee that he will be at Pitt for his full eligibility. If he does stay for two more years after this season that would obviously be very helpful for the future. Alex Bookser is also a redshirt sophomore this year that has excellent potential.

The fact that Jones-Smith, Officer, O'Neill, and Bookser will be available for at least '17 means the line is not a desperate stage, but after those four, things are more up in the air and the next group has to be developed . That group will come from the likes of Aaron Reese and Carson Baker, who will both have one more year after this season, Mike Grimm, who will have two, Tony Pilato and Alex Paulina who will have three, and incoming freshmen Justin Morgan, Zach Williams, and Brandon Ford. Owen Drexel is the first to verbally commit for '17. Reese, Baker, and Grimm are veterans that haven't shown star potential and the rest are completely untested. And while the younger group have very good potential they are not considered elite prospects.

Bottom line: The unit could still be very good or maybe even excellent in '17 because Jones-Smith, O'Neill, Bookser, and Officer are very talented, but then things get a little more suspect. That's not unusual as offensive linemen develop later and you never know when someone like the lesser recruited O'Neill will turn into a star. Offensive line coach John Peterson could do an excellent job with the young players and get the most out of them, but as former elite prospects Johnson, Bisnowaty, and Bookser show it's best if the big talent is already within them. For that reason, the staff needs to add at least an elite lineman in each of the next two classes, and preferably a total of three over the next two classes, but the new staff has yet to show that they can secure that type of lineman.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: This unit was very weak until Narduzzi arrived on the scene but he strengthened it to a large degree very quickly. Even with Ejuan Price, Shakir Soto, and Tyrique Jarrett  moving on after this season there's plenty left. But Rori Blair, Justin Moody, Jeremiah Taleni, and Allen Edwards will also be gone in two years. Tennessee transfer Dwayne Hendrix has the highest upside of the bunch and if he lives up his potential he could leave after this, his redshirt sophomore season, and at the very least will likely be gone after next season. And if he's not then he didn't live up to his potential.

With eight members of the line likely moving on in the next two years there needs to be young talent to take up the slack, and thankfully for Pitt fans Narduzzi has already started that process. Converted linebacker James Folston has potential, and he also has two more years after this season, but the future mostly rests with incoming freshmen Zack Gilbert, Rashad Weaver, Keyshon Camp, Amir Watts, Rashad Wheeler, Patrick Jones, and Bryce Hargrove. That's an excellent group and next season they should be running the show on the line. But it may not stop there as more elite prospects are interested in playing on the line for Narduzzi, including local star Donovan Jeter who appears to have the Panthers as his leader. In fact, the Panthers are involved in so many good linemen that it's pointless to list them all at this time.

Bottom line: There will be a transition period in two years when the next group will take over but it's such a talent group that it should be seamless. Despite the large group of players leaving over the next few years, this is looking like a very strong unit in the future.

LINEBACKERS: The veterans in this group are solid, but the younger bunch have much more upside. Bam Bradley, Mike Caprara, and Matt Galambos will be gone after this season, and Quintin Wirginis will be gone after next season, but waiting in the wings are Jalen Williams and converted wide receiver Elijah Zeise who are redshirt sophomores this season, and redshirt freshmen Anthony McKee and Saleem Brightwell. Zeise is especially intriguing if he stays at the position, and McKee can fly. The incoming freshmen group of Kaezon Pugh, Chase Pine, and Elias Reynolds are very good, and '17 verbal commitments Cameron Bright and Kyle Nunn are very good athletes that with development could be very good college players. But it doesn't stop there and the staff has targeted many top prospects at the position, including elite Nathan Proctor, local Kenny Robinson, and legacy Connor Heyward.

Bottom line: Zeise (if he stays at the position), Brightwell (if he gets bigger), McKee, Pugh, Pine, Reynolds, Bright, and Nunn are potentially the best group of linebackers the program has had in years, but none of them have done a thing yet so the talent needs to keep being added. Luckily for Pitt fans, Narduzzi and his staff seems to be on the case.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Terrish Webb, Reggie Mitchell, and Reggie Lewis will be gone after this season and Avonte Maddox will be gone after next season. The star of the group, Jordan Whitehead, will be a true sophomore this season and if he leaves for the NFL after his junior year than he will also need to be replaced. But top defensive backs love to play for Narduzzi so there's a lot of top talent to take over.

