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February 11, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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

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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.

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March 9, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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A college basketball insider’s view of the Dukes, NCAA Tournament and “Rocky” movies (I know this is a Pitt football blog, but let’s see if you can find the Narduzzi reference)

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Tough loss for the Dukes on Wednesday night at PPG Paints Arena. Coach Jim Ferry called it the toughest he’s been involved with since he began his coaching career in 1990.
Well into the second half, with the Dukes beating Saint Louis by as many as 18 points, I was planning my Thursday. I wanted to get everything done in advance of the Dukes’ second-round game against George Washington. Off to the side, Duquesne women’s coach Dan Burt told me he thought the Dukes would win that one, too.
Burt knows his hoops, but it never happened. The victory would have been only Duquesne’s second Atlantic 10 Tournament victory since 2009. More importantly, it would have been a springboard into next season, with four starters returning.
Instead, this season ends with a 10-22 record. Except for the last 24 seconds — where one rebound, one foul shot, one less turnover could have changed everything — the Dukes played better than their record.
Looking for some basketball wisdom, I dialed up CBS Sports Network college basketball insider Jon Rothstein (follow him on Twitter @JonRothstein).
I’m guessing a guy who admits to watching parts of either “Rocky II,” “Rocky III” or “Rocky IV” before going on the air isn’t afraid to swing for the fences. His opinions about Duquesne, the rest of the A-10 Tournament and the upcoming NCAA Tournament are intriguing.
First of all, he said not only does Ferry deserve to keep his job, but he added, “Duquesne should make a commitment to him.”
“There are reasons why Duquesne has had such poor won-lost records. They keep getting rid of coaches every five or six years. You can’t have success that way.”
Didn’t the Trib’s Kevin Gorman write that very thing a few days ago? Yeah, he did.
For the record, I counted up the losing and the coaches: The Dukes haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1977 under John Cinicola. Since then, they have had nine coaches and 27 losing seasons in 40 years.
Ron Everhart never should have been fired, but that’s another story. That’s not a jab at Ferry, who I believe is the right man for the job. He did lure to the Bluff promising freshmen and A-10 All-Rookie team members Mike Lewis II and Isiaha Mike. This is the first time the Dukes have had two freshmen so honored in the same season.
More interesting takes from Rothstein:
— He doesn’t think Dayton coach Archie Miller, a Blackhawk and N.C. State graduate, will take the job at his college alma mater. “Archie is too smart not to acknowledge,” Rothstein said, “that he is in the company of guys who figure out the grass is always greener on the other side until you have to pay the other guy’s water bill.”
His point: Mid-major coaches such as Miller, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and Gonzaga’s Mark Few have good situations at their schools, and don’t need to jump (and haven’t done so) at the first Power 5-type job that comes along.
— Put on the spot, Rothstein picked No. 4 seed Rhode Island — not No. 1 Dayton — to win the Atlantic 10 Tournament that resumes Thursday with four second-round games and concludes at 12:30 p.m. Sunday with the championship game at PPG (and also on Channel 2). Rhode Island is 21-9, but more importantly 11-3 since mid-January.
You can see Rhode Island meet either St. Bonaventure or UMass at 2:30 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals. I wonder if Pat Narduzzi will be there to support his alma mater.
— Rothstein said there is so much parity in college basketball this season that the four presumed No. 1 seeds — North Carolina, Kansas, Villanova and Gonzaga — aren’t locks to advance to the Final Four. Of Kansas, he said: “I have major questions about what the Jayhawks can do defensively up front.”
His pick: Oregon, a team he said has seven starter-caliber players.
“The Ducks have a large number of players who went through the scenario last year. They are older and they have a little bit more firepower than they had last year,” he said.
He added Oregon’s Dillon Brooks “has the gene in his DNA” to carry a team through six games.

