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August 11, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Collecting our thoughts after three days of Pitt training camp

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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.”

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July 20, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Off to Charlotte and #ACCkickoff

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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.

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May 19, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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

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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.”

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May 16, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Is Pitt nine points better than Penn State?

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Las Vegas bookmakers caused a bit of a stir last week when a betting line emerged for the Penn State/Pitt game. What do you know? Pitt is a nine-point favorite.
If that sounds a bit generous for those folks who want to put a dollar or two on Penn State, can’t say that I disagree.
I’m a bit perplexed because the line is designed to get equal money on both sides. I can see taking the nine and betting Penn State. But giving the nine an expecting Pitt to cover in its first FBS game without Tyler Boyd … I don’t know.
But I understand the thinking behind the number.
First, the game is at Heinz Field. Pitt was only 3-3 there last year, but the home field is still considered about a three-point advantage.
Add another couple of points for Pitt’s edge with a returning quarterback. Nate Peterman enjoyed some success last year while Trace McSorley was merely a backup to Christian Hackenberg.
But those two factors don’t account for nine points. I believe the Vegas perception of fans’ perception of Pitt and Penn State is that there is more trust and belief in what coach Pat Narduzzi is doing at Pitt than what James Franklin has done in his first two years.
And that’s not to minimize what Franklin has done and is doing in recruiting. Pitt assembled a fine recruiting class in 2016 — 31st in the nation, its best in eight years, according to Rivals.com rankings — but Penn State was better at No. 24. And Franklin is off to a good start for 2017, with eight verbals, compared to three for Pitt.
But that is largely paper perception. Victories and defeats matter and Franklin has put together back-to-back 7-6 seasons while Narduzzi was 8-5 in his first year.
It will be interesting to watch the nine-point line as the calendar approaches Sept. 10. So much can change over the summer that the line is certain to fluctuate.
I think Pitt can beat Penn State (and with several more difficult games on the schedule, it’s almost a must win for the Panthers), but will it be by a margin of a touchdown and a field goal?
That’s why they call it gambling.
One more note: I appeared with Josh Taylor on TribLive Radio last week, filling in (trying to) for Chris Peak. Those are some big shoes to fill. Josh and I discussed James Conner’s recovery, Chad Voytik’s new home and more. Give a listen.

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May 5, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Robinson’s Orange Arrow aims to point youth in the right direction

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Shawn Robinson was once one of the best cornerbacks in the Big East.
He set and still holds the Pitt record for pass breakups in a season (18, 2000). He returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown in a 38-13 victory against Oregon State in the 2002 Insight Bowl. Not only was it the first punt returned for a touchdown in Pitt’s bowl history, but it was the school’s most decisive post-season victory in nearly 40 years.
Some of the details of Robinson’s Pitt career escape him, but he remembers vividly the day recently when a 12-year-old boy walked up to him and said, “I’m a gentleman now. I open doors for ladies.”
Those are the type of life lessons Robinson teaches — and directs others to teach — as founder and president of Orange Arrow, a non-profit organization with a $250,000 budget that tries to lead young student-athletes (ages 10-13) toward off-the-field success.
Robinson, who founded Orange Arrow in 2013, said his group has coached almost 200 boys at several locations in the Pittsburgh area, including Wilkinsburg, McKees Rocks, Shadyside, Garfield and Regent Square. The skills taught range from “how to tie a tie to how to treat a lady,” he said.
Among Robinson’s points of emphasis to student-athletes are these sobering statistics from the NCAA:
Only 3.4 percent and 6.5 percent of high school basketball and football players, respectively, continue their playing careers in college. The NBA and NFL percentages are 1.2 and 1.6.
Among those who help spread the word through sports-themed programs and instruction are several Pitt football players, including Mike Caprara, Ryan Lewis, Jordan Whitehead, Avonte Maddox and Darryl Render.
The services are free, thanks to gifts from the Heinz Endowments and sponsorships from UPMC and Highmark. Former Woodland Hills and NFL player Lousaka Polite, who played with Robinson at Pitt, also has made a personal donation, Robinson said.
As part of its fund-raising efforts, Orange Arrow will hold a black-tie ball Sept. 9 — the night before the Pitt/Penn State game at Heinz Field — at Auto Palace Porsche on Baum Boulevard. Former players from both teams are expected to attend.
For more information, you can contact Robinson at info@orangearrow.org.

