TribLIVE
Blogs | Sports | News
Pitt Locker Room

February 11, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Boyd will join 331 other prospects at NFL Combine; plus thinking spring

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I joined Ken Laird, Tim Benz and Josh Taylor on Friday morning to discuss Pitt (finally!) moving its spring game to Heinz Field. The game is April 16. Listen here.

Tyler Boyd will take his first significant plunge into the NFL Draft pool when he joins 331 other prospects at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, scheduled for Feb. 23-29.
Boyd, who left Pitt after setting school reception and yardage records in only three seasons, was invited, along with 12 other players with local ties. Let’s look at what NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein, a talk show host in Houston, wrote about Boyd, who was listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds last season:
Strengths: Ultra-competitive. Known for powerful hands that clamp instantly onto ball and finish heavily contested catches. Has over-the-middle toughness. Plays with outstanding body control and has ability to gyrate and contort in mid-air in order to make acrobatic catches look easy. Brimming with confidence. Targeted 124 times or more in each of his three seasons. Able to create window through route polish. Sinks into breaks and comes out low with good turn radius when needed. Sits in space and slows routes when necessary to prevent safety from crowding him in deep middle. Has handled some kick return and punt return duties during his time at Pitt.
Weaknesses: Relatively low touchdown production (21) to target rate. Marginal long speed. Isn’t a threat to run by corners and has to win with routes and hands. Just a possession receiver much of the year. Limited YAC (yards after catch) potential due to lack of shake in open field and power to break tackles. Became a fumble factory on punt returns this year and ball security must be addressed. Lacks juice to be a full-time kick returner. Separation windows close quickly due to average getaway quickness out of breaks. Needs to use body better to protect the catch rather than just relying on strong mitts.
Sources tell us: “I think he can overcome some of his speed deficiencies with good routes and he has hand strength like (Jarvis) Landry in Miami. I would take him in the second or third (round).” — AFC East scout.
NFL comparison: Keenan Allen of the San Diego Chargers.
Bottom line: Pitt asked Boyd to be a running back and possession receiver this season, but that doesn’t define what he can be in the pros. Boyd makes up for a lack of speed with vice grips for hands and intelligence in his routes. Boyd isn’t a standalone WR1, but he can be a very productive starter in a play-action attack that allows him to play to his strengths.

I can’t disagree with anything Zierlein wrote, but I might add that Boyd quickly picked up the nuances of the wide receiver position very quickly (he was not solely that at Clairton), and he worked with three different quarterbacks at Pitt (Tom Savage, Chad Voytik and Nathan Peterman).
What I found interesting about that latter factoid is that Boyd recorded his longest catch with Savage (69), most yardage and touchdowns with Voytik (1,261 and eight) and most receptions with Peterman (91).
Also, Boyd led the team in receptions in all three seasons, and the No. 2 pass catchers (Devin Street, J.P. Holtz and Dontez Ford) averaged 52 receptions behind him.
After Street left for the NFL in the 2014 draft, Pitt never found a consistently effective complement for Boyd. In the NFL, Boyd will have another talented wide receiver lining up with him; it will be interesting to see what he does when he’s no longer the sole target of the secondary.
The second or third round appears to be what most analysts are predicting for Boyd on draft weekend (April 28-30).
Boyd has been working out in California almost since the end of Pitt’s season. He wants it, and knows what it takes. His willingness to work hard and his adherence to the concept of team (in my eyes his two most admirable qualities at Pitt) will help him construct a good NFL career.

A couple other observations about the combine list:
Eastern Kentucky outside linebacker Noah Spence, a graduate of Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg, is rated the No. 2 edge pass rusher available in the draft by respected analyst Mike Mayock.
While in high school, Spence seriously considered signing with Pitt and might have done so if Dave Wannstedt hadn’t been fired. But his college career was full of potholes.
He went to Ohio State and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013, but he failed two drug tests and was treated for addiction, according to Zierlein. Spence, 6-2, 254, also was arrested last year and charged with alcohol intoxication and second-degree disorderly conduct, but the incident was expunged from his record after he performed community service.
On the field, he knows how to rush the passer. He had 22 1/2 tackles for a loss and 13 1/2 sacks while earning FCS All-American honors last year.

