Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cat Basket Podcast Numer 14

First week over and it's crisis mode again for panther fans. DPJ and Jones attempt to put into context where we stand after the upset by Bowling Green. Rant filled but with more disappointment than anger.

Cat Basket Podcast Number 14

Podcast Later Today

Just wanted to give everybody an update that there will be a podcast up by the end of the day. We recorded it right after the game yesterday so you will get our thoughts. Please read DPJ's column which summed up some of our feelings from yesterday.

Worst Case Scenario

This wasn't how it was supposed to start. Nine months of anticipation, hype, and optimism that we haven't seen since Notre Dame destroyed us at home. Yet the team we saw against Notre Dame on Wannstedt's first game is the same team we saw yesterday.

The first drive of the offense was a beautiful piece of work. The line gave Bill Stull time, the running game looked solid, Bill Stull looked like the quarterback we were hoping he would turn out to be. Yet, that would be the last time all game we would see something like that.

Shady was shut down, Hot-rod was hitting the hole and running well, but we didn't use him much later on, the receivers began to drop passes that were hitting them in the hands and face. The receiver(s) were not running their routes well, they were not recognizing the blitz to break off their route early, they were not looking back for the ball until it was too late, and in some cases a receiver just decided not to run hard on plays where he was the primary target.

Joe Thomas decided to let Bill Stull get murdered all game. Once Stull was hit a few times, his footwork became sloppy, he lost zip on his passes, he began to lock in on one receiver instead of checking down on his options and his accuracy decreased.

Our defense was on the field way too long in the second half. That is one of the reason's they looked so tired. You can't expect your team (especially in college) to hold teams to less than 17 points every game. When your defense is struggling with the spread, you make adjustments to correct for those mistakes. If you fail to correct for those and stick with your base 4-3 all game, then you will lose and you deserve to lose. While Austin Ransom played a very solid game for only be playing the WILL LB position for a few weeks, he (like our other linebackers) was caught out of position way too much when he was supposed to be covering the WR or TE's.

The worst part of this was after the game we heard "the defensive line didn't do enough" and "The players need to make plays" we didn't hear anything about not adjusting properly or not game planning like we should have. Instead we saw more of the blame deflected away from what is appearing to be the problem.

At one point in the game as the offense was taking the field I overheard the guys behind me say, get ready for some runs up the middle and a screen pass. Wouldn't you know we ran Shady up the middle twice for a gain of only 2 yards then we went to a bubble screen.

The play calling is too vanilla and is not the type of offense that will win games consistently. To expect your defense to hold another team to less than 16 points per game is completely laughable. A good strategy to win (I know this might seem shocking) is to have your team score a touchdown on every drive and have your defense hold the other team to a 3 and out or force a turnover. In the real world though, this is not a reality. Everyone who has watched at least one football game knows that you will not score on every drive. That is why you have to take the chances to score when you have the opportunity too. When you punt on the 35 yard line twice, in most cases the other team will start from the 20 yard line. I don't think 15 yards of field position is worth sacrificing a chance to put points on the board.

I went from feeling this team could have a break out season to now believing that if we win 7 games we will be the luckiest team in the country.

Everything we had was lost. The team can not feel good about this. The fans we had at that game are now going to be lost. I can't even imagine what it must feel like to be a freshman who went to their first game. In what was supposed to be an opener filled with hope and optimism turned into fear, dejection, and despair.

Last week I asked everyone to come out and support the team. I feel like we accomplished what I hoped we would do. However, I feel like the coaches did not do their part. In my opinion, this team will never amass more than 7 wins under a Cavanaugh led offense. He didn't work out in Baltimore and he's not working out in Pittsburgh. When something is broken you fix it. He is failing to fix his broken system. When you hire someone to fix the problem and they can't, you get a new repairman. Sadly, I believe that the friendships and "buddy" systems we see in place from choosing the starters is the same thing we see with the coaches. I hope Cavanaugh will be relieved of his duties right now, but I don't think we will see any changes any time soon.

I hope I am wrong.

As I wrap this up, I have the Sports Reporters on. Instead of talking about Michigan losing, VTech losing and Texas A&M losing, they are talking about the Dave Wannstedt era potentially being over at Pitt. It's a shame how excited we were and now we appear to be a joke nationally.

I will always have my blue and gold glasses on, so I can only hope this is the lowest point.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Predictions Week 1

I did these for every week last year and I thought I would bring it back. Hopefully I can have some of the same success I had last year guessing stats for certain players. I'm usually completely wrong about the score so take that for what it is.

Here are my Week 1 Bowling Green Predictions:
  1. Shady is going to have a big stat padding game, although I have a feeling he will get much less carries than he will later in the season. Also I expect to see Shady touching the ball more in the passing game. Stat Line: 16 carries, 144 yards, and 2 TD's 4 receptions 50 yards
  2. Bill Stull will have a fairly decent game against a weak defense. With Bowling Green keying on Shady early I could see us stretching the field and getting a big play or two. More importantly Stull needs to come out of this game injury free. Stat Line: 16 for 21 220 yards 2 TD's
  3. Our leading receiver is going to be the returning Derek Kinder. He will have a couple of decent sized gains but will catch the majority of the passes from Stull. The main thing to look for with Kinder is how he makes his cuts and deals with the physicality of the game. Stat Line: 6 receptions 115 yards
  4. The defense is going to have a giant game and I could see them creating a turnover or two once they get used to the offense of Bowling Green. Look for much more pressure and a big sack total from the defense. This will be a great opportunity to see the level of talent we have on the defensive side of the ball.
Now for the numbers that matter the final score. I can't see this game being that big of a blowout on the scoreboard just because its the first game. We will dominate the majority of the game but the offense is going to need time to gel. The game will be out of contention early and it will be an easy win.

Pitt 31 Bowling Green 7

Pitt vs. Bowling Green Preview

It's more exciting than the news of opening up 2009 against the YSU Penguins, its the 2008 opener vs the Fightin' Omar Jacobs.........wait.........................I mean the Bowling Green Falcons.

Just looking at this one on the outside and I don't think anyone will pick the Panthers to fall except for maybe the Hoopie fans. We have typically done well against MAC teams (except for the only two losses in the last couple of years). Fear not however as I will cover the Falcons just as if they were the Cards, Huskies, or Bulls.

On offense here is what you need to know. BG runs the spread offense, which up until Navy of last season we were not prepared to handle. Luckily Wanny took control of the defense, changed some planning, and brought in Phil Bennett who has seen more defenses than almost any other D-Coordinator in the Big East. Tyler Sheehan (Jr.) leads the Falcons as their qb. Last year he had a respectable 63% completion rating while piling up over 3000 yards passing. Despite this, the true threat came from running back Willie Geter. However just this past week, Geter and a couple of teammates found a credit card in a parking lot and did what any normal person would do. They used it to go on a little shopping spree. What this means is that Geter and the other two players will be suspended for at least this game. Replacing Geter will be Eric Ransom. Despite losing Geter, Ransom may be more dangerous. The key to his game is his speed and his pass catching ability. He didn't play much last year after going down with a knee injury in the 2nd game of the season.

