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Written by PSB Bryan | 26 August 2010

Although this summer has had much (understandable) hype for the offensive stars, there's a fair chance that Pitt's BCS dreams will rest on the shoulders of the defense.  If it's a Dave Wannstedt defense, then it's success lives and dies with the defensive line:

Today, Pitt's defensive line - bolstered Wednesday by the return to practice of All-Big East end Greg Romeus from back spasms - looks to be one of the deepest positions on the team.

"I feel good about our kids," said Gattuso, now the assistant head coach/defensive line. "I like our matchups. We are confident in our game.

"We have depth and the young guys are ready to play. We feel like we can play eight or nine guys, 10 if we have to."

Much of the rest of the article focuses on RS junior Brandon Lindsey and his battle to see the field.  I have to admit, I've largely given up on Lindsey developing into a big-time player.  It's not like he's a bad player, he's second string, but the expectations were so high for him coming out of high school.  Couple that with his flashes of brilliance and you have a recipe for disappointed fans.  He still has two years left and by all accounts had a very good camp, so I'll be rooting for him to solidify his status as heir apparent to Romeus at RE.

Speaking of which, as the above article notes, Greg Romeus is back.  And apparently, he hasn't missed a beat:

If you are worried about defensive end Greg Romeus (back spasms) and his availibility for the Utah game, don't be. Today at practice he apparently got a little bit feisty - so much so that he had to be restrained after getting into a fight with scout team quarterbacks. "He must be back, he's fighting our scout team quarterback," Bennett said. "He's mad, so hell, I'm glad!"

That rush of air you're feeling a sigh of relief coming from Wannstedt's South Side office.  The Panthers can't afford a slow start like season.  Romeus is needed early and often if they're going to escape their brutal non-conference with 3-5 wins.

Also of note, K'Wuan Williams will definitely not redshirt this season and Aaron Donald will almost certainly see playing time as well.  I hate to burn Williams' redshirt, but corner is a position of desperate need.  At defensive tackle, I'll gladly take a true freshman who can break the two deep at any position.

The with the cornerback competition settled, the focus turns to determining who's "just ok" enough to play strongside linebacker: Greg Williams or Tristan Roberts.  Right now Roberts seems to have the lead, but Williams is coming back with a strong couple of practices.  I've gotten the feeling that the coaching staff has had enough of Williams' unsteady performances and were really hoping that Roberts could take the job away.  But apparently, no one has distinguished themselves enough to hold the job.  I'm expecting an all-conference season out of sophomore Dan Mason, so hopefully he can mask some of the deficiencies to his right.

But none of that matters if they can't defend their opponents' offense schemes.  As for their first defensive test of the season, Pitt feels confident it can handle Utah's high-octane spread offense:

The Panthers will play seven full-time spread teams this season in 12 games and at least three others who will use some version of the spread or wildcat in a limited way.

That is not much different than last season when they faced seven spread teams and Navy, a triple-option team.

But that does not mean Pitt will stop Utah's offense when the teams meet for the first time since that Fiesta Bowl. The Panthers, however, will be much better prepared for it than their staff was in 2004.

"Four, five, six years ago, we were all trying to figure out how to simulate the spread offense and the speed of the offense and what they do and, now, it just seems like it is easier to prepare for in a lot of ways," Gattuso said.

"Now, it is easier in preparation, but it is not easy in execution because the spread offense is going to make one guy make a tackle, that is the whole goal of that offense. If someone from defense is going to make a play it is going to be one guy, not two or three.

"They are just good at finding gaps and holes and putting your defenders in tough situations. But we're used to it now, we know how to prepare for it. It is still a tough offense to prepare for, but we're comfortable with it now and like I said, we know how to simulate it now."

7 days.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 25 August 2010

Dion Lewis named to the Doak Walker watch list.  Not to be cocky or anything, but if you haven't heard, he's pretty good.  Light it up:

Name

Award Watch List
Baldwin, Jon Biletnikoff (wide receiver)
Maxwell (overall player)
DeCicco, Dom Thorpe (defensive back)
Hutchins, Dan Lou Groza (kicker)
Lewis, Dion Doak Walker (running back)
Maxwell (overall player)
Walter Camp (overall player)
Pinkston, Jason Lombardi (down lineman/tight end/linebacker)
Outland (offensive line/defensive tackle)
Romeus, Greg Bednarik (defensive player)
Hendricks (defensive end)
Lombardi (down lineman/tight end/linebacker)
Lott (defensive player + character)

Nagurski (defensive end)

 

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Written by PSB Bryan | 25 August 2010

It's about time.