NFL.com also listed a few notable players who weren’t invited to the combine:
— Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who set a record with 88 rushing touchdowns, but will switch to running back and/or kick returner in the NFL.
— Wisconsin’s Mike Caputo, a West Allegheny graduate, who is a two-time, second-team All-Big Ten safety.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

August 30, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

A good sign: Narduzzi can be selective with his freshmen

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

When Pat Narduzzi put only four first-year freshmen on his depth chart Monday, it was another sign of progress for the Pitt football program.
The roster is loaded with enough juniors and seniors — 31 are on the so-called two-deep — that Narduzzi doesn’t need to rely on many freshmen. That’s an indication of an experienced team that might minimize mistakes, prepare with more urgency and make the correct split-second decision that may turn into a big play. It also indicates players are sticking with the program, not bailing when things go wrong. Dare we say it? Program stability.
Actually, there are five freshmen, counting backup kicker Alex Kessman, a walkon from Clarkston, Mich. Wide receiver Aaron Mathews and running back Chawntez Moss will get opportunities to make plays on offense; defensive tackles Amir Watts and Keyshon Camp will provide necessary depth on the line, one clear area of weakness.
Narduzzi made a point Monday to say that he may end up using more freshmen, if situations dictate. The coach didn’t mention any names, but Central Catholic grad Damar Hamlin, a cornerback, is one candidate, if his undisclosed injury heals in due time.
Meanwhile, fifth-year senior Ryan Lewis will start at one cornerback spot, backed up by Phillipie Motley. Avonte Maddox, hobbled himself near the end of camp, is the other starter, with redshirt freshman Dane Jackson the first reserve.
Lewis is one of 11 fifth-year seniors on the depth chart. There are eight seniors who never have redshirted and are in their fourth seasons. Counting 16 fourth-year juniors, that’s 35 players who are at least four years removed from high school.

The Big Ten has stopped scheduling FCS schools, but Narduzzi, a former Big Ten assistant coach, said it’s important not to ignore them. If only to keep alive scholarship opportunities for players whose talent level is just below FBS standards.
“First of all, it’s a great payday for an in-state school to come into Heinz Field and play,” said Narduzzi, whose Pitt team will welcome FCS No. 22 Villanova in the season opener Saturday.
“If we stop playing these teams they start to go away, and that’s not what we want. These programs need to make money, too; they play the game, too.”
Of course, it’s also dangerous to play FCS schools. In recent years, Pitt has lost to Youngstown State and allowed 29 points (to Maine), 24 (to Old Dominion) and 37 (to YSU) in unimpressive victories against FCS schools.
Personally, I could do without them. Most fans find them uninteresting and less than revealing. The way Pitt struggles against the FCS, they also can be embarrassing.

— Monday was another busy day of talking and scribbling about Pitt football. I spent 20 minutes with my pal and college football genius Josh Taylor on TribLive Radio, live tweeted Narduzzi’s news conference and added two more links to the Pitt page on TribLive.com.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

August 26, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Narduzzi knows first-hand: Captains matter

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Coach Pat Narduzzi announced Pitt’s three co-captains Friday at the annual Kickoff Luncheon at the Westin Convention Center. Offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty, defensive end Ejuan Price and running back James Conner were given the honor after a vote of their teammates.
Narduzzi said 70 percent of the team’s votes — each player named two players — went to those three.
If you think the titles are merely ceremonial and don’t hold much meaning, let Narduzzi tell a story that might change your mind.
No surprise, but Narduzzi was a captain in high school at Youngstown Ursuline and at Rhode Island under coach Bob Griffin.
During one season — he said he couldn’t remember the year but he was there from 1987-89 — he felt the need to go to Griffin with a problem.
“I was frustrated with the guys we had,” he said.
Narduzzi noticed some players were staying out late on Thursday nights, two days before the game. “It’s not important to them,” he said he told Griffin.
So at the next team meeting, Griffin asked anyone who was “out having a good time” to stand up.
“About nine guys stood up, most of them starters,” Narduzzi said.
When they sat down, Griffin asked their backups to stand up. By that point, Griffin’s message was clear.
“Those were the guys who started the next day,” Narduzzi said.
“I hope our (Pitt) co-captains don’t have to go through this. To be a great leader sometimes you have to do the tough things. You are responsible for your teammates. Captains are the most important part of your team.”
Bisnowaty was proud of the honor because “your teammates decide, your friends, your brothers. That means a lot.”
Price, a sixth-year senior who missed 2 1/2 seasons with injuries, said he was named captain “pretty much by default … putting in the most time. It caught me off-guard.”
He said he had moments of doubt during his periods of inactivity, but he credited teammates for keeping him focused. Now, he’s entering his second season as a starter after being named All-ACC first team last year.
“Being around my guys and the type of bond we have just as friends, not even as teammates, kept me going,” he said.
Price said he voted for Bisnowaty, who declined to reveal his votes. But Bisnowaty thanked everyone associated with the program, including “coach (Chris) LaSala and coach Junk (Bob Junko), who got me here.” LaSala is Pitt’s assistant athletic director/football operations and Junko is director of player development.