At WR, the Falcons are pretty unimpressive other than WR Freddie Barnes who caught 83 passes for over 900 yards and 9 td's last year. Unfortunately for Mr. Barney, he will be introduced to Aaron Berry so that he knows what a shut down corner looks like.

The O-line is questionable after losing 3 starters last year. None of the guys coming in are highly recruited and given the "expected" talent level of the MAC, I kind of feel bad for what our dline is going to put them through on saturday.

Defense was the real strong point of the Falcons last year, and by strong point I mean terrible weakness. Think about this, against mostly MAC teams, the BG defense gave up almost yards per carry and over 200 yards rushing per game. Against Tulsa in the GMAC bowl, the Falcon's defense gave up 63 points (damn!). However, the weak defense did not stop the MAC news media from picking them to win the MAC.

The DLine for BG will be a nice cupcake for the Panthers to start with. I'm not just trashing them because they are Bowling Green, I'm trashing them because they have little depth on the DLine. They lost two projected starters to suspension and one of the few guys they have to plug in to the gap is a 5th year senior returning from knee surgery on both knees. This guy (Nick Davis) has not played a down since 2006.

At linebacker, the Falcons are taking a page from our book by moving safety Jerett Sanderson to linebacker. The other projected starters are Erique Dozier at MLB and John Haneline at WLB. Have you ever heard of them? I have not. I can just imagine what they will be thinking when they see Dorin or Nate coming trucking at them full speed with the ball or looking to make a down field block.

Lastly if there was one strong point of this defense it would be the secondary, specifically the safetys. Antonio Smith and Kenny Lewis are the CB's and I'm sure they'll think they are getting off easy covering two possession guys in Kinder and Turner. That is until Baldwin and the speedy "hidden weapons" get their chance in the game. Jahmal Brown and P.J. Mahone are the safeties and their great play has allowed for Sanderson to move to LB to help out in a much needed area. I have a feeling we will see these guys pinch up to help stop the run quite a bit during the game. I just hope that Cavvy has the guts to throw Baldwin, Wright, or Porter out there and have Billy air one out to keep them honest.

While the spread may cause us trouble, I think our overall speed will be enough to stop their offense (we're running faster!). We may not blitz much in this game only because we may use our linebackers to key on certain position players throughout the game or to stay in a zone D to break up the spread much like last year against WVU. If there was one thing I would say we may see that we haven't seen in a long time is some safety blitz packages. Aaron and Jovanni are good enough to keep their guys in check 1 on 1 which will free up Dom and Eric.

My prediction is a 34 to 13 win for our Panthers. I'll let Jones do the specific player predictions since he tends to get within 5 yards of Shady's actual amount.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Quick Thursday night notes.

Pitt held the annual Pep-rally/Bonfire tonight. This was by far the most attended bonfire that I have seen in my 8 years at Pitt. It was a good experience for the freshmen. This was the first time they were exposed to our cheers and traditions.

The highlight video was really good this year. Last year was cool dealing with the history of the program, but this year was unique in a different way. It started off showcasing the WVU game last year, but immediately focused on the point that this is a new year and we can't focus on one game and live in the past.

Wanny's speech was his usual talk. He used our motto "prove it" about 5 times. Scott McKillop and Derek Kinder were the speakers. They did a much better job than Kennard Cox did last year.

I had the chance to talk to some of the players and received some info that I thought you might be interested in knowing.

Shane Murray said that he is definitely not playing this week, but that he will be back for Buffalo.

I asked Jason Pinkston about his arm and he said it is good.

According to several people, Andrew Taglienetti has been dominating the special teams unit and will have an immediate impact on the team. That is great news considering in February we were expecting him to gray shirt.

Greg Williams has been moved to WILL LB to add some depth.

Henry Hynoski's choice for Pitt wasn't 100% related to football. One of Henry's main reasons for picking Pitt was because of our pharmacy school.

All in all it was a fun night. There wasn't anything new, but all of the fun elements remained.

One last thing, for all of you Bon Jovi fans out there, I think you really will enjoy the halftime show.

Season Preview Day 4 Part 2: Special Teams

It's time for the final position preview getting you ready for the game on Saturday. Tomorrow I will give my predictions for the game and then look for our review of the game coming this weekend. Now to the special teams.

At kicker we have a Groza Award candidate in Conor Lee. He has been an extremely consistent kicker and from 45 yards in he is almost a guarantee. Finding a guy who can kick at Heinz Field is always hard and Lee has done a great job over the last few seasons. The problem with Lee is that he doesn't have a big leg for kicking the ball off. Hopefully, this season he can get it down to at least inside the five and let the coverage team make the play. We have a freshman kicker with a big leg in Kevin Harper but all indications are pointing to a redshirt for him.

We return a starter at punter in Dave Brytus who had an up and down season last year. Brytus has a relatively good leg and can bang off some extreme good punts, his problem is that he is very inconsistent as to the distance of his kicks. If he can reign in some of the bad kicks Brytus could be a top level punter. In terms of kickoffs I can't see Brytus having that duty again due to all his problems keeping the ball in bounds last year.

Our kickoff returners could be an explosive unit this year with LaRod Stephens Howling and Aundre Wright back there. Stephens Howling has proven in the past to be a solid kickoff returner with the ability to break it big if a seam develops. Aundre Wright is one of the fastest guys on the team and has big play potential every time he touches the ball. I wouldn't be suprised at all if there was a kickoff return for a touchdown or two.

Aaron Berry returns as the punt returner this year and he is a solid option. He has the speed and vision to break it deep but he is also an extremely smart player who protects the ball. My only worry is such an important starter returning punts there could be an injury but Berry didn't have any problems last year.

I wish I could preview the coverage teams but as always we will have to wait and see what they look like. With all the talent we have on defense behind the 2 deep I would imagine that we will some extremely talented players playing special teams.

Ok be back later for the predictions and maybe another column.

Season Preview Day 4: Secondary

Sorry for the lateness of this post my continued job search took up the majority of the morning. Enjoy college while you can. Let's give a look at the secondary where two starters graduated and that was probably the best news we could have gotten.

The new emerging star at cornerback is the field cornerback Aaron Berry. Berry had a little bit of a rough start to last season but down the stretch he became one of the better players on the defense. He is a great tackler and is continuing to get better as a lockdown corner. Hopefully this season we will see more of his turnover causing ability with the more agressive bump at the line system Phil Bennet is going to implement. Backing up Berry is a player that we got to see a little early last season in Ricky Gary. One word to describe Gary's play is solid. He doesn't possess Berry's athletic ability but he is a solid player positionally and can make the tackle when need be. I think we could see Gary as a 4th or 5th cornerback in the dime packages.

At the other cornerback position, the boundary, Jovanni Chappel returns to the job he won late last season. When Chappel came into the defense in the final few games we saw an improvement in the passing defense. The knock on Chappel is his size only 5'9 180 pounds but he plays much bigger than he looks. At WVU last year he shut down a much larger wide receiver and I don't believe he will have problems defending bigger guys. Chappel has earned his way into the starting lineup through special teams play and hard work. He is a really smart football player who will add to the speed of the defense. Behind Chappel is the future star cornerback of the progoram Buddy Jackson. Jackson has shot up the depth chart in camp due to his phenomenal athletic ability, he was said to have ran a sub 4.3 forty time during camp. Along with his blinding speed Jackson is a decent sized player at 6'0 tall. I believe that Jackson will be the third corner used and with his level of talent I could see him garner increasing playing time over the season.