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April 19, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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One more look at Pitt’s spring drills

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Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi officially put a cap on spring drills Tuesday when players gathered on the South Side for lunch:
Steak and lobster for the winners (the Blue defeated the Gold, 19-17).
Franks and beans for the losers.
Meanwhile, I appeared on TribLive Radio with Tim Benz and Josh Taylor and offered this possibility for the Pitt season: The Panthers could have a better team, but with an inferior regular-season record to last season’s 8-4.
Road games against Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Miami and Clemson give Pitt, perhaps, the most difficult schedule in the ACC.
If Pitt loses all four, it must do no worse than 8-0 in its other games to reach 8-4. That’s still a good season because it would include victories against Villanova, Penn State, Marshall, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Duke and Syracuse.
But if Pitt manages to win two of its four most difficult games and takes care of business against the others, you’re talking about the first double-digit victory total in the regular season in more than three decades (1981).
Let me know what you think. Tweet your predicted victory total to @JDiPaola_Trib.
The day of the spring game, I presented questions that need answered at every position. Here are the questions and how they were answered:
Quarterback
Finding a backup is important, but the more pressing need is to ensure senior starter Nathan Peterman takes the next step in his development: Throw deeper, maintain accuracy, spread passes to people not named Tyler Boyd, including those who play running back and tight end.
SATURDAY’S RESULT: Peterman completed 11 of 22 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns. He played much better in the second half.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: If Peterman develops some rhythm with Dontez Ford, Jester Weah and Quadree Henderson, the passing game will perform better than most people expect.
Running back
Quick-learning freshman Chawntez Moss has turned into a nice story, but what about the veterans?
Narduzzi initially will lean on Qadree Ollison, Darrin Hall and Rachid Ibrahim. If James Conner returns and runs with the same power and passion he displayed two years ago, the four others become backups. In any case, the running game has a chance to be Pitt’s biggest asset.
SATURDAY’S RESULT: Moss carried only seven times for 28 yards and Hall and Ollison combined for 29 attempts. Overall, the running game was a disappointment (83 yards from four running backs).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Don’t forget about James Conner, whose recovery from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is going well.
Wide receiver
Pitt’s offense could become imbalanced if the Panthers feel the loss of Boyd too acutely. Injuries this spring to Dontez Ford and Zach Challingsworth didn’t help, but they are expected to recover.
If Ford plays Saturday — he still is an uncertainty — he can make an impact. He’s smart and athletic, a combination coaches love.

SATURDAY’S RESULT: Ford had a good day, especially considering he missed most of the 14 previous practices with a leg injury — four catches, 55 yards.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: I get the feeling Ford will have a big season, enough that opposing defenses will need to know where he is at all times, thus, opening up lanes for the running game.
Tight end
Short on numbers, this position will go as far as senior Scott Orndoff can carry it and offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s play-calling allows.
Orndoff knows how to find the goal line. More than one-third of his receptions have been touchdowns.
SATURDAY’S RESULT: Orndoff had a touchdown and a 20-yard reception among his three catches.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Orndoff will compile more receptions, yards and touchdowns than former tight end J.P. Holtz did in any season (somewhere north of 23 receptions, 209 yards and four touchdowns).
Offensive line
Assistant coach John Peterson has as many as seven players he can call on without losing sleep, and the left side with seniors Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson might be the best in the ACC.
Center? Alex Bookser manned it in the spring, but Alex Officer could grab it back when his injury heals. Both can play right guard, too, and John Guy will be there Saturday. Narduzzi believes sophomore right tackle Brian O’Neill can play at the next level.
Where does Jaryd Jones-Smith fit? No. 1 backup at tackle and guard, perhaps, but with experience as a starter.