Training camp ended Friday with a light rehearsal scrimmage at Heinz Field. Over the past three weeks, no one missed Narduzzi’s 10:30 p.m. curfew, he said.
“We had a couple out in the parking lot as late as they could talking to their mom or girl friend,” he said. “They said mom. I said, `C’mon.’ ”

Pitt and Penn State jointly announced a corporate sponsor and a nickname for the four-game series between the teams starting Sept. 10 and running through 2019.
It will be called the Keystone Classic presented by Peoples Natural Gas.
In their separate news releases, neither school mentioned anything about extending the series beyond 2019. But in his remarks at the luncheon, Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher called the game “the marquee sporting event of the year and, hopefully, for many years to come.”

Narduzzi is doing his best to keep his team focused on the opener Sept. 3 against Villanova, but fans aren’t helping.
He said if he signed 1,000 autographs Thursday night at Fanfest, 998 of the fans said, “Coach, you have to kill that team. And it wasn’t Villanova.”

And how about this from senior defensive tackle Shakir Soto as he introduced guard Dorian Johnson at the luncheon:
“He almost made a mistake and went to that school in the central part of the state, but he smartened up.”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

August 23, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Don’t count out Pitt’s freshmen defensive tackles

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

There are several reasons college teams resist depending on freshmen.
No. 1, most freshmen aren’t ready to contribute to a successful college program. The dividing line between high school and college football is much thicker than it is for basketball.
No. 2, a team that can redshirt most of its freshmen stands to eventually have good groups of fourth-year juniors and fifth-year seniors (similar to what Pitt has this season). It’s a formula used successfully for years by 2015 College Football Playoff semifinalist Michigan State. And you know where Pat Narduzzi learned how to build a Power 5 program.
Early in former coach Paul Chryst’s Pitt tenure, he was forced to use several freshmen due to roster deficiencies.
The same situation is developing this season at defensive tackle. Pitt may have to force freshmen Amir Watts and Keyshon Camp into its rotation.
Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto look like serviceable (at least) starters, but little-used players Jeremiah Taleni, Shane Roy and former offensive lineman Mike Herndon comprise most of the veteran depth. The loss of junior Justin Moody to a cervical spine condition was an unexpected hit to the depth chart.
Watts and Camp were impressive in the scrimmage Saturday, according to Narduzzi.
“Sometimes, the freshmen are the ones who get exposed, but those two guys stepped their game up in Heinz Field and really did a nice job. They need to.”

Narduzzi came up with a new way to hold back information from the prying media Monday when he was asked if center Alex Officer and right guard Alex Bookser remained on the first team and if there is any resolution to the competition at backup running back.
“I can’t remember,” he said.
Of course, he was kidding. He just wants to keep information inside the locker room. Apparently, what happens on the South Side stays on the South Side.

Narduzzi and his coaches didn’t release much information about the scrimmage. The most significant remark came from running backs coach Andre Powell, who said of James Conner, “He really cut it loose. We are really encouraged by what we saw.”

Also, word leaked out that wide receiver Jester Weah made a diving catch that he said wasn’t his best. He also told reporters that he didn’t play football until his sophomore year of high school because his mother thought the game was too violent.

One more: Linebackers coach Rob Harley said freshman linebacker Kaezon Pugh returned an interception for a touchdown. But he didn’t reveal the names of the six linebackers who will play the most this season.
So, I’ll guess: Matt Galambos, Mike Caprara, Bam Bradley, Elijah Zeise, Seun Idowu and Quintin Wirginis. That doesn’t mean redshirt freshmen Saleem Brightwell and Anthony McKee should be ignored. It just means Pitt has a nice group of linebackers. Enough to win the ACC Coastal? That’s why they’ll play the season.

