Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Views From The Enemy

So with gametime merely two days away, I thought I'd take a look at what they're saying out in Utah:

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham discusses the game in his press conference on Monday. Overall, he seems really confident and it sounds like the Utes will be ready to play.

The Utes offense features a 1,000 yard rusher in senior Eddie Wide. Wide is a true star and he averaged more than five yards per carry on the ground last year. But the receivers are looking to be featured on Thursday as long as sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn does his part:
“We are ready to go,” said senior wideout Shaky Smithson. “We came into camp this year with the attitude that no one can contain us on the outside or going across the middle. We will make any defense that lines up against us pay for underestimating us. As long as Jordan (Wynn) can get us the ball, and he will, we will make plays.”
Whittingham also thinks the receivers will be ready:
“Knowing that we can throw the ball down field to capable, athletic players opens up so many doors for any coach preparing a game plan on the offensive side of the football,” Whittingham said. “Our receivers seem to rise to the occasion every year, I don’t see any reason why this year will be any different.”
Meanwhile, it's understandable for Utah to bring up the 2005 Fiesta Bowl debacle. That's likely the last time many of them have watched Pitt play. Still, it doesn't sound like Whittingham is using that game as any kind of point of reference:
"It's a whole new coaching regime, a whole new program," he said. "There are no similarities with this Pittsburgh team as opposed to the one we played in '05. It's a complete transformation."
He also, correctly, pointed out that this year's Pitt team is much better than that 2004-05 team in that press conference audio link above. I don't blame Utah for mentioning the game. It really helped to catapult them to getting into the conversation as seriously belonging in the BCS. And in a lot of ways, it helped open the door for teams like Boise State and TCU to get serious shots at BCS bowls. If Utah loses that game, no telling how much it affects the influence of voters.

But back to this week's game. Dave Wannstedt is being taken to task (somewhat) for his comment about Tino Sunseri winning a high school state championship:

Wanted to talk to Utah offensive lineman John Cullen about his debut with the Utes and the challenge he in particular faces Thursday. Unfortunately the Utes have him on media lockdown and won't allow him to do interviews.
I was told Monday he was getting too many requests and the coaches want him to focus on the game. During several years of covering Utah, the Utes have made similar bans before with certain players, usually quarterbacks, but not with linemen. Kind of tells you right there what the Utes think of Pitt's defensive line, doesn't it?
Preventing an offensive lineman from speaking to the media? Wow, that's some kind of focus.

Wrapping Up The Q&As

Just as a follow-up to my Q&A with the Utah blog, Block U, Sean has my answers to his questions up on his site.  You can view them here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Obstacles Await

Here we are, three days away from possibly Pitt's most challenging test of the season. The good news for Pitt is that a defeat will not mean all that much in the grand scope of things.  Pitt wants to (and needs to) win the Big East this year and get to a BCS bowl game. This game will have no bearing on that goal.

That said, no one in their right mind should think it's okay to accept a loss.  The game could set the tone for a hugely successful season and really get things off on the right foot. Depending on how some voters see it, it could also put Pitt on the brink of the top ten in the polls.

There are a lot of things in Pitt's way for this first game.

To start, there are injuries - most notably, Ray Graham. Injury reports aren't out yet, but Dave Wannstedt says Graham will play when he addressed the media today:
"From an injury standpoint, we are probably about as healthy as we could expect coming out of a very physical training camp. Greg Romeus is a big topic, and he's been great the last week. Ray Graham is very close; he practiced in team (drills) yesterday and he will be available to play.
That's big news, obviously. Utah's front four is said to be a strength of the defense and it's good to know that when Lewis needs a breather, Graham will be there to provide it. I expect Pitt to run early and often and Graham gives them another home run threat.

Then there's the altitude. Dave Wannstedt apparently thinks the elevation of over 4,500 feet won't matter:
"Every place I've coached for 16 years, we went out (to Denver) the day before, lined up, and played. That's Dallas, Chicago, and Miami. I think all the studies will tell you that if you wanted to make a total adjustment, you have to be out there three days. It takes 72 hours. So even going that extra day like some of the NFL teams do, it doesn't do anything. You go out, you line up, and you play."
They must contend with the thin air of Rice-Eccles Stadium, elevation 4,657 feet. The coaches and players have downplayed the altitude, but it will have some affect, however small.
When the Pitt men's basketball team played in mile high Denver in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, a number of players admitted breathing was noticeably more difficult.
I don't know how much of a difference it will make, but it's got to be at least a small factor. I understand Wannstedt's motivation for trying to downplay it as much as possible, but I do think it's going to count for something.

Combine Utah’s nine-game bowl winning streak with season openers, games after byes and games held on nights other than Saturdays and the Utes have won their past 13 contests when they have more than a week to prepare.
And did I mention this was a road game on a Thursday night no less?

Oh yeah, and don't forget about, you know, the actual game. There's a pretty good team on the other side of the ball - and a unique one:
No. 15 Pitt will try to solve Utah's high-scoring spread offense when the No. 15 Panthers open the season Thursday at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. The Utes run four-receiver sets, power formations, the option and the Wildcat -- and that's just the beginning.
"Everything you think you might see in a year," Bennett said, "we are seeing in the first game."

The Panthers know first-hand how potent Utah's offense can be. Then-coach Urban Meyer's Utes routed Pitt, 35-7, in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2004 season. Back then, the spread offense wasn't as prolific. Today, it is the offense of choice for many programs. Pitt's schedule is dotted with teams that use some version of the spread, including West Virginia and Cincinnati.
Ugh, that 2005 bowl game still makes my head spin.  Seriously, though, that last part is the key. Pitt has seen this type of stuff before and while it won't be the easiest thing in the world to do, against a young quarterback, Pitt has the tools to be successful against that type offense. This year's team is leaps and bounds better than the one Utah lined up against nearly six years ago.
Still, lots of obstacles to get over.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Another Utah Q&A With Block U

Continuing with the Q&A theme, here's a second one - this time with Sean Reynolds of SB Nation's Utah blog, Block U.  Sean provides some more insight into Thursday's game. Thanks to both Sean and Dirk for participating in this week's Q&As.

1. What do you think fans are expecting from the 2010 Utah Utes?

Expectations are generally always high in Salt Lake City. It's been that way since Urban Meyer's first season and hasn't changed over the years. This season isn't much different, though some of us concede the difficulty of the schedule could keep the BCS just out of sight. So I'd wager we're mostly expecting ten or so wins, a top-25 finish and maybe contention for the conference crown. However, TCU has established a fantastic program in Fort Worth and they'll be difficult to stop - even though the game is in Salt Lake this year. I think that point, the fact most our tough games (outside of Notre Dame) come at home, has given us a bit of hope that maybe the team can exceed expectations.

Much of that is because the Utes have won seventeen straight at home and you've got to go all the way back to the start of the 2007 season to find their last home loss (which came a week after the Utes lost their quarterback and running back to injury in the season opener). Since that loss, they've been almost unstoppable at home and we kind of expect that to continue into this year. If Utah wins out at home, their two toughest road contests are at Air Force (the last team to win in Salt Lake) and Notre Dame. Those aren't going to be easy games and certainly could derail any talks of perfection. But before we can even get to that point, the team will still have to beat Pitt. Which won't be easy.

2. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham turned down the Tennessee job earlier this season. Do you think he'll eventually leave Utah in the near future or can you see him sticking around long-term? Is he ever mentioned as a potential head coach at BYU, his alma mater?

I think now that Utah is moving to the Pac-10, it's far more unlikely we'll lose Kyle Whittingham to another program. I guess it's possible he accepts a job with a top-level team, but we'll worry about that when one of those jobs opens up.

As for BYU, no worries there. He had an offer to coach them in 2005 and he turned them down for Utah. BYU fans hate Whittingham now because of that and I see no way they could ever accept him as their head coach. I mean, this is a guy who's been at Utah since 1994. Not many head coaches in college football can say they've been with the same football program for 16 years. 

3. Sophomore QB Jordan Wynn made few mistakes last year as a true freshman. Do you expect him to be at all rattled in the opener? If he is, do you any scenario barring injury where Whittingham would go to senior Terrance Cain?

I think he'd be more rattled if the game were in Pittsburgh. But the fact it's in front of a partisan crowd should help. Plus, it isn't like this will be his first tough game. As Utah's starter, Wynn has gone up against TCU, BYU and Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl. The only average performance there was against, if you can believe it, BYU and many fans suspect that was because he got his bell rung on the first drive of the game and he never really looked the same the rest of the night.

Utah's offense was not the problem against the Frogs. They scored more points (28) on TCU than any other team (though the defense allowed 55, so...) and Wynn, of course, had a break out performance against Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl.

If Wynn does struggle early, he has a great backfield to rely on with Eddie Wide II and Matt Asiata. Those are two backs that could start at most schools and they'll both be sharing time for the Utes. If things still aren't working out and Wynn is playing atrociously, then I would not be surprised if Whittingham brought in Cain. But I don't think that'll happen.

4. With a new QB in Tino Sunseri, I expect a heavy dose of the running game for Pitt in the opener. How do you think Utah's defensive line will respond? And if Pitt decides to go to the air, how is the secondary?

The defensive line is expected to be one of Utah's strongest points on defense. Sealver Siliga and Dave Kruger, whose brother, Paul, was a beast on the defense for Utah's 2008 season, are very talented players who'll make big plays.

Of course, last year Utah had some iffy games with the run defense. Oregon and TCU specifically had no real trouble moving the ball on them and it cost them at least one game (Utah nearly beat the Ducks in Eugene). Whether that consistency issue is at play in 2010, no one knows. But the line is good. We just hope they're consistently good.

Now as for the secondary, that's the question mark for this year's Utes. They replace a lot of talent there, albeit with some very athletic and quick guys. Kyle Whittingham has made it his mission to turn Utah's defense into a very fast and athletic one and you're going to see that in the secondary. But since it's raw at times, they probably aren't at the level where they can overwhelm in games. Not yet, anyway. But against a team breaking in a new quarterback, who has to do it on the road, I think the Utes are well positioned here.

5. How do you see Thursday's game shaping up?
The worst thing about the first game of the season is not knowing what to expect. You can only go off last year's results and even then, for both teams, a lot has changed. But because it is the first game and rarely do you have a flawless performance that early from either team, I think we'll see a tight contest that comes down to the fourth quarter. With the game being played in Salt Lake City, I've got to go with the Utes. I say they enter the fourth up 28-21 and win the game 35-24.

Prepping for Utah Week

It's about time - the moment we've been waiting for since Pitt wrapped up a ten-win season. The Utah game. If Pitt wins, they continue the momentum they've built up since beating North Carolina in the Car Care Bowl. Lose, and while the season will be far from over, Pitt will need to go back to the drawing board.

So with that said, we've got a great guest to kick off this year's Q&As - Dirk Facer, a sports writer for the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, who covers Utes football for the newspaper. Be sure to check out some of his excellent work for the full lowdown on Utah.

Dirk provided some answers to my questions below:

1. Freshman QB Jordan Wynn looked really sharp last year after taking over as the starter. How did he look in camp this Fall?

A: Wynn has picked up where he left off in last year’s Poinsettia Bowl victory over Cal, netting MVP honors by completing 26-of-36 passes for a career-high 338 passes and three touchdowns. Confidence is the big thing. Instead of competing for the job like he did last fall, Wynn entered camp as the designated starter and has embraced the role — leading the first unit throughout.

2. How did senior QB Terrance Cain take last year's demotion despite leading the team to a 7-1 start?

A: While acknowledging it was tough at first, Cain accepted the change and has been pushing Wynn ever since. Cain had a fantastic camp, working mostly with the twos, and may see action in specific packages as the backup. Cain and Wynn have remained friends throughout the competition.

3. With the departure of star WR David Reed and the return of 1,000 yard rusher Eddie Wide, do you expect to see Utah run the ball a little more than usual in the opener or will they look to test Pitt's unproven secondary?

A: The Utes certainly have strength in the backfield with Wide and fellow senior running back Matt Asiata, who led the team in rushing in 2008 and was setting the pace again last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury, back in the fold. Senior Jereme Brooks headlines a deep, but relatively inexperienced receiving corps. Utah will likely run the ball quite a bit, but has the weapons to throw it often as well.

4. Where are some of the weaknesses on Utah's defense that Pitt might be able to exploit?

A: The Utes have consistently been able to reload on defense over the years. However, this season’s squad features three new starting linebackers and new starters at both safety spots and one of the cornerback positions. Pitt is expected to challenge the newcomers. The Utes, however, counter with an aggressive defensive front.

5. How do you see the Utah vs. Pitt game shaping up on Thursday?

A: It certainly is shaping up as a much better matchup than the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. The main question in this meeting involves Utah’s ability to slow Pitt’s ground game. Another thing to watch is how the Panthers handle the travel to altitude and a hostile environment. The Utes have won 13 consecutive games when coach Kyle Whittingham has eight or more days to prepare for an opponent.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Jason Pinkston and Greg Romeus Up For Rotary Lombardi Award

OL Jason Pinkston and DE Greg Romeus have both been named to the 2010 watch list for the Rotary Lombardi Award. The award is given annually to college football's top down lineman or linebacker.

Last year Ndamukong Suh won the award.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dave Wannstedt Fooling No One

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt wouldn't commit to it, but Phil Bennett confirmed what most of us knew - that Aaron Donald will not redshirt this year:
"He's going to play," Bennett said. "Greg [Gattuso] will tell you that he's right in the mix."
As I mentioned yesterday, I didn't think there was any way Donald wouldn't play after all the praise he received from Wannstedt during training camp. Still, it was good to hear it confirmed and Bennett apparently didn't care that Wannstedt wouldn't confirm it or, less likely, didn't know. Either way, the 'secret' is out.

In other notes from Paul Zeise's awesome PG blog, Greg Romeus is back in a big way, the weakside linebacker spot has not yet been claimed, and more. Excellent read worth the look anytime he has a post.

This Just In: Pitt's Tickets Still Low

We all knew Pitt's football tickets were low, but this low?

According to a report by ticketing site SeatGeek, Pitt not only has low tickets, but the lowest of all teams in the Top 25.

At an average ticket price of $65.43, Pitt has lower tickets than teams such as Georgia Tech, TCU, Oregon, and, well, everyone else.  It's no secret that Pitt has been trying to pack the stadium by offering bargain basement pricing. Heck, parking passes cost almost as much as some of the lowest-level seats.