SATURDAY’S RESULTS: Too many sacks (four) and TFLs (11).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Officer’s recovery will do wonders for this unit’s stability. When Narduzzi settles on five starting offensive linemen, Pitt’s ground game will be just fine. From left, it will look something like this: Tackle Adam Bisnowaty, guard Dorian Johnson, center Alex Bookser or Alex Officer, guard Officer or Bookser and tackle Brian O’Neill
Defensive line
Keep an eye on Bisnowaty at left tackle when he lines up opposite end Dewayne Hendrix. It might be the highlight of the day: Pitt’s best offensive lineman against a potentially destructive pass rusher.
In the fall, it will be interesting to see how opponents block Pitt’s line because Ejuan Price has 16 1⁄2 career sacks at the opposite end. Plus, tackles Tyrique Jarrett at 335 pounds and former end Shakir Soto offer a blend of beef and a burst.
SATURDAY’S RESULT: Bisnowaty and Hendrix had good moments, Hendrix ending up with a sack and two quarterback hurries.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: This could turn out to be a disruptive front four, with more quickness than Pitt opponents have seen in a long time.
Linebacker
Narduzzi can’t list this position as a strength because three players he was counting on — Bam Bradley, Quintin Wirginis and Anthony McKee — didn’t practice due to shoulder injuries.
Mike Caprara and Matt Galambos are solid fixtures, but there’s a spot open at outside linebacker. Any of five players can fill it, which is good for depth, but can any of them become playmakers? Coaches hope they won’t be afraid of the answer.
SATURDAY’S RESULT: Elijah Zeise had a game-high eight tackles and Caprara added seven.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Bradley may be the most athletic linebacker on the team, so look for him to earn a starting job.
Defensive back
There is still a lot to do at cornerback, where Ryan Lewis and Phillipie Motley are competing and freshmen Therran Coleman, Damar Hamlin and Henry Miller won’t be ignored.
SATURDAY’S RESULT: Lewis was one of eight players with a pass breakup.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: One of the freshmen will play well enough to win the open cornerback job.
Special teams
Avonte Maddox, Quadree Henderson and Jordan Whitehead offer big-play potential as returners. Narduzzi has a sense of security with kicker Chris Blewitt and punter Ryan Winslow back for their fourth and third seasons, respectively.
SATURDAY’S RESULT: There were no returns allowed in the game, Blewitt made his only attempt (40 yards) and Winslow averaged 39.4 per punt.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Henderson has a knack for finding holes in the coverage.

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April 13, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Ford’s return, even on a limited basis, is good news for the regular season

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The good news Tuesday from the 13th day of Pitt’s spring drills was that senior wide receiver Dontez Ford was back.
Maybe on a limited basis and maybe not far enough that coaches will feel comfortable allowing him to play in Saturday’s spring game. But the leg injury suffered on the second day of drills a month ago is healing. Besides, if there was a real game Saturday, Fod said there is no doubt he would play.
“For sure, whenever it comes to the fall and it was something like this, I would be out there the same week,” he said. “I could push right through it. Right now, it’s better to be smart about it.”
The fact that Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is handling Ford with care is an indicator that he believes the passing game largely depends on him. No sense risking further injury when there is no opponent to defeat this week.
Ford and Zach Challingsworth are the only Pitt wide receivers who caught a significant number of passes last year, and Ford led the team with an average of 19.4 yards per catch.
Pitt’s aerial game will be one of the most important focal points of the spring game. Pitt needs a balanced attack to maneuver through a difficult schedule. Among the wide receivers, Ford gives the team the best chance to reach that goal.
It’s also important for Ford to get back on the field because that’s the place where he can best fulfill his other role as a team leader.
He said he served as a mentor for younger players as early as last season, his first as a regular starter.
“I’m going to keep on getting into their heads and trying to help them become better wide receivers, which will in turn help myself,” he said.
“You can’t let little mistakes go and sweep them under the rug. You have to call them out whenever they are doing something wrong. At times, they don’t like it, but that’s what’s going to make them better at the end of the day.”
Because of Ford’s injury, first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada hasn’t seen much of Ford on the field. But he likes what he has seen on video from last season.
“He has that ability to be a matchup issue,” Canada said. “He’s got some physicalness to him. He’s not afraid to go in there and put his face on somebody and make some tough catches.”
If you don’t see that Saturday at Heinz Field, it’s because Narduzzi wants to make sure you see it this fall at Heinz Field.
For a closer look at the things Ford can accomplish off the field, here’s a story that shows he hasn’t forgotten his roots.