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March 8, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt at the NFL Combine: Some guys made themselves some money

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While en route to looking up something else, I came across another in a long line of mock drafts where NFL writers and bloggers try to predict what NFL executives and coaches are thinking.
These things appear almost from the day the NFL draft ends to the moment before the Cleveland Browns make the first pick the following year (most years, right?). Each mock is different than the next.
This one, authored by Matt Miller of Bleacher Report (follow him at @NFLdraftscout), carries significance to me, even though almost two months remain before the big three-day party April 27-29.
Miller writes about the top prospects and predicts all seven rounds, based on workouts at the recently concluded NFL Combine.
I looked up the five Pitt players Miller believes will get drafted. All of them opened some eyes at the Combine. He left tight end Scott Orndoff undrafted, a mistake I’ll address later.
1. Miller predicts quarterback Nathan Peterman will be the first pick of the third round (No. 65) by the Browns, one spot before the 49ers take Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya.
Peterman, 6-2, 226, ran a 4.82 40 at the Combine with a 31-inch vertical leap. North Carolina’s Mitchell (Don’t Call Me Mitch) Trubisky , considered a first-round pick (No. 3 to the Bears), ran faster (4.67) and is 4 pounds lighter on the same-size 6-2 frame. Peterman had a better vertical leap by 3 1/2 inches.
Here is some of what an anonymous NFC director of personnel said about Peterman on NFL.com: “I like him. He made me a believer when I watched him against Clemson. … has to prove he has enough arm to challenge the same tight windows he did in college.”
2. Next among Pitt players on Miller’s list is guard Dorian Johnson , 98th to the Carolina Panthers in the third round. Johnson, 6-5, 300, ran a 5.27 and pushed up 225 pounds 21 times on the bench press. An unidentified NFC South scout, quoted on NFL.com, described Johnson as a “10-year starter.”
Unless I’m missing someone, Johnson will become the first Belle Vernon graduate to play in the NFL since former Pitt offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph. Belle Vernon fans, help me out.
3. Pitt offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty ran a 5.23 with 23 bench presses. Miller projects Bisnowaty, 6-6, 304, going to the Cardinals in the fourth round (120).
Here’s what NFL.com wrote about Bisnowaty: “In a phone booth, Bisnowaty can handle himself with pure brawn and power, but once he’s forced to play in space, his athletic limitations become more pronounced.”
Just to compare: Utah offensive tackle Garett Bolles (first round, No. 20 to the Broncos) ran 4.95 and didn’t lift. His 28-inch vertical was 2 inches short of Johnson’s and 1 1/2 inches short of Bisnowaty.
4. I believe James Conner did himself some good at the Combine, running a 4.65 and recording 20 bench presses — the latter number not that far behind his offensive line teammates.
Conner, 6-1, 233, has trimmed down since the end of the season and maybe his two months of training improved his speed. Miller says Conner will go to the Eagles in the fourth round (139).
NFL.com about Conner: “Arm tackles are a waste of time. Conner’s lack of speed and reactive quickness could limit his role as a pro, but his heart, work ethic and ability to keep the chains moving could make him a red-zone specialist with the ability to handle some third down duties as well.”
Just to compare: Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, who ran a 4.49 with 22 reps on the bench, is projected to go 19th overall to the Buccaneers.
5. Edge rusher Ejuan Price, 5-11, 241, is projected to go in the sixth round (200) to the Colts. He ran a 4.84 with 20 bench reps. NFL.com quoted an NFC scouting director on Price: “He’s got some physical limitations, which will keep him from getting picked early, but I see an NFL rusher.”
NFL.com reported further: “Can be quick to shut motor down if he doesn’t think a tackle is within range. Appeared gassed at times.”
6. OK, what about Orndoff, who ran a 4.84 and did 17 bench presses at the Combine on a 6-5, 253 frame?
An NFC North scout had an interesting observation on NFL.com: “He will get better as a blocker, but he’s as good as what we have now.”
If that’s true, Orndoff will get drafted because, as a downfield receiver, he has shown the ability to split the seam in a defense.