Selling thousands and thousands of seats at under $20.00 per game will lower the overall price considerably, but this is another example of how far back Pitt is in the fan interest game.  I think that competing with three pro teams has a lot to do with it - four if you count Pitt basketball, which sells out regularly.  Take a look at the other teams on the list and see how many have even one pro team in the same town.  But the bottom line is that Pitt needs to have more success to sell out games, and ultimately, raise ticket prices.

Pitt Adds University Of Delaware To Schedule In 2014

Pitt lost NFL QB Joe Flacco to Delaware so it's only fitting there's some payback lined up. Okay, so they had a pretty good QB in front of him in Tyler Palko, but the whole retribution thing sounds kinda cool.

At any rate, Pitt will host Delaware for two games beginning in 2014. The article doesn't mention if the second game will be in 2015, but both games will be at Heinz Field.

Seriously, though. Delaware is one of the best I-AA teams around and played for the championship the last two seasons.  They also beat Navy two times in the past seven years, most recently in 2007.  Still, if Pitt struggles with Delaware, it won't be a good sign of things to come.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dion Lewis Highlights Doak Walker List

To the surprise of no one, Dion Lewis made the cut for the Doak Walker Award watch list.  The full list has 49 candidates and the winner will be selected on December 9th.

Click here for the full list.

Freshmen Deliberations

We all know K'Wuan Williams is going to see time on the field. But we all figured Penn Hills star Aaron Donald was going to as well. There were glowing reviews all Fall, including this one:
"I'm going to have to change Mick Williams jersey, because to this point the Mick Williams of this training camp has been Aaron Donald. The guy has been in the backfield more than any player on our defensive line the whole camp. I will be real curious to see if he can keep that up. If he continues to perform and do what he's doing, we'll see if we can mix him in with some of the older guys in live scrimmage. He's off to a fast start."
"I'm going to change his number to 95. I told him no more 59; I think I called him Mick (Williams) three times today.
But then there was this nugget out there today:
Of the two, what to do with Donald, a Penn Hills High School graduate, shapes up as a tougher decision.

He has been dominant throughout preseason practices in nearly every situation against nearly anybody who lined up against him.

But Wannstedt is hesitant to commit to Donald because the Panthers have three veteran defensive tackles ready to play and a couple others who have played well enough to show they can be productive.
"Donald is a possibility, Clemmings is a possibility," Wannstedt said. "[Donald] is a playmaker, he is kind of a mini-Mick [Williams, who starred at defensive tackle last season]. We'll see, but [once a freshman plays] there is no turning back. You don't want to waste a year because, once you play a kid, now you are trying to force him into the lineup.
"That decision [on Donald] has not been made yet; he's getting reps, he is getting prepared to play, we'll see how it plays out."
How does one go from the next Mick Williams to merely a possibility for playing time? Welcome to the world of spin.

Wannstedt seemed to back off of hyping Donald up too much, but I don't see how they keep him off the field based on the earlier assessments. The other side of the argument is that Wannstedt took a great deal of credit when he burned through Bostick's redshirt during his second season in 2008. That turned out to be a non-factor as he redshirted last year instead, but the move perhaps made him think twice about playing kids who might not see a lot of action. Wannstedt obviously wants to get a lot of usage out of Donald if he decides to play him this season as there'd really be no going back as was in the case of Bostick.

My prediction? He goes ahead and plays him this year. In the end, no way Wanny heaps that much praise on the kid and then doesn't even play him. I think he's committed to putting the best team out there and while most freshmen won't see the field this year, it will be a good thing for recruits to see a handful of guys be able to come in and play right away. It would also be frustrating for certain guys to see someone perform extremely well in camp, exceed expectations, and still not get on the field. I expect to see him suit up this season and play.

Then there's five-star recruit, T.J. Clemmings. Clemmings wasn't heard from as much as most probably expected this Fall. And when Bryan Murphy stepped up, we heard his name even less. It was pretty much assured that Murphy was going to see time this season until his injury. Clemmings wasn't mentioned as much of a possibility to factor in for playing time, but with the injury to Murphy, he could see the field this season. My guess is that it's not as much of a slam dunk as I think it is for Donald. Bottom line? I think if he deserves to, he'll play. I don't think Wannstedt is bent on redshirting him.

Lastly, you've got Todd Thomas. I already briefly mentioned the Curious Case of Todd Thomas earlier this week. Highly touted recruit that figured to factor in the discussion for playing time. The emergency of Devin Street and position change of Greg Cross changed all that. Thomas could play some this season, but I think it's unlikely. Behind starters Jonathan Baldwin and Mike Shanahan, you've got Street, Cross, and Cam Saddler all ahead of him.  I don't see the logic in burning his redshirt to serve as a fifth or sixth receiver.  I think Pitt sits him this year then waits for Baldwin and Cross to leave the program next year.  Thomas could then come in and compete for Baldwin's spot if Street can't hang onto it or serve as a third receiver if he can leapfrog Sadder.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Double Bye Will Stay

"There were a variety of reasons and it was concluded that the timing wasn't right," Big East associate commissioner Dan Gavitt told FanHouse.
There was a lot of complaining, if you remember, from last season. Jim Boeheim was one of those vehemently against it:
"I think the double-bye is awful," the Hall of Fame coach said. "Conventional wisdom says the double-bye teams should fare better, but (two) of the four lost last year. If that doesn't say something, I don't know what does."
The coaches and ADs took to the idea of scratching the double bye format to the Presidents, but ultimately, the idea was shot down.

Funny, but Gavitt's quote above was a complete 180 from what he said earlier:
“We tend to listen to our coaches,’’ associate commissioner Dan Gavitt said. “When they want something to change, it changes. If they think a change would be a better path going into the NCAA tournament, then I’m sure we’ll look at it.’’
I don't know. I think I subscribe to Jamie Dixon's line of thinking on this:
"A double bye had nothing to do with it," Dixon said after No. 2 seed Pitt lost in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. "It's just a team that's playing well against another team that's playing very well."
I definitely understand where Boeheim is coming from and think there's something to what he's saying.  But to me, the Big East is just a tough conference. Teams with a double bye can get caught looking ahead and you just can't do that in a tournament format when some teams are looking to make a final statement to either improve their NCAA tournament seeding or in some cases, get in at all.

Plus, when you have a double bye, more of the lesser teams are weeded out by time a top four seed might play. While I do think teams without a double bye may be in more of a rhythm, I think it's still a bonus to have to play one fewer game in the tournament.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Speculating, Speculating...

Is it too early to start speculating on who might be leaving the program with the commitment of center Malcolm Gilbert? 

Of course it is.

For one thing, Gilbert, like the other recruits have only made verbal commitments and will need to sign letters of intent before anything becomes official.  For another, there's no telling if all four recruits would even qualify academically.  And for yet another, someone may really want to leave the program voluntarily, opening up another spot.

And I still haven't mentioned perhaps the most likely scenario out of all those things - what if Dante Taylor leaves early for the NBA?

But say all of the aforementioned happens and Taylor sticks around.  Then what?