Five important members of the defense — safeties Jordan Whitehead and Dennis Briggs, linebacker Mike Caprara and ends Ejuan Price and Dewayne Hendrix – wore yellow jerseys Tuesday to protect them from aggravating minor injuries.
Narduzzi said they are expected to play Saturday. “I don’t think that yellow meant anything,” he said. “If you saw (practice), you would say, `Why do we have so many guys in yellow still smacking people?’ It’s kind of an alert (to other players) that, `Hey, I’m not 100 percent.’ ”

A total of 17 players were limited or not practicing Tuesday due to injuries, but Narduzzi said he expects everyone to be recovered in time for camp in August.

Narduzzi will conduct his second spring game draft Wednesday, with seniors picking players for each team.

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April 11, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Conklin talks Pitt defense on TribLive Radio

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Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin is one of the smartest, most candid assistant coaches I’ve run across in my six seasons covering the team, and he didn’t disappoint when he spoke to my good friend and Trib Total Media colleague Chris Peak on Monday on the “Panther Lair Show” on TribLive Radio.
Among Conklin’s biggest concerns is getting production from interior linemen, something he pointed out was missing last season.
“We all know for us to be really successful and dominant, those guys have to be really good,” Conklin told Peak. “I felt like we left some out there. I don’t think (last year’s defensive tackles) were as productive as they needed to be.”
Conklin also said he hopes to “get back to basics” this season, perhaps decreasing quarterback pressure from defenders who may be of better use elsewhere.
“We ran a lot of pressure, really too much pressure (last year), in my opinion,” he said. “We would like to play more base.”
Conklin also didn’t shut the door on using freshmen at tackle and cornerback, although he said tackle even in the ACC (not known for consistently outstanding interior line play) is a “grown man’s game.”
He didn’t name names, but incoming freshmen (still in high school as I write this) such as tackles Keyshon Camp, Amir Watts and Central Catholic’s Rashad Wheeler and cornerbacks Therran Campbell of Brashear, Damar Hamlin of Central Catholic and Henry Miller could find their way onto the field this season.
“Whoever ends up showing up and gets it and is mature mentally,” Conklin said.
Speaking of cornerback, Conklin said coaches are making some schematic changes to ease pressure on those players, who were often in one-on-one matchups with wide receivers. That was a problem, especially in the Notre Dame game when Will Fuller caught seven passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-30 Irish victory.
“We took some heat in terms of leaving those guys matched up with the Fuller kid,” Conklin said.
But stopping the run is always the No. 1 priority in Pitt’s defense.
“If we take safeties off the run game and start double-teaming the receivers, we are picking our poison,” he said. Interesting comment.
I get the feeling senior linebackers Matt Galambos and Mike Caprara (cerebral guys who know the defense nearly as well as the coaches) are among the coaches’ favorite players.
“They aren’t sexy in terms of their look or their explosiveness,” Conklin said, “but they are good, solid players and they can have really, really good years and really, really solid years for us and be productive and do what we need them to do, for sure.”
The outside linebacker position coaches call the star (where Nicholas Grigsby played last year before graduating) could be a problem. Former wide receiver Elijah Zeise is among several young plays competing for playing time there.
“I think Elijah has a chance because he’s athletic,” Conklin said.
But Bam Bradley and Anthony McKee – two linebackers sitting out the spring with shoulder injuries – could end up there by the end of the summer.
The progress Zeise and the others have made this spring will be interesting to watch in the spring game Saturday at Heinz Field.
By the way, I appeared with Ken Laird and Josh Taylor on TribLive Radio, and we talked about many topics — football and basketball. Give a listen.