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March 8, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Every victory is good, even this one

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Quick-hit thoughts on Pitt’s 61-59 victory against Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament:
— Georgia Tech is bad. Pitt is better, but just barely.
— If the Yellow Jackets earn an NCAA Tournament berth — coach Josh Pastner thinks his eight ACC victories are enough — someone on the selection committee isn’t paying close enough attention.
— Pitt’s 13 turnovers were nearly twice as many as Georgia Tech committed, a fact coach Kevin Stallings noted after the game. You win a game when you’re that sloppy with the ball only if the other team can’t score (and Georgia Tech missed 40 of 62 shots from the field and six of 17 free throws).
— Pitt won the game with an 11-0 counter-punch in the second half after Georgia Tech had rallied to take a lead.
Cam Johnson’s foul trouble limited him to 26 minutes, four shots and five points. Pitt will need his shooting touch Wednesday night in the second round against Virginia.
— Pitt led, 58-51, with 38 seconds left, but here’s what followed: A foul by Chris Jones, a turnover when Pitt couldn’t inbound the ball and three missed free throws after the Panthers had hit 11 of their first 12. It wasn’t a miraculous or surprising victory, but far short of Pitt’s most impressive of the season.
— Yet, single-digit victories say a lot about the players’ fight (something else Stallings noted after the game).
— Would a victory against Virginia put Pitt in the NIT? My guess is no, but there are a limited number of teams worthy of the post-season. An ugly record of 17-17 might be good enough in this age of everyone getting a ride on the merry-go-round.
— Betcha can’t guess the only other team that failed to score 60 points against Pitt this season … Maryland, the 25th-ranked team in the nation. Pitt won that game by four, its first of three victories against teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 (Florida State and Virginia).

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March 7, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Johnson, Luther may play important roles in Pitt’s 2017-2018 season.

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Tuesday night in Brooklyn, N.Y., Cam Johnson may repeat his ACC Tournament effort of last season when he scored 24 points to help Pitt beat Syracuse.
Pitt might actually beat Georgia Tech in its first-round game. The Yellow Jackets lost by 29 at Syracuse on Saturday and are only 2-4 over the past three weeks.
But no matter what happens to the Panthers in Brooklyn, N.Y., this week (short of an improbable run to the title game), nothing will be as important as coach Kevin Stallings’ recent meetings with Johnson and Ryan Luther.
There is nothing Pitt needs more going into next season than mature leaders with an adult approach to the game. Stallings believes Johnson and Luther will provide it.
“I’m very hopeful of Cam’s and Ryan’s abilities to lead this program going forward,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we’ve already begun conversations about that.
“Both of them have some of what it takes to lead this program in a good way. It will require some work from all of us because I don’t think they have been in a role of having a strong voice, but they’re going to need to have a strong voice.”
Johnson used his big game against Syracuse last year to springboard into his first season as a regular starter when he averaged 11.8 points per game and led the team with 74 successful 3-point shots (2.4 per game, eighth in the ACC).
When I asked Johnson, who will be a junior in 2017-2018, if he was ready to be a leader, he sounded insulted.
“Of course,” he said. “I’m ready to be a leader this season, next season, whenever we need it.”
That’s good because upperclassmen leadership, something that helped carry the Pitt football team last season, is lacking in basketball.
Luther, who will be the only senior with extensive experience next year, also could point the way for what will be a young team. Stallings has seven new players who have committed to enroll next school year.
Luther led the team in shooting percentage (54.5), an indication of a smart player who is willing to sacrifice stats for the team. Luther averaged only 4.3 shots per game.
“You want your best players to be leaders, you want your oldest guys to be leaders,” Stallings said. “The way (Johnson and Luther) handle their business on and off the court, they will be in a position to impact the other guys on the team in a positive way.”

