February 23, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola
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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.