After a long, hot summer full of hype and expectations, the dawn of the 2010 season is upon us.  You better believe that Utah is getting primed for this game:

The team was divided by the usual white jerseys for offense, black for defense, and a new look, red jerseys for the scout team. Freshman running back Lucky Radley stood out on the day, playing the role of highly vaunted Pitt running back Dion Lewis, complete with a bright yellow jersey with the number 28, Lewis' jersey number. Other Ute players donned the same numbers as their Pittsburgh counterparts, aiding the scout team in running Pitt schemes for the defensive starters.

Also of note in the above piece is that starting outside linebacker JJ Williams will miss the Pitt game.

But what does this game mean?  Pauls Zeise says not a whole lot:

So in short, don't read too much into the results of the first game of the season.Yes, you'd like Pitt to win it to get off to a good start and to grab some momentum, but if they do it doesn't mean much more than they are 1-0. And if they lose, it doesn't mean much more than they are 0-1.

Chas over at PittBlather responds to Zeise, making some good points of his own.  And yes, while a loss would only derail Pitt's national championship ambitions (as small as they may be), this is a statement game for both teams.  For Utah, a win is another reminder that despite being in the MWC for another season, they belong with the big boys.  With the program heading to the greener pastures of the Pac-10(12), this may be one of the last time times they can play the disrespect card - at least in terms of their conference affiliation.  They are the big boys now.

For Pitt, a win is a proclemation that Pitt isn't just "Big East good," but are serious contenders to do some BCS damage.  To get Dion Lewis' Heisman campaign underway.  To establish Tino Suneri as "The Man" for the next three seasons.  And yes, to earn a little payback on behalf of their fans for the Fiesta Bowl loss.  This is a big game.  Losing will do nothing to end Pitt's chance of winning the Big East (a realistic goal), but a big game nonetheless.

As with all big games, there will be the pleasantries:

"I don't know him personally but I've observed his career take shape. He's an excellent football coach, obviously, he's been at every level and he's really turned that Pitt program around," Whittingham said. "He's got them right where they need to be right now. They're in great shape. They're picked to win the Big East this year and (Wannstedt) really has returned that program to prominence."

Much can (and will) be said about the fantastic job Whittingham has done out west.  Keeping the Utah program prominent when Urban Myer left is nothing short of incredible.  Suppoedly better programs have fallen of cliffs after losing much worse coaches (Louisville).  There should be no doubt that he will have his team ready to play ball on Sept. 2.

Let's do this.

 

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Written by PSB Bryan | 24 August 2010

Tons of hype for Pitt on 93.7 The Fan yesterday.  There's apparently a way to embed the media player on this site, but I haven't figured it out yet.  For the time being, click on the link and the interview will open with Quicktime.  If you want to save the mp3, right click and "Save Target As."

 

Steve Pederson on The Fan Morning Show

 

Tino Sunseri on with Vinnie & Cook

 

Dave Wannstedt with Chris Mueller

 

Cam Saddler with Sibel & Starkey

 

Jason Pinkston was also on last night, but the link isn't up yet.  I'll check back later today.  I guess they're not posting that one.

UPDATE 1: Jeff Hafley on The Fan Morning Show

 

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Written by PSB Bryan | 23 August 2010

Jamie Dixon has pulled in his fourth recruit for the class of 2011.  Meet 6'11" Malcolm Gilbert of Philadelphia, a 3 star on Rivals and a 92 on ESPN.  notable offers for Gilbert include Clemson, Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Wake Forest.

I won't lie: I don't know a thing about this guy except every writes about his defense:

But at 6 feet, 11 inches tall, Gilbert was a major factor in helping East Coast Elite down Andre Drummond and the Connecticut Basketball Club, 63-58, for the title.

Gilbert had five blocks on Drummond, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2012, in the first half and six total blocks in the game. He also finished with 9 rebounds — 6 offensive, 3 defensive — before fouling out with 54 seconds remaining.

“He’s intriguing because of his upside,” East Coach Elite coach Terrell Myers said before the final. “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.

“He can score the ball but I don’t think you’re going to throw it in and get Dwight Howard or Hakeem Olajuwon. That’s not who he is. Maybe you’re looking at more of a Greg Oden-type once he bulks up. He’s definitely similar to him.”

That would be very, very good.  Still, as the the 17th center in the class of 2011, he seems to be a project - which most big men are at 16.  Perhaps he'll be a Gary McGhee type player; a four year player who takes some time to develop.  I know people are always fatuated with the one-and-done players who can come in and dominate immediately, but in the world of big men, Demarcus Cousins is the exception and not the rule.

No idea how the dynamic will work out with Steven Adams enrolling the following year.  Presumably, Gilbert will be a year ahead in his development, but still maybe behind Dante Taylor and JJ Richardson on the depth chart.  By many indications, Steven Adams is very, very good.  How this will play out will likely be the topic of a future post after a humid summer night in Greentree.