Sheldon Jeter was caught looking past Georgia Tech when he saw how the ACC Tournament bracket developed for the Panthers.
The way he sees it, Pitt could be matched through the quarterfinals with three teams it can beat or has defeated — Georgia Tech, Virginia and Notre Dame.
“Georgia Tech, we let them off the hook,” he said of a 61-52 loss in Atlanta last week in which Pitt led at halftime.
(He has a point: Georgia Tech has scored 70 points only once in its past 10 ACC games. I’m not counting a 96-58 victory against Division II Tusculum that coach Josh Pastner shamelessly scheduled just to get an easy victory.)
“Notre Dame, we really let them off the hook (in a 78-77 overtime loss on New Year’s Eve),” Jeter said. “We blew two five-point leads in overtime and regulation.
“With Virginia (last Saturday), we just didn’t have people take care of business and it affected us on the court.”
Jeter was referring to Michael Young and Jamel Artis getting punished and benched for the first 10 minutes of the 67-42 loss. Pitt defeated Virginia at the Pete on Jan. 4, 88-76, in overtime.
Pitt lost to those teams for a reason, but give Jeter credit for setting lofty goals. It was poet Robert Browning who wrote, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.” (Couldn’t resist the reference.)
But Pitt hasn’t won more than two in a row since December when it won five against Buffalo, Penn State, Rice, Omaha and Marshall. It will be a bit different in Brooklyn for a team whose point total fell from 80 against Florida State and Syracuse to 63, 59, 67, 52 and 42.
No matter, Jeter said. “It’s a chance for us to show if we have some pride or not. I know one thing, I’m ready and I’m not going up there to lose, either.”

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March 6, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Don’t blame only Stallings for Pitt’s season — three players let him down.

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Michael Young and Jamel Artis are two of the most productive players in Pitt basketball history, and they received appropriate accolades Sunday.
Young was named to the All-ACC second team by 50 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association; third team by a panel of 60 people, including all 15 conference coaches. Artis was honorable mention on both teams.
But it was just a bit strange to hear good news about Young and Artis on Sunday night after the Saturday disaster in which coach Kevin Stallings held them out of the first 10 minutes of the 67-42 loss to Virginia for being 10 minutes late to a team meeting.
It looked even worse when paired with the Friday dismissal of freshman guard Justice Kithcart the previous day.
Players who are late for meetings show disrespect for rules and the man who writes the rules, the head coach. Seniors who have been in the program since 2013 know better. Unless they’ve forgotten — or don’t care — what it means to be part of a team.
Pitt had two extended losing streaks during the ACC season — eight games from Jan. 7-Feb. 4 and four from Feb. 22-March 4. It could reach five Tuesday when Pitt (15-16) plays Georgia Tech in the first round of the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y.
This is the worst Pitt season since 1999-2000 (13-15) when Ben Howland was trying to rebuild the program. Stallings had four seniors returning from an NCAA Tournament team. Pitt should not have fallen off this far.
Stallings, a smart coach and a good guy, never clicked with his first Pitt team, even though he allowed his players the offensive freedom Jamie Dixon never permitted. His roster was deficient in many areas (not his fault), but there is plenty of blame to lower on his shoulders for his inability to push his players to overcome adversity.
In the end, three players let him down.
Young is seventh all-time in scoring at Pitt with 1,804 points. Artis is 11th at 1,667. That shows commitment and durability. But their actions before the Virginia game indicate they lost interest in the season Saturday (or perhaps before that).
Kithcart never met the high expectations put on him while he was being recruited. Stallings trusted Kithcart only enough to use him an average of 13.3 minutes game. Pitt needed much more.
No one wants to push the reset button more than Stallings, who has seven commitments from the Class of 2017, including local product Troy Simons, who comes from the same Hill District neighborhood that sent two all-time great players to Pitt: Sam Clancy and DeJuan Blair.
The 2017-2018 Pitt team will have Stallings’ stamp on it. The one playing Georgia Tech on Tuesday night does not.