Well, the two players I see in the most trouble are:

J.J. Richardson - He's probably going to see less time this season with the emergence of Talib Zanna and since Gilbert is a big man, it makes it even more likely that he could go. Mix in 2012 recruit Steven Adams and the frontcourt gets really crowded. Richardson's advantage may be that if he can beat out Gilbert as a Junior next year, he'd likely be the backup center behind Taylor (assuming Taylor stays at center...I know, that's an entirely different debate).

Cameron Wright - I know, I get it.  He hasn't even played a minute for the team yet.  But this is all about speculation and besides, who else do you see that could go instead of him?  Travon Woodall?  Please.  He played really well down the stretch last season and despite not being the best shooter, is probably the team's best true point guard. Plus, with Isaiah Epps and Woodall (who really got better as the season went on last year), ahead of him, he might be struggling to get minutes. And don't forget about incoming 2011 freshman John Johnson who will be at the point or SG.

It's crazy early, but that's how I see it. I can't pick between those two because it largely will depend on how others in their positions fare over the next season. If everyone qualifies, it will be interesting to see how Dixon deals with this situation for a second straight year. From everything I hear, Dixon hates doing this sort of thing. I'm a little puzzled that he'd do it again for a three-star, somewhat-prospect center if he didn't have a good reason for it.  Maybe he thinks Taylor is gone after this season.  Maybe he knows something we don't.  In any event, he's opened the door for a world of speculation over the next year.

Now, We Wait

So Pitt went out and picked up another commitment for 2011 in 6'11" center Malcolm Gilbert. With the commitment of Durand Johnson about a week ago, it looked like Pitt might be done recruiting. After all, they'd reached their anticipated limit of three scholarships for next year.

Not so.

For the second consecutive year, Pitt has gone over their limit and may need to boot someone from the program to balance things out. Yes, the school can 'hope' someone doesn't qualify academically next year, but as this offseason proved, you can hardly count on that.

Not that Pitt couldn't use a center.  They hadn't gotten a true center since Cassin Diggs and Gary McGhee three years ago and it was good to see them get more size. Gilbert is a three-star recruit as rated by both Scout and Rivals.  He also grades out at a 92 according to ESPN's Insider Ratings. 

He reportedly had drawn interest from ten schools including Ohio State, Wake Forest, Villanova, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Notre Dame, and a few others. And at one point, there was apparently some interest from Duke and Georgetown.

The first thing you might notice is that even though he's 6'11", he's reportedly only around 215 pounds. Yikes. Yes he's young, but he'll need to add around 30 pounds to bang in the Big East.

He was set to make a decision in September and with Durand Johnson committing, you have to wonder if Pitt made him speed up his decision-making a bit. As I mentioned, the class was already full and maybe Gilbert figured it was now or never.

While he may have a sound offensive game, it sounds like it's his defense that is the key to his game:
“He’s intriguing because of his upside,” East Coach Elite coach Terrell Myers said in June. “What people don’t understand is, they see 6-11, they look at him as an offensive player. He’s not an offensive player, he’s a defensive player.
And in 2008-2009 as only a sophomore, Gilbert did his best Dikembe Mutombo impersonation:
Q. You averaged a near 12 blocked shots in high school last year. Is the art of altering a shot something you’ve always been good at?
A. Since I can remember, I’ve always been able to block shots. I just always had the hops, I guess you could say.
Holy Mark Eaton, Batman.

Other than deciding who may be gone from Pitt, the other underlying theme of this is that Pitt has to be out of the running for one of the four-star centers, Amir Williams and Desmond Hubert.  Part of me is glad to see Dixon land a center, but the other part is really hoping that Pitt had no shot at either guy.  Both apparently have more of a game than Gilbert.  My confidence is pretty strong in Dixon, though, and I'm guessing that Pitt either felt like they had not shot with either Williams or Hubert or Dixon was determined to get an answer fairly quickly.

Either way, it will be interesting to see what happens next season if all of the incoming recruits qualify.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Camp Broken

Well, Pitt's training camp is officially coming to a close. Camp actually has officially broken, even though there will be one more practice on Monday. After an off-day Tuesday, Pitt will get back to work on Wednesday and begin preparations for the huge opener vs. Utah.

Here are my top five developments from training camp:

1. Greg Romeus Injury - I'm not sure how big of a concern this should be, but Romeus only managed one full day of practice in pads throughout camp. All during camp, Dave Wannstedt has insisted his injury isn't all that serious. Still, Romeus was virtually absent from on-field action and with camp over, it will be interesting to see how much he actually participates this week. Pitt still has a few days of practice the following week, but Romeus will need more than that. For the record, Wannstedt still expects him to play in the opener:
“There’s nothing really new to report on Ray Graham and Greg Romeus except to say that they’re making great improvement, and day-to-day, they’re getting closer and closer. I expect Greg to be fine for opening day.
Pitt cannot afford to get into a shootout with Utah and to avoid that, will need to keep pressure on the QB. Romeus will be a big part of that and will be sorely missed if he's unable to suit up.

2. Offensive Line Finalized - Even though this hasn't been officially confirmed, Greg Gaskins has been practicing heavily with the first-team at RG. But the line appears to be set with Alex Karabin (C), Jason Pinkston (OT), Lucas Nix (OT), and Chris Jacobson (LG). No matter how good the line may have looked in camp, it's still going to be a work in progress when it comes to actual game action. Pitt has extraordinary talent on offense with Dion Lewis, Jonathan Baldwin, and Ray Graham, but unless the line can block, it might not matter.

3. QB Progress Relatively Unknown - QB Tino Sunseri appeared to struggle a bit in camp, but really, I didn't get much indication of how he performed one way or the other. We all know he didn't fare well in either scrimmage, but other than that, we might be turning on the Utah game without having much of a clue as to how he'll perform. I expect that first game to include a heavy dose of running and shorter passes, but I'm really at a loss as to what to think he'll look like. I could see him throwing for three TDs or three INTs.

4. Devin Street Steps Up - Street had a good camp and he appears to have secured the spot as the fourth receiver:
"Devin Street has kind of emerged as the fourth guy," Wannstedt said. "He can play [flanker or split end]. He gives us the flexibility of playing with size with Baldwin or Shanahan. After that, it's been Greg Cross and Tinker. We've been very inconsistent. Other than the top four guys I couldn't tell you who is next in line."
On the flip side of that, I guess it's a surprise that Todd Thomas hasn't figured into the rotation. It almost makes you wonder if he'll redshirt if all those guys can stay healthy. After all, how many receivers does Pitt need to play? Wannstedt might be better served to go with Baldwin, Shanahan, Saddler, Street, Cross, and Tinker and hold onto an extra year of eligibility for Thomas.

5. (tie) Bryan Murphy Likely To Redshirt - Murphy was an absolute machine in camp and appeared headed for playing time this season. But his broken foot likely wiped out any hopes of getting on the field and barring any injuries to other key players ahead of him, should be redshirting.

5. (tie) Ray Graham Injured - Graham's injury doesn't appear to be too serious.  Still, he hasn't practiced recently and while Wannstedt indicated he expected Greg Romeus to be ready for the opener, he made no such claim about Graham:
Ray is running straight ahead right now, tomorrow will be the first day that he’ll start making cuts so we’ll see where he’s at there. He’s coming along, we just don’t want to do anything faster than what we need to.”
If Graham isn't ready for the opener, Jason Douglas will likely be thrown into backup running back duty. And it will become even more important for Dion Lewis to stay healthy.