With Gilbert coming in and only three seniors graduating, there's the uncomfortable question of who will be the odd man out.  This year's incoming players are almost assuredly safe because they won't have had time to prove themselves.  That leaves the class of 2009 (Patterson, Zanna, Richardson, Taylor) and the class of 2008 (Woodall, Gibbs, Robinson, Miller).  It's WAY too early to even begin to speculate who could be out come next summer, so I'm going to hold off until after we see the product on the court.  This is an uncomfortable process, but one that I suppose is a necessary evil of being a big-time program.

Anyway, on a much happier note: Welcome to Pitt, Malcolm.

(As always, I'll update this post as I scower the series of tubes for more information on this young man.)

Adam Zagoria: Malcolm Gilbert to Pitt

UPDATE 1: Two more articles on the commitment.  March Madness All Season Long and NBE Basketball Report

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Written by PSB Bryan | 22 August 2010

I got an email this weekend requesting a list of all the Pitt players named to a preseason watch list.  Ask and you shall receive:

 

Name

Award Watch List
Baldwin, Jon Biletnikoff (wide receiver)
Maxwell (overall player)
DeCicco, Dom Thorpe (defensive back)
Hutchins, Dan Lou Groza (kicker)
Lewis, Dion Maxwell (overall player)
Walter Camp (overall player)
Pinkston, Jason Lombardi (down lineman/tight end/linebacker)
Outland (offensive line/defensive tackle)
Romeus, Greg Bednarik (defensive player)
Hendricks (defensive end)
Lombardi (down lineman/tight end/linebacker)
Lott (defensive player + character)

Nagurski (defensive end)

Let me know if I missed anyone.
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Written by PSB Bryan | 21 August 2010

Some links to start off your weekend:

  • The AP Poll was released today with Pitt at 15.  Overall, I don't have too many complaints.  I'm of the opinion that with an unknown at QB, Pitt is a #12 - #17 team in the preseason.  If Sunseri can produce, I expect Pitt to be a top 10 caliber team.  If not, they'll be fighting to remain in the top 25.  Other poll highlights include Miami at 13, Penn State at 19, WVU at 25, Cincy at 26, Utah at 28, UConn at 31 and Notre Dame at 32.
  • Over at PittBlather, Chas has written the definitive piece on Parking-gate 2010.  Being that my spot was in Gold 2 (now the site of an unnecessary amplitheater), I expected to be moved.  Whatever.  As long as I have surface parking within a two-beer walk of the stadium, I'm happy.  What I find to be the biggest annoyance about the parking is that every lot is "pre-sold," which seems counterproductive to encouraging people to come to the North Shore for the not so big games.
  • It was announced today that Alex Karabin has been granted a scholarship for his final season at Pitt.  The now former walk-on will is likely the starting center to start the season, so I'm glad things worked out for him. While within the rules, it would be so inherently unfair to have a kid start for a multi-million dollar BCS program and have to pay his own way.  Congratulations to Alex and his family.  The Post-Gazette had some background on Karabin in April.
  • So where's Karabin's scholarship coming from?  Most likely from freshman defensive tackle Khaynin Mosely-Smith who has been declared ineligable by the NCAA after an investigation into Woodland Hills' "passkey" online classes.  Normally, I'd blame Pitt for not being sure that a player had his grades in order before enrolling - and regetably did on Twitter - but it now appears that Pitt didn't have much opportunity to remedy the situation.  My bad.  As the article states, Mosely-Smith was almost assuredly going to redshirt this season, so it's not a major concern, although I'd rather have him working out with Buddy Morris for the year.
  • Kicker Dan Hutchens was named to the Lou Groza Award watch-list.  In case you couldn't have guessed, that goes the nation's best kicker.  Hutchins destroyed the school record for points by a kicker last season, and as was noted in the comments over at the old site, was extremely unappreciated last season.  He worked on his range in the off-season and hopes to be able to get his numbers from 40+ yards (44%) closer to his under 40 yard kicks (95%).
  • Long snapper John Fieger has been suspended for violating team rules, but is expected to be back before Utah.  Eh.
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Written by PSB Bryan | 19 August 2010

DionRivals

How's that for some publicity?  Rivals.com unveiled it's preseason All-American today and the first team has a distinctly Pitt flavor:

First team analysis: A year ago, Pittsburgh boasted one of the nation's highest-scoring teams, and that doesn't figure to change with running back Dion Lewis, offensive tackle Jason Pinkston and wide receiver Jonathan Baldwinback in the fold. Lewis rushed for nearly 1,800 yards last season, while Pinkston made some All-America teams and Baldwin averaged 19.5 yards per catch.
One thing to watch: All three first-team receivers -- Baldwin, Notre Dame's Michael Floyd and Georgia's A.J. Green -- are working with new starting quarterbacks.
North Carolina has two defenders on the first team: end Robert Quinn and linebacker Quan Sturdivant. UNC is one of just two teams that held Pittsburgh to fewer than 20 points last season.
Romeus made the second team, which isn't too much of a suprise since competion for the title of best DE in the country is pretty fierce.  I was suprised Pinkston made the first team, though.  He's undersized for a position where the experts love size.