Another corner that we could see who isn't on the 2 deep is Jared Holley. Holley enrolled during January and the added time with the team has helped him make an impression on the coaching staff. Since Holley is just a freshman he doesn't need to be rushed and could take a redshirt this season. I would expect that Holley would take the redshirt and compete for a starting job next year. The other freshman corner Ronald Hobby will definitely redshirt and is a guy to look for in two years or so.

Moving onto safety we return one starter at free safety in Eric Thatcher. Thatcher is a very intriguing player because two years ago before his injury he was an absolutre force. He was a giant hitter would dominated the middle of the field. Last season he had trouble with missed tackles and blown assignments. If Thatcher plays up to his ability he could be an All Big East player but if he has the same problems as last season he could be in for some difficulty. His leadership as a 5th year senior will be invaluable to the other young safeties. Backing up Thatcher is either Irv Brown or Andrew Taglianetti. Brown is a very unknown player and has had a bit of injury trouble in camp. I'm interested to see what type of player he is and if he can slot in at free safety if need be. Taglianetti would probably be taking a redshirt this season but with his impact as a special teams player I could see him making a big impact. He is widely thought of as a gritty football player who does all the right things. I'm interested to see what we have in him as well.

The strong safety postion is one of youth and one of immense talent. Starter Dom DeCicco is a huge bodied player who has a penchant for the big hit. He has it all in terms of athletic ability and talent, it is going to be interesting to see how he adapts to Big East football. DeCicco is going to be a star its just a matter of how quick he becomes one. Backing up DeCicco is another physical specimen in Elijah Fields. Fields had a few problems early in his career but he has gotten it turned around and has done everything the coaching staff asked of him. The hype surrounding Fields is high and his athletic ability is something to behold. I have a hard time believing that Fields isn't going to see a bunch of playing time and won't see the field with DeCicco. Having two top level talents at strong safety is an asset that Coach Bennett needs to figure out how to exploit.

With all the talent we have in the secondary the only worry is unproven players. If a starter goes down it will be interesting to see how the backups respond. DeCicco and Fields are the players to watch this season.

Back tonight with the special teams and another column.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Panther Fan Challenge

We are a few days away from kickoff and I believe that most Panther fans are excited for this upcoming season. Things are now coming into place with the team giving us hope for a great season as well as the push by Steve Pederson to make this season the best it can be for the team and for the fans. That is why I am putting this challenge out to everyone. I will challenge myself, Jones, the readers of this site, the other Pitt blogs around, and anyone who is a Panther fan.

I am challenging you to be Panther loud and Panther proud at the game. I want to see everyone with a ticket in their seat at least 30 minutes to kick off. I am challenging you to clap and make noise for Pitt as we take the field. I am challenging you to sing and clap along to the fight song. I am challenging everyone to yell P - I - T - T LETS GO PITT! I am challenging you to clap, bang on seats, or yell when the defense is preparing for a 3rd down. I am challenging us all to be better fans.

The team can feed off our energy and we can make a difference. We will also change the perception of Pitt football and show that there is passion for Pitt football.

Don't be afraid to be the only one in your row or section to clap or sing or make noise. We are all Panther fans and we shouldn't be embarrassed to support our team.

Lastly, I am challenging everyone who reads this to challenge someone else. This is the year we can turn things around. This is the time where hopes become reality. This is the year where we make a difference and where the team makes a difference. We as fans must do what needs to be done. Don't let this challenge pass you by.

Season Preview Day 3 Part 2: Linebackers

Back tonight to talk about linebacker. All three starters from last season are returning including, All-Everything Scott McKillop. The rest of the depth chart is filled with young and unproven talent.

Starting out at the SAM linebacker the returning starter Adam Gunn has emerged over the last season as a solid player. Gunn improved during the course of last season and seems completely comfortable in the defensive scheme. His impact this season is going to be on the running game because of his good position and tackling. Behind Gunn on the depth chart is Brandon Lindsey or Nate Nix. Lindsey has been a solid player in camp but with a established starter in Gunn he is probably going to factor in on special teams and in garbage time. With Nix the coaching staff appears to be bringing him along slowly after making the decision that his position is the SAM linebacker. Nix has talent but he is going to need to continue to work hard in practices and in the weightroom to get a shot at playing time.

Middle linebacker is a position that starts and ends with Scott McKillop. Last season, McKillop was an absolute tackling machine and made an immediate impact as a first year starter. He is a preseason All-American and a finalist for the Butkus Award. What is interesting to look for in McKillop is if he can keep up the pace he has already set for himself. Playing with an improved defense could give McKillop the freedom to be one of the top players in the nation. Enjoy the last year of this amazing player. Backing up McKillop is Max Gruder who will mainly contribute to the defense as a special teams player. Shayne Hale, who is being redshirted, may be the future starter at middle linebacker or he may be a defensive lineman who knows.

At the WILL linebacker there may be a big problem. The returning starter Shane Murray is a perfectly solid player who only continues to improve at the postion. Currently, Shane Murray is listed as day to day with a knee injury and if he isn't ready to go on Saturday we could see another experimental player at linebacker. Special teams standout Austin Ransom is the pick of the coaching staff to start at the WILL linebacker if Murray isn't ready to go, problem is Ransom is a converted safety/wide receiver.

Ransom has been a major force on special teams but he hasn't had time to learn the position of WILL linebacker. I believe he is being considered for this spot because of Bowling Green's use of 4 and 5 wide receiver sets but I don't have much trust in the coaching staff about this move. We have seen the converted safety to linebacker experiment fail before and I hope this time is different but we will see. My problem with this move is that Tristan Roberts is the backup on the 2 deep and is a natural linebacker. He is an unproven quantity at this level but he has been in the system for a full two preseasons. Greg Williams is another redshirt freshman who looked fairly good in camp but it seems that he has fallen down the depth chart a bit.

Linebacker could be a stregnth if our starters remain healthy or if one of the young talented backups make an impact. Our future seems to be fairly set though because after this season we will lose two starters.

Tomorrow I'm going to close out the season previews with the secondary and special teams.

Season Preview Day 3: Defensive Line

Keeping the countdown to kickoff going its time to preview another position that is talent rich and deep. When Coach Wannstedt arrived at Pitt this is the position that became a priority in recruiting and his plan has worked on paper. The play of the defensive line was one of the keys to the upset last December against WVU. In camp the defensive line lost a guy who could have been a major player in Doug Fulmer but this is the one position where a key loss like that could actually be absorbed.

At defensive end we have a freshman All-American from last year and an absolute pass rushing terror in Greg Romeus. Romeus is the prototype of what a defensive end in this system needs to be with his speed off the ball and physical size at 6'5 265 pounds. He is going to be to key to defending the pass and I could see him garnering a big sack total. His only weakness is that he is relatively inexperienced as a football player only playing four years of football in his life but he has been with the coaching staff for 3 years and has gained technique. In the running game he is going to need to show the ability to shave off blocks but Romeus is extremely strong for his 250 pound frame. Another All American season isn't out of the question for Romeus this season.