Dennis Briggs and Phillipie Motley will have two more years after this year and Dane Jackson, Malik Henderson, and Jay Stocker will all have three years left after this season. But most of the talent will be in the superb incoming freshmen class of Damar Hamlin, George Hill, Henry Miller, Bricen Garner, Phil Campbell, and Therran Coleman. If that's not enough, the '17 verbal commitments includes Paris Ford already. But, like I said previously, defensive backs love to play for Narduzzi so the staff is not done adding big time talent at the position for this class, and beyond.

Bottom line: This group is clearly flat out loaded, as was expected when Narduzzi was hired, and there's no reason to think that it won't continue.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pitt gets to 8 commits after landing two more out of state prospects

It was a good day for Pat Narduzzi as he added two more prospects today. The first, 6'3 1/2" 275 pound Owen Drexel is a center from Montclair (NJ) HS. Drexel recently attended Pitt's camp this past weekend and did so well that he received an offer on the spot. This was after destroying people at a New Jersey camp earlier in the week. Drexel, whose other offers included Rutgers and Air Force, is extremely strong and tenacious.

Narduzzi then backed that up not long after by nabbing former Ohio State commit Todd Sibley of Archbishop Hoban HS in Akron, OH. The 5'10" 214 pound Sibley is compact and strong, and he has very good speed for a strong back and has run an 11.17 100m. Sibley committed to Ohio State long ago but the Buckeyes were in a numbers crunch and asked him to take a gray shirt. So, bottom line, he's good enough to play at Ohio State, but because they have such an embarrassment of riches they wanted to hold him off until next year when they had more space. Because Sibley was committed for so long to Ohio State he didn't get as many offers as he normally would, but Michigan was one of them.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Panthers add two more

Yesterday, the Pat Narduzzi added more speed to the defense by getting a verbal commitment from 6'1" 205 pound linebacker Cameron Bright of Park Crossing HS in Montgomery, AL. Bright, who ran a blazing 4.53 at Pitt camp this weekend played last season in Ohio and I've been told from some people close to the situation that because he was not known in the south, and he left the midwest, he kind of fell through the cracks in the recruiting world. To Pitt's credit, however, they kept up with him, and now he's a Panther. Despite his great speed, he is also strong. This is a strong developmental prospect that has the potential to be excellent if he can add the required weight.

Narduzzi followed that up by adding WR Darian Street of Liberty HS in Bethlehem, PA. The 6'1" 175 pound Street is the brother of former Panthers WR Devin Street. Street needs to add a lot of size, and he's raw, but he has good speed and athleticism, he runs well after the catch, and he's a good blocker. His other offers include UConn, Army, and Kent State.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Pitt gets their QB

Pat Narduzzi was looking to add a quarterback this recruiting cycle, and he managed to get a pretty good one when 6'3" 190 pound Kenny Pickett of Ocean Township HS in Oakhurst, NJ verbally committed to the Panthers today. Pickett originally committed to Temple, but he de-committed after his star began to rise this spring due to his good performances in various camps and combines. 

Pickett is very accurate and has good mobility in the pocket. He doesn't have a cannon for an arm, but he should be able to make all of the necessary throws once he fills out physically. Besides Temple, Boston College, UConn, and Iowa were his biggest offers, but if he stayed on the market longer he certainly would have gotten more P5 offers.

With Pickett in the fold, the Panthers now have him, Thomas MacVittie, Ben DiNucci, and Central Florida transfer Bo Schneider as young, developmental prospects. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Top 10 PA prospects in the 2017 and 2018 classes

The national and college camps are starting to go into high gear, and more kids will show that they belong at a higher level, but for now these are the top prospects going into summer.


1.  D'Andre Swift, St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia) RB- Solidly built at 5'10" 208, very fast, great feet and vision, and he even has very good hands. He's the total package and that's why his top five  right now is Penn State, Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, and Florida State.

2.  Lamont Wade, Clairton Area HS (Clairton) CB- At 5'9" and 185 pounds, he doesn't have ideal size for the position, but he's very strong, fast, and quick. He also has the fire necessary for the position. Ohio State and Penn State seem like the most obvious leaders, and Pitt is a bit of a sleeper.