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March 1, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt looks just as bad on TV as it does in person

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FROM THE CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP MAN CAVE — Whether you’re watching on TV or in the flesh at the Pete, Pitt’s problems are the same:
No guiding force at point guard.
No big man in the paint.
No help off the bench.
No ability to rally late in the game.
Pitt added another liability Tuesday night in its 61-52 loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta: No scoring punch.
With Georgia Tech up by only 54-52 and 2:55 left, Pitt went scoreless. That’s similar to how the latter stage of this season has developed: With an NCAA Tournament bid at stake, Pitt lost four of its past five games.
Ryan Luther returned to the lineup for the first time in more than a month (broken bone in his foot), but he scored only one point off the bench. Of Pitt’s 52 points — the third-worst offensive output of the season — 41 came from Michael Young (16), Cam Johnson (13) and Jamel Artis (12).
Pitt had no answer for Georgia Tech’s 6-foot-10 center Ben Lammers, who scored 15 of his 20 points after halftime. He’s bigger than every Pitt player, but hardly an immovable force. Yet, he looked that way against Pitt.
On his radio show after the game on KDKA-FM, coach Kevin Stallings gave another honest assessment, noting Pitt missed several open shots and suffered some untimely defensive breakdowns. He said his players played hard, but not always well.
Later, speaking to reporters, Stallings said his team at times lacks “coachabililty.”
“We’ve got some guys trying really hard, but we need to do a better job of doing what we’re told,” he said.

Georgia Tech was playing for a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament in coach Josh Pastner’s first season. Pitt was trying to avoid its first losing season in 17 years, also under a first-year coach.
If the final score is a good indicator (and it usually is), Georgia Tech’s motivation was a bit stronger.
It’s difficult to accurately gauge a team’s effort from TV, but Pitt clearly played harder and better last week in its loss to Wake Forest.
The loss drops Pitt to 15-15 (4-13 in the ACC) and in a tie for 14th place in the conference with N.C. State, a team that already has fired its coach. Pitt concludes the regular season Saturday at Virginia, with the Wahoos coming off a big victory Monday night against North Carolina.
If Pitt finishes 14th, it will play a first-round ACC Tournament game Tuesday against No. 11 (either Wake Forest or Georgia Tech).
The strength of the ACC isn’t the only reason Pitt is losing. The Panthers are 2-7 against ranked ACC teams; 2-6 when the opponent is unranked.
If Pitt loses to Virginia, only back-to-back victories in the tournament will save the Panthers from a losing season.
The most recent Pitt losing season was 1999-2000 — Ben Howland’s first — but he inherited a team from Ralph Willard that was 25-32 in the previous two seasons.
Jamie Dixon left Stallings four experienced seniors from an NCAA Tournament team. The falloff was supposed to occur next year when Young, Artis, Sheldon Jeter and Chris Jones were gone.
Now the question is: How long until the replacements and new recruits develop?
Stallings deserves a chance to make this right, but it’s a task that could stretch to the doorstep of the next decade.

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February 28, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt sends six representatives to NFL Combine

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The NFL Combine, a holiday for draftniks like me, started Tuesday in Indianapolis, and Pitt is represented by six players — more than the school has sent there in anyone’s memory.
Only 14 schools nationwide (five from the ACC) are sending more than six, led by Michigan’s 14. National champion Clemson leads the ACC with nine.
Among schools that didn’t finish in the AP Top 25, Pitt is sending the third-most, behind Texas A&M and North Carolina. The SEC leads all conferences with 66. The ACC is second with 60.
There’s been some early speculation that James Conner won’t be a drafted especially early. (Running backs have been devalued overall by the NFL in recent years.)
In Conner’s case, much will depend on how well he runs the 40-yard dash at Indy — running backs go Friday — but the interview portion of the week-long Combine should increase Conner’s draft stock. He’s well-spoken, respectful and smart — intangibles that matter to NFL executives.
He’s also unafraid of hard work, a character trait that might get Conner onto the field early in his career

The NFL is notorious for asking silly questions that are supposed to help reveal a player’s psychological makeup. Former Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman, exposed to some of those questions at the Senior Bowl, said he was asked if preferred dogs or cats.
“Dogs all the way,” Peterman said.