Now they just have to live up to expectations.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 19 August 2010

This isn't something you want to read until you've had your coffee:

All told, the first and second-team offenses combined to gain just eight first downs on 16 drives. Tino Sunseri completed 6-of-17 passes for 36 yards, while Pat Bostick completed 5-of-15 for 48 yards and one touchdown.

"The biggest disappointment was that, when you look our goals and objectives, it's to help the team win," offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti said after the scrimmage. "I saw things out there today that could lose football games.

"I saw inefficiency in the run game, I saw inefficiency in the pass-protection, I saw inefficiency in the passing game, I saw turnovers, I saw penalties, I saw dropped balls; all of the things that we talk about, in terms of playing smart and minimizing mistakes, those mistakes showed up today."

Yikes.  Zeise agrees that practice was particularly bad for the offense, but this is no time to lose our composure:

But as these things usually go, it isn't yet time to panic for two reasons. One, the defense for the first time looked like it was in midseason form and the defensive line, without Greg Romeus, was as dominant as it was last year when it led Division I in sacks. Two, the offense was working on some things schematically which are a little different than the unit's bread and butter.

Pitt usually operates best out of two backs -- fullback Henry Hynoski and tailback Dion Lewis -- a tight end and two receivers but Wednesday in the scrimmage, the Panthers were in one-back with three receivers almost exclusively and the results were pretty unsuccessful.

No time to panic.  There is two weeks to get things in order (gulp).  Also, let's keep in mind that last summer the defense was absolutely crushing the offense every practice - particularly in the trenches. - and wasn't inspiring a lot of confidence coming off the Sun Bowl debacle.  Again this year Pitt's defensive line is arguably the top competition this offensive line will face this season (although Utah returns a lot of talent there).  No time to panic.

If you need something to keep you off a ledge this morning, Sports Illustrated ran two very positive pieces on it's website this week.  First off, was the "expectations" piece we've all read before (but worth another read).  Yesterday Andy Staples did a feature on Greg Romeus and his assention from 2-star recruit to one of the best defensive players in the nation.  Good, brief video too.

 

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Written by PSB Bryan | 18 August 2010

More good news today on the recruiting front as 4-star athlete Kyshoen Jarrett committed to the Panthers and PittBlather has you covered on the instant reaction.  Jarrett, likely a defensive back, got me thinking about Pitt's future secondary.  Of course, stars don't necessarily mean production at any position (see Wright, Aundre and Smith, Aaron for examples), but Dave Wannstedt is accumulating something he hasn't had in his tenure as head coach: depth.  The secondary is just one example.  There, Pitt's currently a work in progress to say the least, but they have talent coming through the pipe in RS freshman Jason Hendricks, true freshmen K-Wuan Williams and Brandon Ifill, as well as new recruits LaFayette Pitts, Terrell Chestnut and now Kyshoen Jarrett.  Now, will all these guys pan out?  Doubtful.  But there's also an equal chance that some unheralded player can come in and make a difference.  It was just a few short years ago that many freshmen were supposed to come into camp and immediately contribute - not because they surprised anyone, but rather because they were the better of some mediocre options.

It's not just the secondary.  Quarterback looks to be set for the foreseeable future with three years of eligibility left for Sunseri and five for the winner of the Mark Myers / Anthony Gonzalez battle.  The all-freshmen defensive line was looking like a mid-major line 4 days after stepping onto campus (that doesn't even include RS freshman Tyrone Ezell).  Losing Baldwin next year will hurt, but the blow is expected to be softened by Devin Street and Todd Thomas.  And let's not even start with running back.

Sure there are still holes (no heir apparent to Pinkston/Nix at tackle, uncertainty at linebacker), but the program is leaps and bounds better than it was just five years ago.  To me, this is what Wannstedt was brought in to do - to build a program.  After his time in the NFL, Pitt was the logical place for him to ride out into the sunset.  The administration knows he's not bolting for a couple extra bucks or act as if he's bigger than Pitt.  He has administration's support and, more importantly, he seems to want to end his career doing something important where he buckled up his own chin-strap.  Pitt isn't a top along the way in his coaching journey - it's the destination.  Who knows if this is the year that Pitt atually does something on the national stage, but if Wanny were to retire tomorrow, he would be leaving the program in a hell of a lot better shape then when he found it.

If this seems overly optimistic, maybe it is.  But I'm in my late twenties and I've never had the opportunity to be truly optimistic about the future of Pitt football.  And for that, Wannstedt deserves a lot of credit.

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