Across from Romeus at the other defensive end position is Jabaal Sheard. Sheard is a little lighter than Romeus but he possesses the same type of pass rushing ability. In camp, Sheard almost put Bill Stull out of action by throwing our starting right tackle Joe Thomas into him so that is an indication of his physical stregnth. He will also benefit from being on the other side of Romeus so that could mean more one on one blocking. I believe Sheard will be a breakout star this season and All Big East honors are well within his reach.

The two backups at defensive are Tyler Tkach and Tony Tucker. Tkach has been a solid player on special teams and is the type of player who can contribute as a backup. Also Tkach could give a different look than the two speedster ends with his more compact body. Tony Tucker is a little on the small side for a defensive end at 6'2 235 but he has been competing well in camp against bigger offensive lineman. I see Tucker as a situational pass rusher this year while he continues to get more acclimated to Big East football.

Defensive tackle is the deepest postion on the depth chart. We have four starters on the two deep and each player offers a different style of play. The flexibility that we will be able to roll out is amazing. Williams, Duncan, Duhart, and Mustakas are all players who have taken snaps in the past so their is no unkown quantities here.

Mick Williams could be the anchor of the defensive line and he had an amazing season last year. During the offseason he has dropped down to 285 pounds to improve his speed an mobility. Since the Wannstedt defensive style doesn't use space-eater defensive tackles, Williams added mobility will continue to improve his play. I have a feeling that Williams is going to be an All American this season and will make an impact on everyone who plays around him.

The other defensive tackle is Rashad Duncan who will provide the senior leadership and some extra size at 295. Duncan can still move at his weight and will be a force in the running defense. An extremely solid player who will be there every week making plays when they come to him.

Backing up Williams and Duncan are Tommie Duhart and Gus Mustakas. Mustakas took an injury last season but in the short time he played he looked like the best player on the defense. He has great instincts and can make plays on the ball. Look for him to get a fumble recovery or two this year. His health also appears to be a non-issue as he had a injury-free camp. Duhart was a player who make a big impact coming down the stretch last year. He is probably the most atheltically gifted defensive tackle we have and will see plenty of playing time this year. Behind Duhart and Mustakas is Myles Caragein who as a redshirt freshman could see some time and will definitely be a player to look for in the future.

I would take our defensive line against any other defensive line in the entire nation, they are that good. If the defense is going to be as dominant as we expect it to be these 6 or 7 players are going to be the base for success. Being conservative we could have at least two All Big East lineman. Coach Wannstedt's recruiting strategy has created a dominant and imposing defensive line.

Back later with the linebackers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Season Preview Day 2 Part 2: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

It's time for part 2 and the receiving corp/tight ends!

Last year one of the biggest injuries the team suffered was the loss of the starting flanker Derek Kinder to a knee injury. The previous season Kinder had been one of the best receivers in the country and the centerpiece of the offense. When Kinder went down in camp the writing should have been on the wall for the passing attack because of the impact he had with his own play but the impact of his play on Oderick Turner. Well Kinder is back but his camp has been anything but perfect; he suffered a slight tweak to the knee early and missed a few days of practice. Despite our depth at wide receiver Kinder's knee will be one of the stories of the season. If he is back in full form the offense will only be that much better but if he has lost a step it will be interesting to see his impact on the rest of the offense.

Oderick Turner the starting split end saw a bit of decline from his freshman year mainly due to the loss of Kinder and mental mistakes. Everybody remembers his drop against Michigan St. in the endzone and hopefully he does as well. Last season there was much more pressure on Turner to produce and this season there will be much less. Where the pressure is going to lie for Turner is in consistency, effort, and eliminating the stupid mistakes that killed him last year. He will be pushed mightly by the man backing him up in Jonathan Baldwin.

Speaking of Baldwin he could be the impact freshman of this season. At 6'5 220 pounds with the speed of a track athlete Baldwin looks like the prototype of the modern big play wide receiver. His circus catches in camp as well as his blinding speed have earned him playing time. If we stretch the field as much as has been promised Baldwin is going to be at the center of the vertical passing attack. Another thing to think about with Baldwin is that we will be able to bring back the inside the 20 yard line fade play that Larry Fitzgerald made famous. Baldwin will be able to outjump every player on the field and that fade play can be another great weapon for Bill Stull.

Backing up Kinder at the split end position is Cedric McGhee and he is another player who has been getting rave reviews in camp. His effort and solid route running will be a great asset when we spread the field. McGhee is a guy that could slide into the starting lineup if there is an injury at any point. TJ Porter, the most productive receiver last season, had a bit of an injury in camp and has slide down the depth chart a bit but he will play. Porter has good speed and is a solid wide receiver who will provide us great depth.

Further down the depth chart behind Porter is Aaron Smith who redshirted last season and I would expect to see him get on the field as a 6th or 7th option, definitely one of the future. Mike Shanahan, not the coach but a 6'5 freshman, will probably end up redshirting and competing for a job in a season or two. Aundre Wright is going to be returning kicks but could factor in as a backup for Porter. Wright has blinding speed and will make a big impact in the return game. Cam Saddler the highly rated wide receiver/kick returner got injured during camp and will be back next year.

Tight end is a position that has everything you look for depth, experience, and raw talent. Nate Byham is a premier tight end, he is on the Mackey Award watch list, and may be one of the more complete players on the team. He is an extremely talented route runner with seperation speed but where he has had the most impact is as a blocker. In a different offense Byham could be putting up big numbers but he has done everything that is asked of him. I have a feeling he will be called upon to help whoever the right tackle is by chipping in on his guy and adding double teams when necessary.

Dorin Dickerson has finally found his position as the other tight end replacing Darrell Strong. Dickerson is going to add another matchup nightmare to the offense and could flourish in his new role. He is too fast to be covered by a linebacker and when he gets his hands on the ball he won't be able to be tackled by secondary players. I feel like Dickerson is going to have the opportunity to put up big yardage numbers and score some touchdowns. This is the perfect position for him and his work in the last two offseasons bulking up has made him the perfect size for this position. Blocking wise I think Dickerson will be fine because the offense doesn't really call for the "H-back" position to take a heavy blocking load. Strong was a poor blocker and he still found a role for himself at this position, hopefully with Dickerson's work ethic he will develop his blocking skills over the next two seasons.

John Pelusi has been an extremely solid player the last two years and will get playing time. He is a more solid blocker than Dickerson and that will come in handy in short yardage situations. Also he is a more than adequate route runner and pass catcher. The tight end postion will definitely be a three man rotation with Byham as the star.

Wide receiver and tight end are going to give Stull plenty of options in the passing game. With adequate quarterback play we could see some big yardage and reception totals put up.

Back tomorrow to start with the defense and thanks to all the new readers. We have received a big jump over the past few days.

Quick Podcast Note

Just a quick reminder about the podcast is that we have the entire 13 episodes available through the posts in the archives. Easiest way to grab the podcast is to go into the Itunes store and search for The Cat Basket or to go to the Podomatic link on the top left of the blog. We are getting a decent jump in our numbers and we really appreciate all the new listeners.

Thank again for listening!