By the way, there will be 13 Pitt players working out for NFL scouts at the school’s annual Pro Day March 22. The list: Conner, Peterman, Adam Bisnowaty, Chris Blewitt, Bam Bradley, Matt Galambos, Tyrique Jarrett, Dorian Johnson, Ryan Lewis, Scott Orndoff, Ejuan Price, Shakir Soto and Terrish Webb. Conner, Bisnowaty, Johnson, Orndoff, Peterman and Price are at the Combine.
Perhaps it’s only me, but it’s interesting that seven of the 13 played in the WPIAL or City League.

The first of 15 spring drills at Pitt will be March 16 and the annual spring game at Heinz Field is April 15.

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February 26, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Forty years ago, Pitt won only one conference game — and here’s how it happened

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Like the historic 55-point loss to Louisville earlier this season, Pitt’s game against North Carolina sent me to the record books.
Pitt lost, 85-67, looking nothing like the team that upset Florida State the week before at the Pete. There’s a reason for that. North Carolina is better than Florida State and probably every team in the ACC. Maybe every team in the nation, but March Madness will sort that out.
Pitt’s season has been reduced to fans trying to figure out if the Panthers will be a 12, 13 or 14 seed in the ACC Tournament next week.
Sitting only one game over .500 and with at least three left, Pitt (15-14, 4-12) could suffer its first losing season since the 1999-2000 team (Ben Howland’s first) was 13-15 and 5-11 in the Big East.
A look at the year-by-year records shows that Pitt hasn’t won fewer than five games in its league in 40 years. Pitt did win only five games seven times in those four decades, most recently 2011-2012 under Jamie Dixon.
But Pitt’s worst performance in a conference occurred during the 1976-77 season, the first after 34 years of basketball independence. Coached by Tim Grgurich, in his second season as successor to the legendary Buzz Ridl, Pitt was 6-21 and 1-9 in the Eastern Collegiate Basketball League, which was labeled the East Indies by Pittsburgh Press sports writer John Clayton (yes, the same one). Later, the ECBL was renamed the Eastern 8 and became the Atlantic 10.
Trying to get my facts right, I called Pitt historian and author Sam Sciullo Jr., who actually worked for the Eastern 8 after graduating from Pitt. Its office was in Foster Plaza in Green Tree.
Pitt’s only league victory was against Duquesne, 64-56, at the Civic Arena — the third game that season between the city rivals.
Duquesne won the first two. The third was Duquesne and later NBA star Norm Nixon’s last collegiate game in Pittsburgh, and he scored only eight points.
Sciullo sent me a yellowed copy of Clayton’s account of that game in which he writes that Pitt retreated into a four-corner offense with 3:34 left to preserve its two-point lead (pre-shot clock). David Washington, a poor foul shooter, hit six of seven in the final minute.
Another example of how the game has changed appeared in veteran sportwriter Marino Parascenzo’s story (another yellowed copy, by the way).
Parascenzo, one of the best story tellers in the business (via written or spoken word), described a collision between Pitt’s Sonny Lewis (a state champion at Schenley and later a Hall of Famer at Point Park) and Duquesne’s Lonnie McClain. Official Joe Gruber called it a charge against Lewis; official Jack Brain called blocking on McClain.
There were only two officials at the time (three today), so they decided possession with a jump ball between Pitt’s and Baldwin’s Ed Scheuermann and Duquesne’s and Oliver’s Rich Cotten. Scheuermann won the tip and Pitt went on to win.
The next year, Pitt recruited Sam Clancy from Brashear and won 16 games. Clancy is now coordinator of Pitt’s Varsity Letter Club
That game was Pitt’s lone highlight of ’76-77 season. A week later, it was eliminated from the ECBL Tournament by West Virginia, 66-54. The Mountaineers were led by senior Bob Huggins.
Earlier that season, Sciullo said, Pitt lost to WVU at Fitzgerald Field House, 100-91. The game was played four days after Pitt beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to claim the national championship in football, and WVU fans held up a sign at the basketball game that proclaimed, “Dorsett Takes Pay Cut, Turns Pro.”
What became of Duquesne that year? The Dukes took a losing record into the ECBL Tournament, won three games and earned an NCAA Tournament berth. They’ve never returned.