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April 8, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Holtz works out daily in hopes of hearing his name during NFL Draft

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When he’s not hanging out at the E Town Bar and Grille in Etna (I hear the fish sandwich kills), former Pitt tight end J.P. Holtz is getting ready for the NFL.
He has visited with several teams, including the Browns, Chargers, Bears, Bengals and Saints. Other than that, he’s working out almost every day – often with his former Pitt teammates at the South Side facility.
“It gets boring sometimes,” Holtz said Friday during an appearance on TribLive Radio. “All you do is work out all day. It’s kind of nice, actually.”
Holtz is ranked the 23rd tight end available in the draft, according to NFLDraftScout.com, after catching 81 passes for 931 yards and 11 touchdowns in four years at Pitt where he never missed a game or practice. In his freshman season, he caught three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown in Pitt’s near-upset at Notre Dame.
At 6-foot-3, 238 pounds, he could morph into a run-blocking fullback with the ability to catch short flips.
“I’m a pretty decent blocker,” he said. “I’ll do whatever a team needs me to do. I can do both. I really doesn’t matter to me. I just want to play football.”

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April 5, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Tyler Boyd speaks of the Bengals, Civil War and a lesson learned

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Former Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd showed up on TribLive Radio on Tuesday, saying he’s spending “a little more chill time” in advance of one of the biggest days of his life — the NFL Draft April 28-30.
He seemed more relaxed than he did in any of his three seasons at Pitt, poking good-natured fun at former teammate James Conner, who one-hopped the ceremonial first pitch to Pirates catcher Chris Stewart on Sunday at PNC Park.
“Once I saw him throw a dirt ball, I was a little shaky on him as an athlete,” said Boyd, who was a three-sport athlete at Clairton (baseball and basketball). “The catcher still caught it. Some people get out there and don’t even make it to the catcher.”
Most mock drafts have indicated Boyd will be a second-round draft choice, and that matches projections he received from the NFL before giving up his last year of college eligibility.
He ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in February, but improved three weeks ago at Pitt’s Pro Day to between 4.47 and 4.52, depending on what NFL stopwatch you use.
“That let them know I wasn’t a mediocre guy,” he said.
He said several teams have asked him about his DUI arrest last year, and he said it was a one-and-done transgression.
“I don’t know if they trust me or not, but they have to take my word that I’m not going to do anything like that again,” he said. “My record is clean, besides that.”
When Boyd was asked by TribLive Radio’s Tim Benz about any weird questions the NFL threw at him, he said the Bengals inquired about his knowledge of Civil War history.
“They asked me what year was the battle of something,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting that. If they draft me, I’m going to ask them the same question they asked me to see if they get it right.”
Boyd said he has been in contact with several NFL teams, including the Steelers and coach Mike Tomlin. He said he plans to meet with the Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers in the coming days.
Asked how he would react if he was drafted by the Bengals and became teammates with Steelers antagonists Vontaze Burfict and Pacman Jones, he gave a thoughtful answer.
“Those guys are definite warriors who would help me get better,” he said. “I know I would be hated in Pittsburgh. But, hopefully, I’ll keep the same support here.”
The draft offers no guarantees, and players projected to be picked early often spend a lot of time waiting for their name to be called.
But my pal Joe Butler of Metro Scouting Index, who has watched Boyd since he was a freshman at Clairton, believes he has what it takes.
“Tyler Boyd makes it look easy, snaps ball out of air, always looking up the field, sure fire.”

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