Part of my busy day Monday — the start of the third and final week of Pitt training camp — was about 20 minutes on TribLive Radio with Josh Taylor. Enjoy …

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

August 21, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

The making of “Can Pitt Become A National Power” and some thoughts on the AP preseason poll

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Before we begin the third and final week of Pitt’s preseason training camp, I want to thank everyone involved in the care and feeding of the Trib’s summer-long look into Pitt football and basketball: “Can Pitt Become A National Power.” It appeared in Sunday’s newspaper.
That starts with my immediate superior, assistant sports editor Rob Amen, whose job it is to keep an eye on me and several others on the third floor of the D.L. Clark building: Pitt basketball beat guy John Harris, general assignment and enterprise ace Bob Cohn and Penguins reporters Jonathan Bombulie and Bill West.
One day this spring, Amen approached Harris and me with a story idea.
“I think we should undertake a project examining if Pitt football and basketball can break through the glass ceiling and join the nation’s elite schools. Let’s report the heck out of it, expenditures, revenues, recruiting, attendance, national voices.”
It sounded like a lot of work, and I wasn’t wrong. But I’ve always been partial to team efforts, and I knew Rob would get everyone involved — from reporters to headline writers to Internet geniuses to designers to graphic artists to the bosses (deputy managing editor Duke Maas and sports editor Kevin Smith, who must approve the expenditure of time, resources and newsprint).
All got on board.
And it was a pertinent topic, given Pitt football coaches’ and players’ willingness to talk about winning the ACC championship and the new era in Pitt basketball, with coach Kevin Stallings equally unafraid to set high standards for his program. (Harris’ companion basketball piece is scheduled to appear next Sunday.)
For the football story, we needed to set some parameters. We wanted to compare Pitt to all of its ACC brethren and any school that has finished in the Top 10 of the final AP poll at least three times in the past decade (Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, Florida State, USC, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Oklahoma, Stanford, Oregon, Michigan State, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Boise State and TCU.)
Who’s spending the most? Who’s the most frugal? Do dollars and cents really matter? Who’s getting the best high school players?
I spent many hours interviewing people who know thing or three about college football: Jackie Sherrill, the most recent Pitt coach to win 11 games (1981); former University of Miami and North Carolina coach Butch Davis ; and ESPN analyst Tom Luginbill, who was very gracious with his time at the ACC meetings in Charlotte last month. Luginbill’s deep knowledge of college football and his insights into what it takes to succeed in college football are amazing.
I also spent a very enjoyable and educational morning with Robert Morris sports management professor John Clark at a Cranberry Starbuck’s.
And, of course, many thanks to Pitt vice chancellor of communications Susan Rogers, who put me in touch with Chancellor Patrick Gallagher; Executive Associate Athletic Director E.J. Borghetti, who tolerates my many questions and requests on a far-too-frequent basis, athletic director Scott Barnes and coach Pat Narduzzi (who was just happy that I wasn’t asking another question about injuries).
Writing it was the easy part — it was planned out so well by the people around me that I don’t even remember the process. It all went according to plan. It turned out to be nearly four times longer than the normal story, but we were committed to doing a thorough job.
Later, Amen and I (especially Amen) worked closely with the graphic artists: designer Matt Rosenberg, who combines a love of sports (he’s a Mets fan and not afraid to say it) with an eye for what makes a page look good; developer Emily Rich and director of design and graphics Elizabeth Kane Jackson. When I wanted to make a last-minute addition 24 hours before the story was to be posted, no one batted an eye.
When the story was posted on Triblive.com, Twitter and Facebook on Saturday night, plenty of reaction surfaced. Pitt as a national power in football presents an intriguing scenario (one that I don’t believe is impossible to attain, by the way), and I had to snicker at some of the comments.
@Colbynwood (Colby N. Wood) wrote, “No. Not without better facilities and their own stadium.
@sirfurme (Nittany Security) simply wrote, “LOL.”
@RobbPascoeGM: “Get rid of the cream puff non-conference schedule and face tougher opponents.”
I wouldn’t call Oklahoma State, Penn State and Marshall creampuffs, but keep the tweets coming.