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February 24, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Young, Artis climbing Pitt scoring chart

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With at least four games left in the season, including one in the ACC Tournament, Michael Young and Jamel Artis are approaching two Pitt legends on the school’s all-time scoring list.
Young, who leads the ACC in scoring at 20.4 points per game, needs 85 to move past Don Hennon and into fifth place. Artis, who is third at 19.3, needs 98 to pass Billy Knight for 10th place. They are currently seventh and 13th.
Young, a Duquesne native, said he would like to be remembered as a legend, but he said that’s a distinction not earned easily.
“To be considered a Pitt legend or a Pitt all-time great, I think you have to win something,” he said. “I don’t think I ever really won anything to solidify that.”
Pitt has won 81 games in Young’s four seasons as a starter, but only one in the NCAA Tournament. An upset victory Saturday against No. 8 North Carolina won’t turn Young into a legend, but it will erase some of the distress left over from the Virginia Tech and Wake Forest defeats.

While talking to reporters Friday, coach Kevin Stallings said Pitt is his third job in which he inherited a team with a large senior group.
“I’ve had it go different ways to where you felt like you had to rewire the whole thing after the season,” he said. “And, sometimes, you felt like you were able to test some things with that first group that would carry forward.”
Stallings said he expects to do “a lot of rewiring” next season with four senior starters leaving.
In two previous coaching stops at Illinois State and Vanderbilt, Stallings’ teams have improved over the years.
He was 16-11 in 1993-1994 — his first at Illinois State — and went on to build four 20-plus victory teams over the next five years.
He was 19-11 in 1999-2000 — his first at Vanderbilt — and followed that up with eight 20-victory seasons.

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February 23, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Peterman and Gruden will pair up on ESPN