Season Preview Day 2: Offensive line

Well today I thought I would get the uncertainty out of the way first so we can enjoy the talent at wide receiver and tight end later. Offensive line is a position that hasn't been steady over the past three years. This year we have quite the array of talent but the big question mark is can we create a consistent group of 5 out of all the talent.

Let's start from left to right with the starter at left tackle Jason Pinkston. We saw flashes of Pinkston's talent last year in the first three games of the season before his shoulder injury. He is back and has worked his way back into the good graces of the coaching staff. Pinkston has the size and footwork to become a great player and he will be a solid blindside protector of Stull. Backing him up is senior Chase Clowser who has proven to be a serviceable backup whenever he has been called upon.

At left guard we have the most experienced starter on the line in CJ Davis. He has been a sturdy and consistent performer, there will be absolutely no problems with Davis. Backing up CJ Davis on the depth chart is Dom Williams but I wouldn't expect Davis to miss a start.

The junior college transfer Robb Hauser has come out in camp and provided stability at the center position. Center has been a position that we haven't seen solid play at in years. Hopefully, Hauser will continue his good play and give us two years to find a long term option at this position. Backing up Hauser are two unknown quantities in Wayne Jones and Alex Karabin. If there is one position we can't afford an injury it is center. Hauser goes down there could be a crisis and I would expect to see the entire line shifted around.

Right guard is being taken over by John Malecki who played on the defense last year and is flat out a football player. The main adjective used to describe his play is nasty and you could see his impact on the game as a defensive tackle next year. Malecki has tons of talent and as he gets more used to the position he will become a top level guard. In a year I could see Malecki becoming a All Big East level performer. Backing up Malecki on the depth chart is Chris Jacobsen who is a highly touted player coming off a season ending injury last year. Jacobsen will be a starter next year and I would expect if somebody on the interior of the line goes down he could easily slot into the lineup.

Now for the bad news or the unknown news. The starter at right tackle is going to be Joe Thomas, for now. Thomas had a down season last year to say the least and hasn't seperated himself in camp. His job security is almost non-existent and he is being pushed by a high school All-American in Lucas Nix. Nix has come into camp and has earned a chance to push Thomas for the starting spot. Coach Wannstedt has stated in many places that Nix is going to get playing time and I think his talent will overcome Thomas. This position needs to be figured out by the Iowa game and I think the final conclusion to this situation is Nix becoming the starter. A redshirt would perhaps be the ideal situation for Nix in order to get more work in the weight room but the state of the right tackle situation won't really allow that.

The offensive line appears to be in the best situation that it has been in for a few seasons except for the whole at right tackle. Optomistically, we have two games to figure out what to do with that position and one of the players in the running for that position is the most talented offensive line recruit we have had in years. Pessimistically, we saw what happened with this position last year and how it continued to be a problem. If we can figure out the right tackle position and the other starters play consistently we can have a great offensive line, I think the final product will be much better than last's years.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Season Preview Day 1 Part 2: Running Back and Fullback

It's time to talk about the position that will get the most press from the national media this season, running back. Last year a new college football star emerged on the scene in Shady McCoy. His ability to make something out of absolutely nothing energized the fanbase and created a buzz around himself that is rarely seen. What will his encore this season be?

I look for Shady to have a better season than last if that is even possible. The offense has been molded around his talents and he will be the centerpiece of an improved team. Shady is going to be able to improve in his yardage and touchdown totals simply by being the starter from opening day. Our opening two games are chances for Shady to pad his stats and to start his attack at more school records. My prediction is that Shady will have somewhere between 1400-1600 yards and with 12-16 touchdowns. If the team improves as much as we expect Shady could shatter both of those totals and make a run at 2000 yards.

Another aspect of this season to look at in regards to Shady is his emergence as the face of Pitt football. The national media has paraded him around as a star and he has handled himself with nothing but class and has represented the school extremely well. At the end of his college career he will have made an impact on this program that very few players can say they did.

Behind Shady is the extremely solid LaRod Stephens-Howling. As a player we all know what we get with him and that is a guy who can break the big run, catch balls out of the backfield, and add a change of pace. He is also going to factor into the return game as a kickoff returner. Consummate college football player and will have a decent sized role in his final season.

Shareef Harris is another player that looks to make an impact in the running game, specifically, in the short yardage game. Harris is a powerful runner that could be the power back to complement Shady and the rest of the running game. Since Harris took his redshirt last year I would look for him to definitely get some playing time due to his level of talent. Definitely one to look for in the future.

Kevin Collier was a highly touted player two years ago but after a limited role his freshman year he took an injury in preseason last year. He may have had a much bigger impact last year but then Shady hit and time at running back began to get scarce. Chris Burns came into camp as a freshman and made a decent showing of himself. I have to believe he will get a redshirt since he is the only running back who could logically be redshirted and having 4 capable running backs is more than enough.

At fullback we have the best player in the country Conredge Collins. Collins is the complete article in that he can block, catch passes, and run the ball if necessary. He is going to have a long NFL career and could be a first day pick in next year's draft. Behind Collins is a highly talented player in Henry Hynoski. Hynoski will be the next great Pitt fullback when Collins leaves and we could see him factor in a good deal this season. He would be a great guy to use in a jumbo backfield and with his blocking ability he will see some time in short yardage situations.

The level of talent in the backfield is amazing and you can see what the future holds for this position in the backups. The future is very bright at running back and fullback.

Quick Depth Chart Analysis

The depth chart for the opener against Bowling Green has been released and for the most part every position has played out the way we thought it would. I'm most excited about Jonathan Baldwin being listed as the backup to Oderick Turner which means he will get playing time. I guess the experiment with Austin Ransom at the WILL linebacker position was just for last week's practice as Tristan Roberts is listed as the backup to Shane Murray. Joe Thomas is the starter at right tackle but Lucas Nix is going to get a chance to play this year.

Bowling Green Game Notes

Season Preview Day 1:Quarterbacks

Last year we did the full season preview position by position and this year we thought we would continue the tradition. On the podcast we did this and all week I'm going to do accompanying articles. At the end of the week I will do my prediction article for the game and DPJ will preview our opponents Bowling Green. Let's start with the most important position on the football field Quarterback.

So in the most obvious conclusion to a camp positional battle was Bill Stull winning the job. Stull has been the penciled in guy at QB since camp started last year. A cheap shot during a meaningless Eastern Michigan opener last year ended his season. Now Stull is completely healed and took his redshirt season to work on every aspect of his game. The coaching staff has the most confidence in Stull and he has been in the program the longest.

The main drawback to Stull is that he has no experience. One game and a little bit of garbage time snaps is not an indication of how a player will perform in the Big East. Growing pains are to be expected with a first year starter but the hope is that Stull has enough experience in practice that it can translate into a stable year at the quarterback position. Stull doesn't have the biggest arm or the fastest feet but he can make the throws and hopefully is a good decision maker. This offense has so many weapons that the quarterback just needs to control the game and protect the ball, the skill position players will make the plays.

A successful season for Stull will be a season where he plays steady if a little unspectacular football. He doesn't need to be a star he just needs to be effecient. The coaching staff will give him every opportunity to be successful and to work through any problems and hopefully he will make this job his own. If Stull fails as the starter we do have other options to go to and I hope the coaching staff isn't too rigid as to what the future of this position is.