Speaking of the nation’s elite. The Associated Press revealed its preseason college football poll Sunday, and Pitt is playing three of the Top 25: No. 2 Clemson, No. 21 Oklahoma State and No. 22 North Carolina. All on the road.
I am voting in the poll for the first time this season, and I’m not afraid to print my preseason ballot side-by-side with the actual poll results. Reality on the left, me on the right:
1. Alabama……………..Florida State
2. Clemson…………….Oklahoma
3. Oklahoma……………Alabama
4. Florida State……….Clemson
5. LSU………………..LSU
6. Ohio State………….Stanford
7. Michigan……………Notre Dame
8. Stanford……………Ohio State
9. Tennessee…………..Georgia
10. Notre Dame…………Tennessee
11. Ole Miss…………..Michigan
12. Michigan State……..USC
13. TCU……………….Michigan State
14. Washington…………Oklahoma State
15. Houston……………North Carolina
16. UCLA………………Texas A&M
17. Iowa………………Washington
18. Georgia……………Baylor
19. Louisville…………Ole Miss
20. USC……………….Oregon
21. Oklahoma State……..Houston
22. North Carolina……..Louisville
23. Baylor…………….Wisconsin
24. Oregon…………….TCU
25. Florida……………Miami

After I tweeted my ballot, I was reminded by @datpurpledrank9 that I have Pitt quietly ranked no higher than sixth in the ACC behind Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina, Louisville and Miami. I stand by Miami — coach Mark Richt, who had great success at Georgia, and Brad Kaaya, one of the best quarterbacks in the nation who is now in his third year as a starter, will make a difference in South Beach.
I want to really thank ‏@ConceptMayhem for these encouraging words on Twitter: “Hopefully based on that first ballot alone, the privilege will be short-lived. No Iowa? What a joke.”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

August 19, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

No longer “hard-headed,” Pitt’s Bradley finds the secret to reducing stress

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Pitt senior linebacker Bam Bradley isn’t afraid to admit, “I was kind of hard-headed when I got here.”
But he’s grown up – isn’t that what college is all about? – and he’s learned to keep his mouth shut when situations change. Even when he might have reason to be pounding on a coach’s door.
Bradley entered training camp earlier this month after off-season shoulder surgery with a reshaped body, transformed attitude and a new position to learn. Coach Pat Narduzzi and defensive coordinator Josh Conklin planned to give Bradley every chance to win the starting job at star linebacker (an outside position where the defender must play in space most of the time).
That was after Bradley spent last season as a part-time starter/part-time backup to senior Mike Caprara on the other side of the defense (at money, where the traffic is heavier).
The competition at star was and is former wide receiver Elijah Zeise and former walkon safety Seun Idowu, both sophomores. Most of practice is closed to the media, but coaches appear pleased with Zeise and Idowu.
Bradley remains in the mix at both positions, and he’s satisfied that he prepared properly for the season (no matter where it takes him). “There isn’t too much I haven’t done,” he said.
He said his work at practice is divided this way: 60 percent money, 40 percent star, a situation that might have a younger player’s head spinning. Not just a senior, but a fifth-year senior, Bradley said he can handle it.
“It’s kind of easy to go back and forth, but I have to train my mind: `When am I playing to the boundary (money)? When am I playing to the field (star)?’ ”
Wrestling a starting job from Caprara, who joins middle linebacker Matt Galambos as quarterbacks of the defense, will be difficult. Caprara started eight games last season and recorded 10 ½ tackles for a loss, including five sacks. He was big in a couple of Pitt victories (a sack/safety against Virginia and three sacks and a forced fumble/recovery against Duke). Bradley started the other five, recording five TFLs.
Bradley said he treats every play like it’s his last, and he tries not to think about who will eventually win the two starting jobs.
“I leave it in God’s hands,” he said. “I’m just here as a worker. He’s the man. Whatever he needs me to do that’s what I’m going to do.”
He said it used to be difficult to keep thoughts to himself. Not anymore.
“I’m older now,” he said. “I’m a senior. There’s not too much in my control. I’m not pressing the issue, bugging coach, `Why I’m not, why I’m not, why I’m not.’ I just come out here every day and do my job the best I can.”
It’s not easy to reduce stress in college football, but Bradley has found a way.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

August 19, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Pitt lands verbal commitments from two WPIAL tight ends