Pitt 15th In First AP Poll

Pitt came in ranked 15th in the AP's preseason 2010 college football poll. That was the exact same spot the team finished last season.

The Panthers were the top-ranked Big East team. West Virginia came in at #25 and were the only other Big East team ranked.

Alex Karabin Gets Scholarship

As expected, starting center Alex Karabin got his scholarship today, according to Associate AD E.J. Borghetti (via Twitter):
Congratulations to 5th-year senior walk-on center Alex Karabin. Received scholarship today!
"I guess I was expecting it, but I'm still a little bit surprised," Karabin said. "It's nice to see it actually come through. It means a lot."
As I mentioned before, you've got to find a way to get a starter a scholarship. Khaynin Mosley-Smith's misfortune was Karabin's gain as Mosley-Smith's academic issues opened up the scholarship.

He's seen his share of guys start ahead of him over the years and rather than go to the service academies that offered him a scholarship, he chose to walk-on at Pitt. It's got to be hard to motivate yourself at times when you're putting in the same amount of work as others, but not reaping all of the awards. Karabin talked about staying motivated in Sunday's PG piece:
College football also is filled with walk-ons, but only a select few are good enough to earn starting positions. Karabin is now one of the few, but he had to endure constant competition as the coaching staff continually brought in scholarship players to challenge him. He most recently beat out Lippert, a converted defensive lineman.
"As a walk-on, you can't really slack off," Karabin said. "You have to go out there every day and get better every day. As long as the coaches see that, it helps out a lot. It's not like you ever really get mad about it. It's more like motivation. You say to yourself, 'I have to get better.'
Karabin is part of an offensive line with three new starters. The offensive line will largely determine Pitt's success this year and I'm glad Pitt was able to take care of him.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mosley-Smith Ineligible

Freshman DT Khaynin Mosley-Smith was ruled academically ineligible. Rivals has the low-down and t apparently stems from an online course he took:
Mosley-Smith, 6'2" 295, enrolled at Pitt this summer after graduating from Woodland Hills High School. On Thursday, WPXI in Pittsburgh reported that the NCAA was investigating the participation of several Woodland Hills students in Passkey, an online course program.
"They rejected the class, so if [Mosley-Smith and his family] appeal it, which I'm sure they will, that takes time," Wannstedt said. Classes for Pitt's fall term begin on Monday, August 30th.
Mosley-Smith is a local kid (Woodland Hills) and was a three-star recruit last year. He likely would have redshirted this year anyway and he's had a tough go of things with his family life:
• Why the hyphenated last name? My mom and father wanted me to have both of their names so it's hyphenated. I get asked that a lot. But my father [Kendall Mosley] passed when I was 10 years old. He was murdered.
• How hard has it been to grow up without a father? My mom has always been strict. That's what has motivated me more than ever. I have six other brothers and sisters, and I feel like I have to be the one to someday get my mom out of the struggle. That's one of the real reasons I wanted the scholarship. I'll be the first one in my family going to college.
Hopefully he can find his way back into the program. Anyone that likes Cinnamon Toast Crunch and can throw back 40 wings is okay with me.

Dan Hutchins Up For Lou Groza Award

Pitt Kicker Dan Hutchins is a finalist for the Lou Groza Award given to the nation's best kicker.

Hutchins led the Big East in field goals made last year with 23. He also broke the school record for points last season with 115.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Parking, Parking, Parking. Oh Yeah, And Priority Points.

The ugly topic of parking has reared its head recently and I've also gotten some feedback from Pitt fans about the issue this year. Due to the amphitheater being built and the hotels, there's less of it to go around - most notably, the premium parking. Particularly, people who previously may have had good locations are being squeezed and many displaced.  My pass has changed this year, but I can't complain because it was for the better. Nevertheless, Paul Zeise of the PG dives into the issue today in both his Q&A and his blog.

He's mostly got this one right, but I think the gripe over Pitt using the priority ranking system is off base. A new donor might be able to get priority by scratching a fat check, but by all indications, Pitt isn't getting hundreds of new donors each year writing five-figure checks. I know. I get the voicemails at home saying how the university, more than ever, needs donations. The priority points system does indeed help long-time donors and ticket buyers by rewarding them with points. Yes, a minute few may get forced further down the totem pole, but for the most part, the system does what it's intended to do - reward continued giving.  To ignore the fact that the system helps a lot of people is off-base.

I will say I'm on board with Paul's point about it being a 'silent auction' of sorts for better parking, basketball tickets, etc.  I understand that the donations change from year to year and it's impossible to tell people in advance how much they'll need to fork over for premium considerations.  But what the university could do is provide the amounts necessary from the previous year to secure things like spots in the lots as long as some sort of a disclaimer mentioning those figures are only be provided as a rough guide to give people an idea of what they might need to spend.

And while I'm on the topic of complaining, let me also say that some of the priority points need to be reexamined.  There's no way that an alumni of the school (heck, let's use ME as an example) that forked over somewhere in the neighborhood of $50K to the University should be given a measly five priority points.  Yes, there are true fans of Pitt that didn't go to the school, but if it were not for the alumni, the school wouldn't exist.  Heck, someone who spends a few hundred dollars on three season's worth of women's basketball tickets earns six points - MORE THAN A GRADUATE OF THE SCHOOL. That not only makes little sense, it just irritates people like myself.

Same thing with the current faculty/students and past letter winners.  10 points total.  Seriously?

All in all, I think Pitt does a pretty good job, but the whole priority system definitely needs tweaked.  Scratch that - the system needs fixed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another Four-Star? Score.

Pitt got another big verbal commitment in CB Kyshoen Jarrett today. Jarrett is a consensus four-star recruit by both Rivals and Scout.

Pitt had to reach east to get Jarrett who is also a RB:
As a junior in 2009, Jarrett averaged 11.2 yards per carry on 53 rushing attempts and 17.3 yards per catch on 15 receptions. Pitt is recruiting him as a cornerback, and he has recorded five interceptions over the past two seasons.
Jarrett had more than a dozen offers. The Panthers beat out Penn State, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Stanford among others for his services. He talked about Pitt being the first to reach out to him:
“Pitt was the first to contact me and the first to offer me, but they never rushed me,” Jarrett said. “Even when they had 13 scholarships taken and onlyone or two more, they just said make the best choice for you. Things opened up, I prayed on it, and this is my decision.”
He made sure to do the annoying hat thing, but I guess it's a lot less annoying when he commits to your school:
Jarrett chose Pitt from a list of 17 schools that offered him scholarships. During his announcement at the school district's administration center, Jarrett selected a Pitt hat from a group of four finalists that included Virginia Tech, Michigan and Penn State.
Jarrett comes in with fellow secondary recruits Lafayette Pitts and fellow four-star commit Terrell Chestnut. I've got to admit I was a bit skeptical when Dave Wannstedt wanted to play Todd Thomas at wide receiver, but with two four-star secondary recruits coming in next year, looks like that was a wise move.

Chas over at Pitt Blather also has some more on him.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Spurs/Cavs NBA Preseason Date Set For Pittsburgh

DeJuan Blair and the San Antonio Spurs will take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, October 14th.  The game will take place at the Pete for the second straight year.