Behind Stull is last year's starter for the majority of the season in Pat Bostick. DPJ and I are unabashed Bostick fans, we feel he is the most talented QB on the roster. Last year Bostick had an up and down season from the second he arrived in camp but this offseason has been one of hard work and improvement. Bostick has dropped all of the extra weight that he was carrying last year and has continued to work on improving his arm stregnth. I think this season could be a redshirt season but there is a prospect of Bostick having to play due to injury or poor play. He is the most experienced QB on the roster and could be ready to go if need be. My prediction is that he does what Palko did a few years ago behind Rutherford being the backup but ideally not being used so he can get his redshirt.

Kevan Smith is the other QB that saw time last year after Stull's injury. Smith had a very tough time in his starts last year and hasn't done much to distance himself from Bostick this camp. All the physical talent is there its just a matter of the on field decision making and play not being there for Smith. A guy with his ability you hope will eventually get it and be able to make that next step to becoming a productive QB. Could feature in garbage time or as a backup if the staff is insistent on Bostick Getting a redshirt.

Greg Cross is the wildcard for the wildcat, see what I did there. He is an athletic option that was brought in to run the wildcat formation that we saw last year. Cross is a run first QB with a big arm that may be a little unpolished but he is going to have an impact because of his legs. Giving the offense an opportunity to change the pace at the position is going to be a great weapon to play with. Cross also could figure into the backup QB postion but that all depends on how much the staff trusts him to run the entire offense.

Tino Sunseri will redshirt this year and will be in line to compete for the job in 2010. I look for big things in the future from the Central Catholic star.

Overall the position is in so much better shape than it was last year. Coach Wannstedt learned his lesson and we will never be caught in a position where we don't have options. Stull's actual game inexperience is one of the question marks going into the season but he is an upperclassmen with a long time in this system. I think Stull will struggle somewhat early but will get some success behind him and have an adequate season.

I will be back later with the running backs, enjoy the first day of classes at Pitt.


As almost every other school has had a song where the fans get up and sing, Pitt seemed to be lacking here. Over the summer, the athletics department searched over many songs trying to figure out: 1. what was a catchy song that most people new, 2. had a part where we could yell lets go pitt, and 3. have it not be too embarrassing. Now after some research the athletics department have come up with a solution. Between the 3rd and 4th quarter, you will hear Neil Diamond's own Sweet Caroline. Yes, the Red Sox use this at their games, but as far as I know, no other college team uses it. Everyone basically at least knows the chorus to the song, and the beats that everyone sings along with are perfect to yell lets go pitt! So during the games when you hear the song and start to sing along, instead of going "Sweet Caroline, bup bup bup" sing "Sweet Caroline, LETS GO PITT!". When we're done with that line we can follow it up not with "Good times never seemed so good, (so good, so good, so good)" but "Good times never seemed so good (Go Pitt, Go Pitt, Go Pitt).

Hopefully this catches on and sticks for a while. I think it could be fun for all of us to sing just the chorus if not the whole song while adding in our Pitt cheers.

Oh yeah, here's a video for it.

Cat Basket Podcast Number 13

The full preseason preview. We cover every aspect of the team and the upcoming season. Our unique prospective on the entire Pitt football universe. We are very excited and listening to this will make you as excited.

Thanks to our loyal listeners throughout the summer and if you haven't given us a shot yet give this a listen. This is the start of the most active period for the website and we will bring you a podcast a week. Get ready for the only Pitt football podcast you will ever need.

Remember to grab the podcast on Itunes or Podomatic.

The Cat Basket Podcast Number 13

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hello to our new readers

Well after tabling all day with the Oakland Zoo and handing out info about Pitt football, I'm excited to welcome the new readers of the Cat Basket to our site. Jason Jones and myself (DPJ) have been doing this site for a while. We like to get inside information to post as well as to provide opinions and predictions.

Also this year we started doing weekly podcasts (the next one will be up shortly). We really have fun talking about Pitt football and think that the Cat Basket is a great forum to share our opinions as well as give information to the readers.

We also have our Cat Basket shirts which I am very proud of. If you stopped by the table today and didn't sign up for a free shirt, you can email us at and I'll make sure you get a shirt when they come in. Just make sure you let me know your size so that we have a proper amount for everyone.

Again, thank you for reading the site, and welcome to our new readers. If you ever have any questions or anything like that for us, feel free to contact us by email, facebook, or on the comments section.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Maybe it is just me.

This week, Shane Murray (reportedly) sprained his knee. Fortunately for our Panthers, we have recruited hard and recruited well at the linebacker position. Given that we finally have some solid depth at that position, it made sense that Tristan Roberts would be one of the guys stepping up to replace Murray. When you think about it, there are also some other guys who have played the linebacker spot and could step in such as Greg Williams, Nate Nix, Brandon Lindsay, Max Gruder, Greg Williams, Steve Dell, Joe Trebitz, and the highly recruited Shayne Hale.

So from that list, the guy splitting time with Tristan is not even mentioned. I was probably just as shocked as you will be to find out that the staff is considering Austin Ransom to replace Shane Murray. To me, this is a major coaching blunder. For those of you who read Gorman's blog, I'm sure you read where he mentioned Ransom didn't know where to line up.

This is finally a year where we have players ready to break out in several different positions. To me, Lindsay, Nix, Gruder, but most of all Greg Williams could become to be very good players for the Panthers. Greg Williams has been playing very well throughout all of the practices. Of all of the linebackers not named Scott McKillop, he looked like he was the most field ready linebacker we had on the team during the practices I have attended.

I really hope this is just something temporary. I do not see how Austin Ransom can fit in as a linebacker. Much like Murray, he is on the smaller side and has most of his experience playing DB or WR. To me, asking a kid with little to no experience to switch to a completely new position during his senior year, and only 9 days away from the opening kick off is too much.

Our other linebackers have been studying what their positions are for at least all of camp. Some guys have been doing this for years. We can debate whether or not Jonathan Baldwin should see the field, or who the 2nd running back should be, but to me our linebackers will be a crucial part of Bennett's defense. I don't believe we should mess it up by moving guys to a position they are not familiar with only days before the season starts. At some point we have to let our younger guys who were brought in to play these positions get a chance to do so.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Top 25 In The AP Poll

Well the first AP poll of the season has been released and the Panthers are in the top 25. This solidifies the expectations that have been placed on the team this year. Hopefully, this stint in the top 25 goes better than the last time we came into the season ranked in the top 25 under Wannstedt.

First Polls of the Season

Friday, August 15, 2008

What Dorin Dickerson Can Bring to the Offense

One of the bigger stories of the offseason was the movement of Dorin Dickerson from linebacker back to the offense. In high school Dickerson and in brief glimpses his freshman year he showed potential to be a great college player. Last year he was moved, out of necessity to linebacker, which was met with very little on-field success. Off field though Dickerson continued to develop a heavier and more powerful body which is going to help him immensely this year at the tight end position.

At tight end Dickerson is going to create matchup problems for every defense that he faces. He is too fast for most linebackers and too physical for most safeties. Also he is a great route runner and can do something whenever he gets ahold of the ball, remember he was almost put on the depth chart two years ago as a running back. Coach Cavanaugh is going to have another offensive weapon to exploit the middle of the field and allow Stull to have another release value.