3.  Paris Ford, Steel Valley HS (Munhall) FS- Thin, but has room to grow at 6'1" and 175 pounds. Excellent speed and athleticism. Plays with a lot of emotion. Projects just as well at wide receiver. Has committed to PITTSBURGH.

4.  David Adams, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) LB- Typical rugged western PA kid that was born to play linebacker. Good speed and athleticism. Has the range to make tackles all over the field. Committed to NOTRE DAME.

5.  Donovan Jeter, Beaver Falls Area HS (Beaver Falls) DE- Big, strong, and athletic at 6'4" and 265 pounds. Shed some weight so that he can play defensive end, but he could also be just as good at defensive tackle. Pittsburgh appears to be the leader with Penn State probably second. Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame are some of his other offers.

6.  Mark Webb, Archbishop Wood Catholic HS (Warminster) WR- Good size at 6'2" and 195 pounds with the frame to add more size. Has steadily been on the rise with impressive camp performances. At one point he seemed like he was destined for Penn State, but Georgia may lead now. Alabama and North Carolina are also heavily involved.

7. C.J. Thorpe, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) OG- Short and stocky at 6'3" and 320 pounds, but has good feet for his size. He could also move over to DT if he doesn't pan out on offense. Has committed to PENN STATE.

8.  Josh Lugg, North Allegheny HS (Wexford) OT- At 6'7" and 290 pounds he has great length, and he also moves very well. However he appears to be this year's candidate for overrated PA lineman that national recruiting services do every year. At least for now since Lugg has yet to perform at a high level. He does have great natural attributes, though, so that still may come. Has committed to NOTRE DAME.

9.  Kurt Hinish, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) DT- Probably the biggest surprise prospect of the season because nobody expected him to get the attention that he has. But he's a solid 6'2" and 285 pounds, and he moves well for his size. Has already committed to NOTRE DAME.

10.  Kenny Robinson, University Prep HS (Pittsburgh) LB- Maybe the most under recruited prospect in the state, but that's often the case when you play in Pittsburgh's City League. At 6'3" and 205 pounds he has a strong, athletic frame to go with his good speed and quickness. When it all comes together for him he could be a special player. It's believed that Pittsburgh is the strong leader.


1.  Phil Jurkovec, Pine-Richland HS (Gibsonia) QB- Started as a sophomore last year and already dominated. At 6'5" and 190 pounds he has the frame, and if that's not enough he's a big time athlete. Could be the national No. 1 QB in the class. Committed to NOTRE DAME.

2.  Micah Parsons, Central Dauphin HS (Harrisburg) DE- Already 6'3" and 235 pounds and he's still going to fill out a lot over the next two years. Big time rush end that could be the top DE in the country for the class. Committed to PENN STATE.

3.  Isheem Young, Imhotep Institute (Philadelphia) FS- Currently just 5'10" and 180 pounds, but he hasn't started his junior season yet so he still has a lot of time to grow. Plays like a high school version of Ed Reed with great range and hard hits. Pitt, Penn State, Florida State, Alabama, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina are some of his very early offers.

4.  Kwantel Raines, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa) S- Already 6'3" and 190 pounds so he may eventually grow into a linebacker, but wherever he ends up he has a chance to be the next great Quip thanks to his speed, athleticism, size, and toughness. Pitt has to be considered a major player because of the connection between the schools.

5.  Matthew Bauer, Cathedral Prep HS (Erie) LB- Typically tough PA linebacker that flies all over the field and makes great hits. Has the frame to add to his 6'2" and 200 pounds. He seems destined for Penn State.

6.  Zack Kuntz, Camp Hill HS (Camp Hill) TE- Very skinny at 210 pounds and because he's 6'7' that means he has a lot of weight to put on. Despite doing well as a track performer he's not highly explosive and he has to learn to be a tight end since he's more of a wide receiver now. These reasons are why I have him a little lower than others. But 6'7" is still 6'7" so if it all comes together down the road, look out.

7.  Darryle Simmons, St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia)- Already a very immersive 6'2" and 200 pounds with good speed and athleticism. Early offers include Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland, There will be many more.

8. Kevin Doyle, Malvern Prep (Malvern) QB- Currently a solid 6'3" and 190 pounds but he needs to get stronger, including arm strength. But he has a lot to work with including accuracy and very good mobility in the pocket. Has early offers from Pitt, Nebraska, West Virginia, and Kentucky, among others.