Tickets go on sale to the general public at the end of August, but if you're on Pitt basketball's mailing list, they have a special offer where you can get tickets now.  Sometimes the stars sit out of these games, but short of a broken leg, I expect Blair will play much of the game.

Greg Romeus Returns. Finally.

After a nine-day absence, Greg Romeus finally participated in a full day's session at training camp - his first such day this Fall:
"It was very encouraging this morning with Greg," Wannstedt said Monday night before his team took the field for a rare night workout during camp. "He came out and took every snap in full pads, inside run, team, pass rush. He did everything from start to finish and felt good afterward. We're headed down the right road there."
The bad news is that plenty of guys are still banged up with minor injuries including Dion Lewis, Ray Graham, and Dom DeCicco. There's of course the Bryan Murphy injury, but there appear to be no major injuries to the starters so far. Hopefully it stays that way. With only about two weeks until Utah (yes, only two weeks), Pitt will need to get Romeus plenty of work.

The Panthers will again scrimmage Wednesday night.

Bill Stull Gets His Shot With Chiefs

Undrafted former Pitt quarterback Bill Stull will get a chance to catch on with the Kansas City Chiefs, signing with the team this week.

Matt Cassel is the Chiefs starter and Brodie Croyle is currently the backup.

Interesting enough, former Pitt QB Tyler Palko is also on the Chiefs roster and could compete against Stull in a Loser Leaves Town match. I mean the 3rd QB spot.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Talib Zanna To Get Starring Role?

No one can deny that on the surface, Talib Zanna looks like he's ready to contribute this season.

First, Zanna nearly led all Pitt players in rebounding in the Greentree Summer League, averaging almost 11. He also added in about 13.5 points per game.

Then came the trip to Ireland where Zanna was again a major factor, averaging eight points and seven rebounds per game.

But it wasn't just in game action where Zanna has impressed. Jamie Dixon says the way he's practiced will likely lead to playing time this year:
In practices prior to the visit to Ireland and in the five games the Panthers played – all victories – Dixon closely monitored the performance of 6-9 redshirt freshman power forward Talib Zanna and became convinced he’ll help Pitt this season.

“I think he’s going to play minutes. I think he’s going to be good,” Dixon said. “I think Zanna is going to give us a different look with his length and his size at the 4. It gives us another option.”
Zanna might not replace Nasir Robinson this year as the starter at the 4, but if he has a good season, he might leapfrog him next year. But even if Dixon's history of playing upperclassmen shines through and Robinson continues to start, at the very least, Zanna should see his fair share of minutes. I'd like to see him play more than Robinson if he can rebound as well as he appears to be more of a scorer.

Durand Johnson To Pitt

Pitt reeled in its third commit for next year's basketball class in SF Durand Johnson.  He was recruited by Brandin Knight.  As mentioned on ZagsBlog a few weeks back, Johnson was down to six schools.

With the departures of Brad Wanamaker, Gary McGhee, and Gilbert Brown, Pitt is expected to only have three openings, so this might be it for the 2011 recruiting class. If it is, Pitt will not have landed a frontcourt player among its three commits - Durand, G-John Johnson, and SF-Jaylen Bond. That would be the second season in which Pitt did not pick up a PF or center. It also could mean that Dante Taylor remains at center if he sticks around next season unless J.J. Richardson can take hold of that position.

As for Johnson, he's a three-star recruit as rated by both Rivals and Scout. Rivals lists him in their top 150 prospects, but ESPN.com does not, instead grading him at 91 (must be an Insider to view).

Johnson cited a familiar reason as to why he selected Pitt:

“It was just a family to me,” Johnson said. “They showed me a lot of love. It’s a great fit all around for me.”
It's interesting that you not only hear this so much during the recruting, but also when the guys actually get to the team. You always hear the players talk about family and I think the recruits pick up on that during visits, from the players, and in reading up quotes in the media by other recruits.

Johnson reportedly had more than twenty offers from schools including Georgetown, Xavier, Louisville, and Maryland, among others.

Back to the point about Pitt potentially finished with recruiting. I'm okay with it. While Pitt could have used frontcourt help, they weren't desperate for it. They still have Taylor, Richardson, Talib Zanna, and Nasir Robinson for 2011-12. If Taylor happens to bolt this season, that would open up another scholarship. Maybe Pitt felt it didn't have a strong enough shot with any of the top big men left in this class. I don't mind them going after the sure thing in Johnson.

The other option is that Pitt goes over the limit again as they did last season and someone transfers. I've heard Dixon doesn't like doing this, so for him to do it two seasons in a row might be a stretch.

Recruiting Rankings

With Pitt's three most-recent commits, I decided to take a look around the recruiting rankings.

Brian Bennett mentioned ESPN.com's rankings in his blog and Pitt comes in at #22 (must be an Insider to review). Pitt is the only Big East team currently in the top 25.

Pitt is ranked #17 on Scout's site and was again the only top 25 Big East team.

These rankings fluctuate so much, it doesn't make sense to follow these so closely.  But Pitt still has several scholarships available and could easily move up in these rankings by the signing period next month.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Injury Updates From Training Camp

To start, Greg Romeus, while not all the way back, appears to be doing a little more:

"It was good to get Greg Romeus back today, and to see him working. He didn't do everything, but he came out in pads and worked. He got back in the middle of things, which was good. We expect to do more with him every day, getting him ready to go.
Andrew Taglianetti appears to be in the same type of situation.

Meanwhile, it sounds like we can all exhale with Ray Graham's injury being nothing more than a sprained ankle:

Ray Graham didn't practice today. He sprained his knee, so we held him.
At first glance, it didn't seem like his was a long-term injury. He tried to get back into the scrimmage yesterday, but was held out and carted off. Hopefully it's just a sprain as is being reported.

And imagine my mind when I saw this headline today:

I'd be lying if I said my thoughts didn't go immediately to Romeus and his lingering injury.  But it was freshman Bryan Murphy whose foot was stepped on in camp and subsequently broken. He'll be out for 6-8 weeks. Dave Wannstedt's decision-making on defense has probably gotten a lot easier - though I'm sure he wouldn't have preferred it that way. Even a timetable of six weeks would still cause him to miss the rest of camp and the first three games. Not to mention that it will probably take him a few weeks to get up to speed. Getting that far behind will likely derail his chances of getting playing time this season.

Fortunately, Pitt has some depth there this season.

Pitt Wraps Up First Training Camp Scrimmage

Pitt's football team held its first scrimmage of training camp yesterday. There were several highlights (such as Pat Bostick having a great day, young defenders stepping up) and lowlights (Ray Graham's injury, Greg Romeus STILL out). For all the details, check out the SB Nation Pittsburgh training camp stream - link over to the right.

Desimon Green Caps Off Successful Week For Recruiting

In a growing trend, Pitt landed a verbal commitment from a third recruit this week in three-star Rivals and Scout recruit, Desimon Green.

Green is a two-way star for Western Pennsylvania school, Clairton High School. In 2009 as a junior, he led Clairton to the PIAA Class A Title as both a quarterback and defensive end. On the offensive side of the ball, he totaled 1,600 passing yards, 900 rushing yards, and 23 TDs. The Clairton offense, which he directed, scored a team-record 634 points. On defense, he also had 87 tackles and a team-record 26 sacks.