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

While the football team was nearing the end of its second week of training camp Thursday, Pitt’s recruiting office had a busy day, getting verbal commitments from senior tight ends Grant Carrigan of Pine-Richland and Tyler Sear of Neshannock.
That brings Pitt’s Class of 2017 current total to 14 seniors, including four from the WPIAL — Carrigan, Sear, defensive back Paris Ford of Steel Valley and Upper St. Clair offensive lineman Gabe Houy.
Carrigan and Sear are ranked two-star prospects by Rivals.com, but both are good size with room to grow. Carrigan, 6-foot-7, 258 pounds, is at his third school in three years after spending his sophomore year at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas and last year in Weirton, W.Va. Sear, 6-5, 255, decommitted from Temple while pledging to Pitt.
Both players are welcome additions to Pitt’s class for two simple reasons:
— They are the only tight ends in the class.
— Pitt’s current roster includes two senior tight ends, Scott Orndoff and Jaymar Parrish. A third, Chris Clark, will be coming off knee surgery next year.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

August 17, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Speaking of Narduzzi, injuries, linemen and cornerbacks

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Coach Pat Narduzzi said Tuesday Pitt is dealing with no “major injuries” after nine days of training camp. Which makes his team incredibly lucky because football is a sport that invites injury by its basic nature.
Just to make sure he didn’t unleash the football gods upon his team by talking about injuries (sort of like ROOT announcers refusing to use the word no-hitter when a Pirates pitcher has allowed no hits), he pretended to knock on wood as he left his press briefing for practice Tuesday morning. The “wood” he used was my head.
I have to admit, sometimes my wife Tess will tell you my head is made of wood, so maybe the coach has been talking to her.
In any case, the issue of injuries arose this week when at least two players left practice on a golf cart. It was clear Narduzzi — like all coaches — didn’t want to talk about injuries, no matter that they are minor. Perhaps he believes it’s best not to tip off the opponent, even if the first game is more than two weeks away. Perhaps, since he said the injuries are not serious, he didn’t want to alarm the injured players by talking about them to reporters.
I’ve been sitting here thinking about it for 20 minutes (far too long, by the way), so let’s get onto some more important issues.
Coaches have talked for the past nine days about the depth on the offensive line. Narduzzi believes he’ll be able to occasionally rest his starters in certain games, keeping them fresh for the fourth quarter. No Pitt team has been able to do that in recent seasons.
I wonder how much substituting actually will take place when the schedule starts to get difficult. Which in Pitt’s case happens in week two against Penn State.
Coaches like to breed stability and familiarity on the offensive line, which can’t be done if subs are constantly coming off the bench. So, it’ll interesting to see how things develop on the line as the season progresses. I think Narduzzi and line coach John Peterson will find five and keep them for as long as they are playing well and are healthy.
At cornerback, senior Ryan Lewis has the early upper hand, but Phillipie Motley and Dane Jackson “are in a heat” behind Lewis, with Jackson continuing to impress.
“I’m not sure Dane isn’t ahead of (Motley),” the coach said. “Dane Jackson has really come on strong the past four or five days.”
Freshman cornerbacks Damar Hamlin and Henry Miller “are going strong,” the coach said. The third freshman — Therran Coleman – is “mentally a step behind them, but they’re all going to be great players,” he said.
Like the offensive line, Pitt appears to have depth at cornerback, but dipping into it may mean things aren’t going well. After all, this isn’t Little League where everyone gets a ride on the merry-go-round. That might be true early in training camp, but eventually Narduzzi wants players to seize their jobs — and hold onto them.
Since I know you can’t get enough football talk, here’s my conversation with Josh Taylor of TribLive Radio from Tuesday morning.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

August 11, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Collecting our thoughts after three days of Pitt training camp