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Anyone who knows me is painfully aware that the NFL Draft is my favorite event of the year.
Jeer, if you must, but covering the draft is a great way to elude yard work for one weekend in the spring.
This year, the draft takes on added significance for Pitt fans, with six Panthers — Nathan Peterman, James Conner, Ejuan Price, Adam Bisnowaty, Dorian Johnson and Scott Orndoff – invited to the NFL Combine that starts Feb. 28 in Indianapolis.
My pal and Steelers beat writer Joe Rutter will be there to chronicle all of the week’s happenings. Follow Joe on the Twitter Machine at @TribJoeRutter.
It’s never too early to write about the draft, and I’ve actually already done so with this story on Peterman’s preparations.
Peterman’s draft stock looks even better now that he has been invited to appear along with six other quarterback prospects on Jon Gruden’s “QB Camp” series on ESPN. The popular segment features Gruden, a Super Bowl-winning coach and NFL and “Monday Night Football” analyst, sitting down with the prospects in the film room, one-on-one, and offering instruction and criticism, plus evaluating their on-field work. The segments are filmed at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.
Quarterbacks invited with Peterman this year are Joshua Dobbs, who won the starting job at Tennessee, prompting Peterman to transfer to Pitt in 2015, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
I wonder if Gruden will ask Watson what he was thinking when he threw that goal-line interception to Pitt linebacker Saleem Brightwell last season.
Watson and Trubisky are projected by ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay to be No. 1 draft picks.
Here are Gruden’s comments on each quarterback (submitted by ESPN):
On Dobbs: “Dobbs is a dual threat. He’s from a no-huddle offense. He can really create plays with his legs. He played some of his best football when the team was behind and when the game was on the line. He brought the Volunteers back to win from double-digit deficits more than any guy in the country. He’s a great kid, very intelligent, and I think he caught peoples’ attention at the Senior Bowl.”
On Kaaya: “Kaaya is interesting. The Hurricanes combine the I-formation with the college spread system, and he’s an accurate passer. He got hit a lot this year, but when he has protection, he can throw the football. He relies on timing and he’s going to be a pocket-passer for someone who really wants to accentuate that.”
On Kizer: “Kizer is an underclassman like a lot of these guys. He has perhaps the biggest arm in this draft. He can really throw the football. Notre Dame had a difficult season and I am a little bit surprised that Kizer is coming out, but he can do some damage with his arm and he has some athleticism.”
On Mahomes: “Another underclassman, Mahomes is the guy who has really popped off the film for me. He’s very athletic – a baseball player. They throw it every single play at Texas Tech. He can get rid of the ball from awkward positions with a lot on it. He’s a gunslinger.”
On Peterman: “Peterman is a transfer from Tennessee. Coach (Pat) Narduzzi at Pitt recruited Kirk Cousins to Michigan State and I heard he compares Peterman to Cousins. He’s a pocket-passer. They run a very creative offense at Pitt and this is the one guy who beat Clemson – and they did it on the road. He’s one of the most improved quarterbacks in the country this year.”
On Trubisky: “Trubisky is a lot more athletic than people think. He can run for first downs and touchdowns. If you look at him on tape, he displays some real courage. He’s stay in the pocket under intense fire and throws strikes. I just wish I had more film of him. He’s had just one year of work, but I am impressed with him.”
On Watson: “Watson has the best resume of anyone. He has an unbelievable amount of production and an impressive record – 32 wins in three years as a starter. He shredded some of the best teams in the country. He’s a dual threat with loads of intangibles. I am really looking forward to working with him to see how he spins it.”
On the overall 2017 QB Camp class: “There’s some unknowns this year, but this class starts with Deshaun Watson. His body of work is as impressive as any quarterback we’ve had come through QB Camp. I got the chance to see him live and I think he has a ton of ability. There are some underclassmen coming out who have questions that need to be answered. That’s why this process is exciting. But three or four years from now, I expect people will be saying this is a pretty good quarterback class.”
Gruden camp graduates include Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Derek Carr and Dak Prescott.
New episodes of “QB Camp” begin April 11.
Here is some Pitt/draft trivia:
— Only two Pitt quarterbacks since Dan Marino in 1983 have been drafted (Tom Savage, 2014, and Alex Van Pelt, 1993). Van Pelt is the only NFL quarterback Pitt recruited out of high school. Savage was a transfer.
— If all six Pitt players are drafted this year, it will be the most since 2004 (Larry Fitzgerald, Shawntae Spencer, Kris Wilson, Claude Harriott, Andy Lee and Brandon Miree).
— The record is 12 in 1981. The draft was 12 rounds that year, but only quarterback Rick Trocano (11th round, Steelers) was selected after the fifth round, led by No. 1s Hugh Green, Randy McMillan and Mark May.

When Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi opens spring drills March 16, he’ll have two familiar faces working with him after naming James Patton and Tim Cooper offensive and defensive quality control assistants on Thursday.
Coaches love working with old pals, but Patton and Cooper also have extensive experience in college football.
Patton has been tight ends/fullback coach at Indiana the past three seasons. He was with Narduzzi at Rhode Island from 1995-1997.
Cooper has spent the past seven seasons as defensive coordinator/linebackers at Butler University. He was with Narduzzi on coaching staffs at Rhode Island and Miami (Ohio).
Narduzzi had those two openings after Wesley Beschorner left for Rice to be quarterbacks coach and former Pitt safety Eric Thatcher went to Florida International to be defensive backs coach. Thatcher, who was hired by FIU in December, was a graduate assistant at Pitt in 2010 and has been with Narduzzi the past two seasons.

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