He was recruited by Greg Gattuso and reportedly had offers from more than a dozen schools including West Virginia, Cincinnati, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, and others.

Pitt is clearly stocking up a bit at DE in anticipation of the loss of Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard. Green makes Pitt's fifth defensive end recruit over the past two years (so far) and makes DE one of the most heavily recruited positions on the team. Along with 2010 DE recruits T.J. Clemmings and Bryan Murphy, the position should be in good hands.

Friday, August 13, 2010

John Malecki To Browns

Former Pitt Guard John Malecki wasn't out of work long.  After being cut by the Tennessee Titans on Tuesday, he was picked up by the Cleveland Browns today.  Malecki was signed to a contract and may get a chance in Cleveland.

The Browns play their first preseason game tomorrow night, so Malecki might not play yet.

Max Issaka Makes Second Pitt Commit This Week

Pitt picked up another commit today - DE Max Issaka from...of course, New Jersey.

Issaka picked the Panthers over Michigan State, UCONN, North Carolina, and several others.  He was another find of the wildly popular Jeff Hafley.  Rivals and Scout both rate him as a three-star prospect.  Rivals also puts him as the 13th best recruit in New Jersey.

This ESPN Rise feature seems to indicate that Penn State had offered, but I haven't seen that anywhere else today, so it appears to either have been incorrect or Penn State pulled the offer:
Max Issaka came out to the camp while recovering from a partial torn meniscus and still dominated every phase. Has great speed and a quick first step, but still needs to develop a counter move rather than just relying on his speed. Rutgers, Pitt, Maryland and Penn State lead, but the Nittany Lions have offered.
Issaka was Pitt's second DL verbal this week. ESPN has some video.  Last season as a junior, he had 58 tackles and six sacks.  That's not all, his MaxPreps page (previous link) also shows he was a punter/kicker as well.

Small Site Update

I've mentioned the SB Nation Pittsburgh training camp stream before, but it keeps getting pushed back in posts.  To alleviate that, I've added the stream link over to the right - all you'll need to do is click on the SB Nation logo and it will take you right to the training camp updates (injuries, statuses, position battles, et).

I'll use this for other streams of news on topics in the future so that hopefully it's a little easier to find.

A Bad Omen?

Yeah, it's early.  And yeah, Pitt's defense is probably better than Utah's.  But this nugget at the very least gave me flashbacks to the '05 Fiesta Bowl:
The offense overwhelmed the defense in the first Ute scrimmage of fall camp Thursday morning.
One defensive coach was overheard late in the two-hour scrimmage to lament, "touchdown after touchdown after touchdown.''

He was right as the offense scored nine touchdowns in a variety of ways, the majority coming on red zone and two-minute drills.

Both quarterbacks played well, as Jordan Wynn completed 14 of 20 passes for 160 yards, while Terrance Cain, last year's starter for eight games, was 14 of 16 for 184 yards. Both QBs threw two touchdown passes and Griff Robles added a TD pass, while completing 3 of 5 passes.
At the very least, I'm curious.  Pitt in a hostile environment with a somewhat shaky secondary against a passing team. The flip side is that maybe their defense is just bad. Usually at this early point in camp, the defense is ahead of the offense, so this is a little surprising to me.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

SI Ranks Pitt 16th

Thanks to a great offer ($29.99 for one year), I opened my first Sports Illustrated magazine since my last subscription about a year ago. Fortunately for me, I was just in time to catch the College Football Preview Issue.  If you don't have it, I'd encourage you to pick up a copy - well worth the money for a newsstand issue as the previews are excellent.

In it, Pitt is ranked 16th and picked to win the Big East.  Cincinnati was the only other Big East team ranked at 18th.

SI also picked the records of teams and predicts Pitt will go 9-3.  I've been giving this more and more thought as the season gets closer, and the more I think about it, the more that sounds about right to me.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Thanks For Playing - We Have Some Nice Parting Gifts For You

I don't know - maybe it's just me.  But when I saw this article on ESPN.com (must be an insider to view), I got a little crazy.

Supposedly, ESPN The Magazine polled 135 college football players on various topics. Out of that, a certain number of Big East players (unidentified) was asked their thoughts on things like best player and best coach. Then came the kicker - What team will win the conference?

Just over 55% of the players voted for Pitt.  Now based on what I can determine and the percentages allocated for each team, I'm guessing that the Big East had nine total voting representatives (5/9 comes out to the 55.6% that is shown for Pitt, for example).

Is it a surprise that Pitt is considered the favorite in the conference?  Not really.  What I did find shocking was that unless the numbers of representatives from each team was uneven, there were players not voting for their own team.  Going into camp with the season not even begun, how can you not vote for your team?  I don't care if you're on Syracuse or Louisville - as a coach, do you really want your players thinking that way?

Further, UCONN, who has been touted by some as having one of the better teams in the conference didn't receive a single vote. So assuming they had a representative in the poll (and one can only assume they did), whoever it was didn't even vote for the school.

It reminded me of a story back in college when I went to Pitt. In my freshman year, I met a kid who was a walk-on through a mutual friend and had lunch with him once. He practically went out of his way to tell me (the very first time I met him, no less) how they had no shot against schools like Notre Dame and the like.  Granted, the kid may never have seen the field - heck, I don't even remember his name.  But even though he was only a walk-on, it showed in his attitude.

Granted, this was a confidential poll, I'm sure. But STILL. This isn't the middle of the season we're talking about here - it's preseason.  If you don't have faith in your team now, there's no way you can win a conference.

Deonte Gibson To Pitt

DE Deonte Gibson gave Pitt a verbal commitment last night, choosing Pitt over more than fifteen schools including Michigan State, West Virginia, Cincinnati, and Stanford.  Notre Dame and Michigan had also reportedtly shown some interest as well.

Gibson is rated as a three-star prosect by both Rivals and Scout.

UPDATE: Here's some video.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pitt Football Training Camp Update

So other than the whole Greg Romeus/injury training camp situation, what else is going on?

Romeus and Taglianetti weren't the only ones injured:
Wide receiver Todd Thomas (elbow) is expected to get his stitches out today. If he does, he will be cleared for full contact. So far he has been limited in the drills in which he can participate. ... Wide receiver Greg Cross has been slowed by an ankle injury but Wannstedt said he should return to full speed over the next days.
Meanwhile, without pads - good. Add even shoulder pads? Not so much:

Monday was the first day in pads -- well, at least shoulder pads -- at Pitt camp which meant it was the first day that the quarterbacks got a chance to play against a live rush.

And not surprisingly, it was the first day the quarterbacks, and in particular starter Tino Sunseri, struggled a bit as he threw two interceptions and was not nearly as accurate as he had been the first two days of camp when the players were in T-shirts and shorts.
Eh, not a big deal - It's still early.  I just wonder what kind of leash Sunseri will be on in camp if he struggles.  What Pitt needs this season might only be mistake-free play from the QB.

Also, DB Aundre Wright and WR/PR Aaron Smith are out for the season.

Greg Romeus News

Greg Romeus was out of practice for a third straight day today.  Dave Wannstedt is still claiming its nothing serious:

“He’s fine. He’s just stiff. Hopefully tomorrow he’ll start doing something."
I don't know - the longer this goes on, the longer I question if it's only stiffness.  I'm not sure it's a major injury, but it is a bit strange that only stiffness would sideline someone so long.