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Notes and quotes and an opinion or two after Pitt’s first three days of training camp:
— I can’t say practices have been hard-hitting and physical (although I suspect they are or will be very soon). The hardest hit I saw this week was kicker Chris Blewitt putting his foot solidly into a 50-yard field goal that was good with yards to spare.
— That’s because coach Pat Narduzzi restricts media access to the first 30 minutes of practice. I don’t like it; nor do I believe having reporters on the sideline would hinder Pitt’s preparations for the season.
— I believe Narduzzi’s reasoning simply is based on the old Las Vegas ad campaign: “What happens here stays here.” So be it. It just forces reporters to ask more questions of players and coaches. But I want the coach to know his restriction is putting a dent in my effort to reach the American Heart Association’s recommended 10,000 steps a day.
— What I’ve seen of the offensive line is that there appears to be serious depth for the first time in my six years of covering the team. Alex Officer, who was named to the Rimington Award watch list for the nation’s best center, lines up as a second-team guard (or at least he was when I was watching). I think Officer will be the starting center on opening day — he told me he has snapped the ball a bit this week — and Alex Bookser (the current No. 1 center) will move to right guard.
— I also think coaches are trying to find at least a semi-regular role for Jaryd Jones-Smith. At 6-7, 325 pounds and with some starting experience behind him, Jones-Smith will be difficult to keep off the field. Starting right tackle Brian O’Neill will be a hard guy to move, though.
— That said, I believe Narduzzi and line coach John Peterson are being smart by easing Officer and Jones-Smith back into action, considering both players are coming off injuries. There’s plenty of time for them to win additional playing time, and I’m sure they will.
— Senior Ryan Lewis is engaged in a battle with several younger players for a starting cornerback job. Lewis has nice size, 6-foot, 200 pounds, but his next start will be his first one. Same goes for everyone else trying to win that job, however, and that’s what makes the competition so interesting.
Freshmen Damar Hamlin, Therran Coleman and Henry Miller, plus sophomore Phillipie Motley and redshirt freshmen Malik Henderson and Dane Jackson, are also in contention.
— Lewis is the nephew of former Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis. His father is Kansas City Chiefs director of pro scouting Will Lewis.
— This may or may not be significant, but Narduzzi had praise for how quickly Central Catholic graduates Hamlin and Bricen Garner , a safety, picked up a defensive call Tuesday, the second day of unpadded drills.
“To see them pick it up in shorts is amazing,” Narduzzi said. “They understand. They have been well-coached at Central Catholic.”
— Freshman cornerback George Hill and junior defensive tackle Justin Moody will never play football again after they were diagnosed with a pre-existing cardiac condition and cervical spine problem, respectively. Freshman Zack Gilbert also was ruled out for the season with a heart condition, but his situation will be re-evaluated next year.
“Just be thankful we found about the situation before it’s too late,” Narduzzi said of the testing process Pitt administers to all of its athletes. “A lot of places don’t do it. I think it’s something the NCAA has to make sure everybody does it, just to save lives.”
— Narduzzi said Hill was otherwise healthy. He ran a 4.4-second 40-yard dash earlier this summer.
— Narduzzi has one complaint about camp. “No cookies at lunch and dinner,” he said. “I’m kind of disappointed. I like my cookies.”
The cookie ban is part of team nutritionist Rachel Baker’s healthy food choices for the training table.
“I guess she’s taking care of the coaches, too,” said Narduzzi, who nonetheless agrees with Baker. “We talk a lot about the fuel you put in your body. You put bad gas in the car, it’s not going to get you here. It’s the same thing with your bodies.”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

July 20, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Off to Charlotte and #ACCkickoff

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

With apologies to the “Mamas and Papas”My bags aren’t packed, I’m not ready to go (yet) and I’m not leaving on a jet plane. But I do plan to be seated in the audience at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Charlotte Westin for Commissioner John Swofford’s news conference, the opening bell to ACC media days.
I’ll live tweet (#ACCkickoff), so keep an eye on Twitter.
You know it’s football season (ignore the calendar) when the ACC gets together for its annual media days Thursday and Friday. This year, the meetings, news conferences and the Orange Bowl Ice Cream Break (a personal favorite) will be held in downtown Charlotte, N.C.
Two players and the head coach from each team (Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi will be joined by quarterback Nathan Peterman and defensive end Ejuan Price) will be available for interviews.
We haven’t heard much from Narduzzi since the spring game in April, so it will be interesting to see what he has to say about some of the open positions on the team (outside linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver among them). Plus, what does he plan to do at right guard with Alex Officer moving back to center? Will it be Jaryd Jones-Smith (Pitt’s strength coaches really like this guy) or Alex Bookser, who can be a useful utility man at center, guard or tackle?
Swofford, of course, will talk about the proposed ACC Network that won’t make its debut until 2019, but eventually will mean millions of dollars to conference schools.
The ACC also has extended its grant of rights provision all the way to the 2035-36 school year, all but assuring conference membership will remain intact for the next 20 years. If a school leaves, all of its media rights for home games would remain with the ACC.
Stability is a fragile thing and can change in a year’s time, but the ACC seems to have it at the moment. Even among its coaches. Of the 11 head coaching changes this decade, only Paul Chryst (Pitt to Wisconsin) and Charlie Strong (Louisville to Texas) left the ACC for another job.
And it’s no small matter that the ACC has been represented in the first two College Football Playoff fields (Florida State and Clemson).
Prior to writing this blog, I sat down Tuesday with my buddy Josh Taylor on TribLive Radio. Josh knows as much about college football as any media guy in this market, so give a listen here.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