9.  Shaquon Anderson-Butts, Harrisburg HS (Harrisburg) WR- Explosive and speedy at 6'0" and 160 pounds. Early offers include Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia, and Rutgers.

10. David Green, Central Catholic (Pittsburgh) DE- Already a very solid 6'2" and 250 pounds so he may grow into a defensive tackle. Very athletic and tough. Has the potential to move way up in the rankings. West Virginia and Iowa State are his first two big offers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

News and Notes for May 11

I've been very busy working and traveling for months but I thought I'd carve out some time to give some updates.

First, in basketball, Kevin Stallings landed his first commit in 6'2" PG Aaron Thompson of Paul VI Catholic HS in Fairfax, VA. If that sounds familiar, it's the same school that produced incoming PF/C Corey Manigault (on a side note, Manigault is now up to 6'9" and 236 pounds).

The last Stallings starting PG at Vanderbilt, Wade Baldwin, was a borderline top 100 prospect that is expected to be a mid-first round pick in the upcoming draft. So Stallings does know how to identify point guards, and he really wanted Thompson, who he was also heavily pursuing while at Vanderbilt.

There's a lot of good traits that Stallings can see in Thompson, who has a strong, athletic body and  very good quickness and speed. He is also an excellent passer, drives well to the hoop, and has great potential leading an offense. So why is he not a top 100 prospect? He's not a very good shooter- like, at all.

That doesn't mean that he can't eventually turn into a decent shooter. With teammates Manigault and McDonald's All-American wing VJ King off to college, Thompson will be forced to score more next season. Justice Kithcart was considered to be an average shooter, at best, last summer, but his shooting progressed a lot months later. So much so that it's now not considered a weakness. The same could happen to Thompson. And he has a staff full of shooting gurus at Pitt, so if they can't turn him into at least an adequate shooter than it can't be done. And if Thompson does turn into at least an adequate shooter, than the rest of his skill set will help him be a good college player. In the worse case scenario, he will be a part of a guard group that includes Kithcart, Damon Wilson, Jonathan Milligan, and Crisshawn Clark, and that's at least a group with good potential.

As for football, I continue to be impressed with the job that the staff has done. Three impressive prospects are already in the fold, and more are on the way, probably soon.

I'm still expecting top local prospects like DE Donovan Jeter, LB Kenny Robinson, and OT Gabe Houy to eventually give the Panthers the nod, and I'm a little more optimistic when it comes to Lamont Wade.

The staff has been going crazy with offers, including nearly 50 to Florida kids. 50!!!  One such kid, elite athlete Bruce Judson, who originally committed to Ohio State, has been praising Pitt for weeks, and many think the Panthers could be the favorite. Elite New Jersey DT Fred Hansard also speaks highly of Pitt, and the Panthers have a legitimate chance with him too.

The Panthers need to add at least one elite WR and they currently have about a dozen offers out. They desperately need two tight ends and they are still involved with at least eight. There's also 20 offers out to offensive linemen that haven't committed yet. You get the point. The Panthers have a lot of options available, and with an entire year longer to recruit these kids there's no reason to think that this class won't end at least as impressively as the last class, and I would be very surprised if doesn't end up better.

One aspect of recruiting that seems to be worrying fans is the quarterback position, but it's way too early to panic. Thomas MacVittie is an elite prospect, and if he lives up to his potential the Panthers could be a top 10 team in a few years. And the Panthers still have a very legitimate chance to land 2018 elite QB Phil Jurkovec. Even if they don't land Jurkovec, they will land a 3 or 4 star QB next year and the same in the '18 class. It's very conceivable that a star QB could be all that separates Pitt from being a good team and an excellent team, but the staff will bring in very good talent at the position. They just need to have one of those players hit. And with quarterbacks you never know who that will be.

Bottom line, the Panthers are heavily involved with so many top prospects that I had to scrap a plan a few weeks ago to give a position by position update. The staff is simply involved with too many players to narrow it down at this point. And they also have a fast start in offering top prospects in the '18 class. I told you not to worry about the '16 class, and it turned out to be a very good class. I fully expect the '17 and '18 classes to be even better.