And another day...heck, another hour, another award watch list. This time, it's Greg Romeus up for the Ted Hendricks Award Watch List:
Considered one of the most disruptive defenders in all of college football, Pitt senior defensive end Greg Romeus continued to receive more recognition today when he was named a preseason candidate for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award.
Romeus was up for the award this year, but should have a better shot at landing it this season.  He's also up for several other awards including the Bednarik Award, the Nagurski Award, the Lott Award, and the Lombardi Award.

Jonathan Baldwin Makes 2010 Biletnikoff Watch List

Jonathan Baldwin, unsurprisingly, was named to the watch list for the 2010 Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's best receiver each season.  A total of 51 receivers were on the list for the award.

The Panthers have been blessed with some exceptional talent at receiver this decade, including a pair of former Biletnikoff Award winners in Larry Fitzgerald (2003) and Antonio Bryant (2000). Baldwin (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa) continues the Panthers' strong tradition at wideout, and appears poised for a decorated 2010 season.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Greg Romeus Still Out

Yesterday, Dave Wannstedt said he expected Greg Romeus to be back in practice today. However, Paul Zeise of the Post-Gazette points out that wasn't the case.

I still am not so sure this is serious, but Zeise elaborates in his blog and raises some questions:
Greg Romeus missed practice again with the always mysterious "soreness and stiffness" which is code for who knows what. Obviously if he was just sore or stiff he'd be out there and while I know he's had some back issues in the past and coaches are going to be very cautious with him, I'm not sure that this isn't something lingering. I remember last year Jabaal Sheard was out with a knee injury that was supposed to be minor and day-to-day and he ended up missing more than half of camp. I'm not saying that is going on with Romeus but it does seem awful strange to me that your All-American defensive end is missing two practices in a row.
I don't know. Zeise knows far better than I would, but it's still really early in camp. With a big game right off the bat, I would expect that Pitt be overly cautious with him. Maybe it is a bigger deal than Wannstedt is letting on, but I'm not convinced that it's a huge deal just yet.

Maxwell and Bednarik Award Watchlists

A few Pitt players made their way onto the Maxwell and Bednarik award watchlists. It was again the usual suspects.

Dion Lewis and Jonathan Baldwin were named to the watch list for the Maxwell Award, given annually to the nation's top college football player. I know, that's supposed to be the Heisman, right? Work with me, people.

Meanwhile, DE Greg Romeus was named to the watchlist for the Bednarik Award, given to the nation's best defensive player.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Russ Grimm and Rickey Jackson Enter Pro Football Hall Of Fame

Former Pitt greats Rickey Jackson and Russ Grimm entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend. For coverage, check out my posts and updates over at SB Nation Pittsburgh.

Pitt Football Checks In At #14 According To Rivals

Rivals ranks Pitt at #14 in its preseason football poll including all 120 teams.

The Panthers were first among all Big East teams and Connecticut was the only other team to appear in the top 25.

Rivals also has a pretty good preview up as well as a nice look at the perceived depth chart.

Training Camp Starts...Now

The time we've all been waiting for has arrived - Training Camp 2010 is here, folks. I'll be updating the Training Camp stream over at SB Nation Pittsburgh and will hit on some of the bigger stuff here.

In the meantime, we've already got an injury to report - albeit a minor one.  All-World DE Greg Romeus left practice on Sunday and did not return. Coach Wannstedt didn't think it is all that serious, though:
"He's fine," head coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He was just stiff, nothing serious. We're going to have some of that stuff. If we have any serious injuries, we'll talk about it but not bumps and bruises of camp."
Paul Zeise of the PG saw it and didn't think there's anything to worry about, either:
...in this case, seeing how it went down and given the fact that Romeus did walk off under his own power - I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt that yeah, he is probably going to be back tomorrow.
Doesn't sound too serious.

Pitt Basketball Finishes 6-0 On Trip To Ireland

Pitt wrapped up the playing portion of its trip to Ireland with two final wins for a perfect 6-0.

Throughout the games, Jamie Dixon used a variety of different lineups. One can only think it was mostly done to feel out the chemistry between players - especially among the new guys. It was good to see Pitt face some adversity in the fifth game where they trailed at halftime. They responded well and came back for a 16-point victory.

So how did the players do at least stats-wise?

Gilbert Brown - 12.8 ppg
Ashton Gibbs - 12.0 ppg / 4 apg
Gary McGhee - 5.0 ppg / 5.3 rpg
J.J. Moore - 10.4 ppg
Aron Nwankwo - 0 ppg
Lamar Patterson - 4.7 ppg / 4.0 rpg
J.J. Richardson - 6.3 ppg / 4.3 rpg
Nick Rivers - .8 ppg
Nasir Robinson - 8.9 ppg / 4 rpg
Dante Taylor - 6.3 ppg / 7.2 rpg
Brad Wanamaker - 9.0 ppg / 5.8 apg / 3.0 rpg
Travon Woodall - 8.5 ppg / 3.8 apg
Cameron Wright - 3.4 ppg / 1 apg
Talib Zanna - 8.0 ppg / 7.0 rpg

Not much can be taken from these numbers but here are a few things I noticed:

- After monster performances in the Greentree Summer League, I was a litle surprised to not see McGhee dominate a bit more...especially considering some teams had smaller rosters (the South Regional All-Stars' tallest player was 6'6"). It will be interesting to see how he responds once the season gets started.  I'd guess somewhere in between these performances and his GSL performances.

- Looks like it will be hard to keep Talib Zanna and J.J. Moore off the court. By all indications, they've now played very well in both the GSL and in these games. Nasir Robinson's numbers haven't been great and I wonder if we'll see a little less of him and more of them. There are also Jermaine Dixon's minutes to account for, so I think they will each see some time this season.

- Despite being highly regarded, I can't help but think how far back Isaiah Epps might be. Unable to play in the GSL and these games will put him behind Moore and maybe even Cameron Wright. I expect Wright to possibly take a redshirt and I'm wondering if Epps will do the same.

- Gilbert Brown shot exactly 50% from the field and really only had one bad game, a 1/6 shooting performance. Here's to hoping his ups and downs will be solved, but I won't be sold until I see it. To be honest, I think anyone that had the kind of swings Gil did last season will still be susceptible to poor games once in a while. But as long as those types of games are limited, Pitt might be okay.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pitt Ranked #15 In Preseason USA Today Coaches Poll

Pitt came in at #15 in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, recently released, meaning they will begin with the exact ranking they ended with last season. The Panthers, preseason Big East favorites, were the highest-ranked Big East team.

Immediately ahead of Pitt was Penn State at #14.  WVU came in tied for 24th with Pitt's opening opponent, Utah.

This is right around where I figured Pitt would end up - in the 12 - 15 range.  I'm a little surprised PSU was ranked ahead of them based on the other preseason polls that have been out there all summer.  But then again, they're preseason polls, so it's hard to complain.

Pitt is in a much better spot than last year.  When you start out unranked or near the bottom of the polls, it can be an uphill battle to climb up.  Even if Pitt begins its season with a loss, it still may remain in the polls and in the public's consciousness.  It's particularly good to see Utah ranked as a loss wouldn't look so bad, being it was to a ranked team.

I know - optimistic, aren't I?