Nate Byham is the star of the tight end group because of his all around NFL-level talent. Byham can block extremely well, has seperation speed, and can make any catch on the football field. Dickerson isn't close to as complete of a player that Byham is and will be more a situational weapon. In time Dickerson will develop as a blocker and will become used to the tight end position but this year we need to limit exposing his weakness.

Hopefully Dickerson is given as much freedom from the coaching staff that the guy he is replacing Darrell Strong was

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Finally Back

OK it has been a while since I have posted, but now that classes are over and a trip to Chicago is done I can help Jones keep this train rolling.

The MRI results of Cam Saddlers knee were not good. Cam has an ACL injury that will require surgery and put him out for the year. This makes player #2 that we have lost for the season. Hopefully this year does not follow in the same steps as last year with multiple players at key positions being hurt. I never want to say an injury is not a big deal, but luckily Pitt will be able to survive with our great depth at defensive line (Fulmer) and our kick return game should be in relatively good shape as Hot-Rod, Aundre Wright, and others are all capable returners.

Speaking of returners, I am very uncertain how Derek Kinder will fare this season. He seems to be struggling with not being able to run and make cuts the way he wants too. Derek could end up having a very productive season, but coming back from such a major injury makes me believe that he won't be able to replicate what he did his junior season.

Keeping on the junior theme, I find it odd that despite being the projected starter Bill Stull isn't taking many reps with the first team. Most of the time it has been Pat Bostick practicing on the first unit. I'm fine with that as I feel Bostick still has his best days ahead of him. With the weight loss, added arm strength, plus being the most experienced qb on our roster he could be the right guy to lead the team.

I understand that Stull has been suffering from bruised ribs after Jabaal Sheard manhandled Joe Thomas into Stull. I know you're probably tired of hearing me say this, but really, why can't we let the best players play? Joe Thomas has gotten worse each season and is making the right side of the line a huge liability. I just find it hard to believe that a team with so many offensive linemen don't have anyone better than Joe Thomas. People always tell me that Lucas Nix can't play because he's only a freshman, but I don't buy into that. Sure offensive linemen take a while to grow into, but we're not asking him to be an all-american here. Before I'm criticized for wanting the highly touted freshmen to play without proving anything, let me say that I am for the best players playing. I don't care if they are a freshman or a senior. As long as we have the best players playing, then I can live with that. So by the end of camp if Joe Thomas is really the best right tackle we have, then play him. I just feel that Wannstedt has his starters penciled in and Joe Thomas won't see his name coming off of that list anytime soon.

Before I conclude here, I want to bring up Jonathan Baldwin. Just like we heard last year with Shady, Jonathan is dominating practice. Our defense ranked in the top 10 last season and should only grow stronger with the departures of Kennard Cox, Jameel Brady, and others. The fact that Baldwin is making life miserable for our defense should warrant time for him to play. I really worry that Kinder isn't ready and that he won't be the same player. I also worry that we will see more of the same lack of concentration from Oderick Turner. I really hope that Baldwin is an opening day starter. I am setting myself up for disappointment here, but just lining Baldwin up at wr makes match up problem #1, having Dorin covered by a linebacker is match up problem #2, and lastly we have Shady which is going to be hell for any defense.

Our offense can be special, but it is all going to come down to the right tackle and quarterback. Like Jason said earlier, I believe this team could be a national championship team if we had Tyler Palko.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Doug Fulmer Out For The Season

Doug Fulmer who was looking to make a big return this season has suffered another knee injury and will miss the 2008 season. During the spring Fulmer showed an immense amount of talent and looked like a guy ready to break out. This is extremely unfortunate and will be a hit to the depth of the defensive line. Jabaal Sheard and Tony Tucker are going to need to step up and make a bigger impact than what may have been expected this season. Perhaps this will mean some snaps at defensive end for Shayne Hale as well.

Fulmer Suffers Season Ending Injury

Monday, August 11, 2008

No Redshirt For Bostick?????

The quarterback situation in camp is starting to become clearer and one thing is becoming apparent, there will be no redshirt for Pat Bostick. Kevan Smith the backup coming out of camp last year hasn't separated himself from Bostick and the coaching staff doesn't seem to have any faith in him to back up Stull. No matter how you look at it Smith's performance last year after Stull went down was subpar, he doesn't seem to be the answer. Bostick, although he had his fair share of struggles, went out and won some games. Another big bonus from Bostick has been his dedication to the offseason program for weight loss and stregnth training.

After last year Bostick redshirting seemed to be a forgone conclusion but Coach Wannstedt seems to be putting a huge importance on winning this season. If Stull goes down again Bostick is the only quarterback we have that can win us a game. Being the backup hopefully Bostick will be able to see enough practice snaps that he will only continue to get better. Sunseri is going to redshirt this season so we will have him in contention for the next four years. Bostick is going to need to be far enough along in his development to win the starting job two years from now, which without a redshirt will be Bostick's senior season. Losing a redshirt season will be slightly detremental to the programs depth overall but hopefully Bostick can gain more experience in practice.

The overall point of this entire quarterback situation is that Bill Stull needs to be ready from snap number one on opening day. Unfourtunately his injury has put him in a situation where he hasn't had any real game experience. He is the most important ingredient to the success of the team this season.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Week In Review (Sort of)

I thought today I would just try to give an overview of what we know coming out of the first week of camp:
  1. Jordan Gibbs started out at left tackle over Jason Pinkston but has already moved into the primary back-up role. Pinkston played very well last year and seems to have renewed the confidence of the coaching staff in his abilities. The battle for the 5 offensive line positions is going to have a few more twists and turns in the upcoming weeks. Watch the battle for right tackle and if Lucas Nix can make a move for playing time over Joe Thomas.
  2. The freshman on offense are very good. Obviously, Jonathan Baldwin is the marquee player of this class and he has shown off his immense physical talents. Tino Sunseri has gotten a few mentions in reports for his ability to throw a great ball. Nix as stated before has really came into camp ready to go and ready to assert himself as a starter.
  3. The depth on defense at every position is unreal. Battles for playing time are going on all over the place and new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has a tough job in figuring out who to play and not to play. Athletic cornerback Buddy Jackson has been getting a ton of press for his speed and size.
  4. On the negative front it appears as though Derek Kinder is having problems with his knee and its taking him time to get back into the full swing of things. Doug Fulmer, who I feel will have a giant season if 100%, has missed a few practices this week.
This first week has shown what we had all hoped for that the recruiting successes of the past three seasons have translated into immense depth. The expectations for certain players and the entire team are constantly rising. Something about this camp and the perception from the media seems different and seems better in some ways. I don't want to jinx the team at all because in camp the situation can change in a second but things are looking extremely promising.

Check back tomorrow for more of our coverage of camp.

No S......

I'm going to supply a really quick late night column and just address one situation. Why is the local media continually hyping how great Jonathan Baldwin looks at wide receiver? Is it perhaps the scouting websites know what they are talking about? Or that a 6'5 receiver with track athlete like speed could be a player that is ready to start immediately?