May 19, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Penn State/Pitt will kickoff at noon: Get over it

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Let’s get something straight before Twitter blows up:
THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH STARTING A COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAME AT NOON.
Should I count the reasons?
1. It’s only one hour before most Steelers kick times.
2. It gives you time to, say, party until midnight, sleep until 8 (a sound seven-to-eight hours, which is more than most college students get during the week), tailgate until 11:30 and walk inside Heinz Field. As Bill Cowher used to say, “What’s wrong with that?”
3. And, remember, there’s nothing wrong with moderation Friday and a good, clean party after the game (yeah, right!).
4. A noon kick gives you plenty of time to get back in the library by late afternoon and still go out to dinner with mom and dad that night.
5. If it started at, say, 1:30 p.m., you could only watch it on ESPN3 (as is the case with the Villanova/Pitt game the previous week).
Do I need to go on?
When the ACC announced Thursday morning a noon kickoff time at Heinz Field for the renewal of the Penn State/Pitt rivalry on Sept. 10, some fans were bound to complain. For example:
The requisite sarcasm.
Placing blame on the poor Pirates.
And this one.
Good humor from super Pitt fan @Sta7ic .
A warning
I did like this one.
They’re even blaming Jerry Sandusky
Tailgaters also aren’t happy. As one fan told me, “Who wants to eat steak at 9 o’clock in the morning?”
Let’s make something clear: Pitt fans should be happy ESPN and ABC are even considering putting one of Pitt’s games on TV. It’s great exposure for the program and can set up Pitt for an early appearance in the Top 25, if it can win the game impressively.
College games are played at noon all over the country, and those schools have no trouble filling their stadiums. It’s a traditional start time, and makes sense for the participants, fans (most of them) and people watching at home. Newspaper people love it, too, because games end way before deadline, but nobody ever asked for my opinion.
The Pirates aren’t going to trade places and start their game down the street at PNC Park at noon so Pitt can play at 7. It’s too much of a dramatic shift for their fans, and just unrealistic to expect it. And who said the networks even want Penn State/Pitt in prime time?
Noon is perfect for college football. If you don’t like it, adjust. That’s life.

Coach Pat Narduzzi met with reporters Thursday night at the Pitt script unveiling at Petersen Events Center. It was a night of celebration for a long overdue return of the script logo, and it was good to see some fans there who you normally only connect with on social media.
Narduzzi is pleased with his new uniforms, of course. He helped design them, after all. He would have liked to change them before last season, but as a rookie coach he had to wait a year.
He did offer his thoughts on the satellite camp controversy currently circulating throughout college football.
Narduzzi has been on record opposing the camps, just like most of the coaches in the ACC and SEC. But now that the NCAA has reversed its ban and allowed them to exist, Narduzzi believes he has no choice but to embrace the concept (if only with a half-hearted hug) to keep up with everyone else. To ignore them could be a recruiting disaster.
He said he will have some specifics about Pitt’s participation in the camps later this spring, but he did say his entire staff will participate. How many and where is yet to be announced.
“I’m still against it,” Narduzzi said. “But I’m not going to sit home and twiddle my thumbs. I don’t think it’s good for the game. I don’t think it’s good for the coaches. I don’t think it’s good for our kids.
“I’d like to be around our guys. It takes us away from our kids. Eventually, it will be get phased out.”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
 
Other blogs
Sports:Steel Mill | Chipped Ice | Bucco Blog | iPreps | Pitt Locker Room | Penn State Sports
News: Backstory | Doug Oster on Gardening | Off-Road Politics | Flowback | ICycle  


» Top TribLIVE.com Sports
» Top TribLIVE.com News
» Top TribLIVE.com Breaking News