I can think of a player that we hyped up big time last year, check the archives, that showed the same level of ability in camp. 2007's best freshman had a pretty good outcome, I think 2008's best freshman is becoming blatantly obvious less than a week in camp...

Look for the Baldwin Comments

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Something Not About the Offensive Line

It seems that most of the news coming out of camp has been about the various position battles that are taking place on the offensive line. The emphasis that has been put on this situation is very encouraging and the hope is that we will come out with a serviceable and cohesive offensive line this year. I thought today I would take a look at a position that has no real battle for the starting spot but has an interesting effect on the future of the program, running back.

Right now we have an All-American and legitimate national star at running back in Shady McCoy and his backup last year was a solid performer in LaRod Stephens-Howling. Behind them is the star of this season's spring and a player with a ton of buzz around him in Shareef Harris. Another player that is going to factor into running back position is Kevin Collier, who was very highly rated coming out of high school. Even further down the line is freshman Chris Burns. Running back is seemingly the deepest it has been in many years.

The real story this year is how the carries are shared between the backups Stephens-Howling and Harris. Harris seems like the natural heir to the starting job when Shady leaves, whenever that may be. Stephens-Howling on the other hand has given three fairly productive years here and is a solid option to spell McCoy. McCoy is going to get a huge percentage of the teams overall carries and can feature on every down so whoever backs him up needs to be able to play in all situations.

I feel that we need to get Harris as many touches as possible as a contigency plan to have a full time every down back ready when Shady decides to leave. He shouldn't be a situational backup to McCoy in order to allow him to get used to playing in the Big East. Also he is the type of playmaker that when given the opportunity will cement himself carries in our offense.

This leaves Stephens-Howlings as the odd man out but he will still be able to contribute in special teams as a kick returner. It appears as though the talent level at the running back position has left him behind but his leadership will be invaluable to the younger players. The season is long and injuries always happen so having experienced players backing up the starters will only make the team better.

Back to reality the coaching will certainly find a way to Hot Rod carries seeing as Coach Wannstedt is a fan. I thought the way we distributed carries between Shady and Hot Rod early in the season was very poor and showed a weakness in the offensive staff. We can't get caught in the same scenario this year where carries aren't distributed correctly between our three main running backs. Shady is going to get all the carries he can handle but what needs to be looked at is how much Harris gets in order to get him ready for next year or the year after. Having a few playmakers at the running back position can be a gift and in some instances with bad distribution a curse.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gibbs at Left Tackle

As has been reported in a couple of places including Kevin Gorman's blog for the Tribune-Review it looks as though Jordan Gibbs is in the pole position for the left tackle position at the start of camp. Gibbs, the redshirt freshman, is quite the physical specimen and a natural left tackle. What this means is that Jaosn Pinkston will move over to right tackle and compete with Joe Thomas.

This development is fairly intersting in that it appears new offensive line coach Tony Wise is going to go with his set of five players, not looking at past performance. I'm exctied about the prospect of a legitimate competition for the offensive line spots. In previous years the coaching staff seemed to side with experience rather than talent/upside in order to create the offensive line depth chart.

Looking at the competition at right tackle my best bet is that Pinkston will be able to take over Thomas for the starting spot. Pinkston was a bright spot early in the season last year and seems to have the ability to be a productive member of the line. Thomas is one of the biggest enigmas on the team with his good performance freshman year and the massive dropoff he suffered last year. He has by all indications been doing the work in the offseason in order to be prepared for this season but with the shuffle of Pinkston to right tackle he is going to have a difficult time getting into the starting lineup. Either way this battle pans out the offensive line is only going to get stronger and more versatile.

Kevin Gorman's Trib Blog on the Morning Session of Camp

Monday, August 4, 2008

Training Camp Opens

Finally after a long 8 months we are back into the business of Pitt Football. Sunday was the first day of training camp at the Southside Complex. Expectations have risen considerably since the win against WVU last December and this season could define the future of the program. Coach Wannstedt must translate all of the success off the field into his first winning season.

The story of this month will be: Can the offensive line gel into a cohesive and productive unit? Only one player on the line, CJ Davis, has significant starting experience. On the plus side this offensive line could be the most talented group Pitt has had for a long time. To me the three biggest question marks on the line are:
  1. Can Robb Houser solidify the center position? I don't think he needs to be All-Big East or All American but Houser needs to provide stability to a position that has been a problem for some time. There is very little time for him to make the adjustment from Junior College to the Big East. If Houser fails in camp or early in the season we could see major problems from the offensive line.
  2. Is Joe Thomas the man at right tackle? Thomas had a rough season last year at guard and now he is being penciled in at right tackle this season. Judging from his play during his freshman year it appears that he is a better tackle than guard. Reports have stated that Thomas has really put in the work during the offseason in the weight room and has lost a considerable amount of weight. Coach Wannstedt says that he is under 300 pounds now which fits into the speedy lineman template for the system. If Thomas can't win this position Jordan Gibbs, Dan Matha, and Chase Clowser are the upper-classmen that could have a chance to take the job. High-profile recruit Lucas Nix could also have a chance to win the starting job should Thomas fail, although I believe a redshirt for Nix is the current plan.
  3. Can John Malecki make the transition from defensive line to offensive line? Malecki seems like a safe bet to be at the very least a serviceable player at guard. With his ability to move and toughness he will make a big impact in the running game. I thought Malecki had a really solid season last year on the defense and is definitely a player to watch out for.
Looking quickly at the defense I see a few position battles popping up. There is the battle at one of the safety positions between Elijiah Fields and Dom DeCicco but I see this as moot because both will be starting early in the season. At linebacker many are looking to see if Greg Williams can beat out Shane Murray. I feel that Williams, with his athletic ability and speed, could add much to the defensive but Murray has matured into quite a solid tackler and smart player. Jovanni Chappel is an early favorite to win the corner position opposite Aaron Berry but Ronald Hobby has enough talent to beat him out as a freshman and has been with the team since January. Another player to look at is the redshirt freshman Buddy Jackson who has the size and speed to be a factor at the corner position. Don't forget about Ricky Gary factoring in either, he looked pretty good early in the season last year. My outlook is that Chappel will have this job as long as he continues to play steady mistake free football.

On the offensive side of the ball, outside of the line, the only positional battle I see is for the 3rd wide reciever position. I have a feeling that Oderick Turner will get the benefit of experience to play across from Derek Kinder opening day but the 3rd spot could be interesting. TJ Porter had the most productive season of any of our wideouts last year despite having no touchdowns. Aundre Wright is perhaps the fastest player on the team and coming off a redshirt we will need to find a way to get him touches. Aaron Smith is another redshirt player that could factor at wide reciever. The wildcard in this situation is Jonathan Baldwin; his talent and size could make him into a dominant reciever day 1 here at Pitt. In the past Wannstedt and co. have been very reluctant to go with a freshman at a skill position but I can see Baldwin doing what Shady did last year. Getting limited touches in the first two games and impressing to the point that he works his way into a starting job. Mike Shanahan is another freshman that perhaps could contribute right away but I see him getting a redshirt this year and making his move up the depth chart next year.

Well that is a little bit to look for during the hectic training camp this month. Keep coming back to The Cat Basket as we will be following the camp in depth.