Let’s Get Crazy with J-White!

(Don’t use that nickname – I just had to fit the title onto one line)

A few days ago Mike Vukovcan of the Pittsburgh Sports Now website teased us with a vague paragraph when he wrote this

“I know this won’t make people happy that I can’t give details now but I learned of an interesting situation that could be happening but at the moment am not at liberty to elaborate. etc…”

I read that twice and still couldn’t get anything from it… but I’ll give it my best guesses:

  1. An on-campus feasibility study. I highly doubt it.
  2. Beer sales at Heinz Field. If so Mike V. is a bit behind the times.
  3. Kenny Chesney as the halftime entertainment at the Pitt-PSU game. That would crack me up…but no.
  4. A transfer QB coming in before fall camp starts. Yes, thank you!
  5. Jordan Whitehead playing both full time defense and offense this season. Grrrr.

There has been fan speculation on the internet that Vukovcan actually was referring to our wonderful Sophomore Safety, Jordan Whitehead, moving over to offense as a two-way player.  Of course Vukovcan didn’t really say one word about Whitehead, or offense, defense, or any other subject for that matter in that paragraph, but this topic is something that fans love to discuss and apparently want to see come true.

I couldn’t disagree with the idea more.

Switching players to positions of need happens across college football. Pat Narduzzi has embraced it during his MSU career and now as the head coach at Pitt.

Narduzzi had this to say in his first spring camp last year:

“Our goal is to get our best 11 players on the field at one time. We’re going to do whatever it has to be. Whether it’s an offensive guy moving to the defense or a defensive guy moving to the offense, it doesn’t matter.

This all had me scratching my head trying to remember position switches over the last decade or so and if they turned out for the better.  Here is an off the top of the head listing.  Narduzzi’s Pitt switches are in blue:

Player

Original Position

Switched To…

Dom DeCicco WR DB
Manny Williams RB LB
Kevin Adams RB FB
Dorian Dickerson RB LB-WR-TE-H Back
Shayne Hale LB DE
Greg Cross QB LB-WR
Cameron Saddler RB WR
Todd Thomas WR LB
Anthony Gonzalez QB LB
Bam Bradley DB LB
Brian O’Neill TE OL
Jaymar Parrish FB TE
Jalen Williams DB LB
Elijah Zeise WR LB
Manny Stocker WR QB-WR-QB
Reggie Mitchell CB S
James Folston LB DE
Tyler Boyd WR WR/RB

I look at that and see maybe four solid positive rewards from those switches – DeCicco, Thomas, Gonzalez and Brian O’Neill.  Of course the jury is still out on Narduzzi’s recent switches but I think Zeise and Folston will pay dividends. I hope we never find out about Stocker (we had him at DB before the switch to QB2) because that means we are in trouble.

There are some mistakes in that list also – Dorian Dickerson was sorely misused by Wannstedt until his senior year.  Greg Cross never panned out at any spot so I think he should have been kept at QB for the Wildcat Formation– which we tended to run sometimes back then.  I listed Boyd for two reasons; one is that he did switch to RB for 40 carries last year plus it pertains to the Whitehead issue.

It is hard to infer whether switching players works or doesn’t – too many factors involved.  Many players who won’t be starters in their time at Pitt are switched for practice purposes or to fill slots on the scout team.

Please Let me know in the comments other switches I may have missed and which ones you think were good or bad moves to make.

So – back to Whitehead and the two-way controversy.whitehead1109

In the last two years 20 college players have played both ways on any sort of a regular basis. While I don’t have the info in front of me, and according to the linked article, a lot of those 20 were ‘niche’ switches – that is a substitution based on a specific play call.

That’s why you see 330# defensive lineman carrying the ball into the endzone from two yards out.  You also see kids like Jordan Whitehead who will slide over to offense and run a reverse or some other play designed especially because his skill set matched up well with the down & yardage situation and the defense on the field..

Personally I don’t even like seeing Whitehead doing those plays even though I can see the reasoning in it.  An abrupt injection of speed into a backfield can catch the defense laying back on their heels.

Whitehead was effective out of the backfield with 12 carries for 122 yards (10.2 ypc) with a long run of 22 yards and he scored two TDs.  Not bad for a really part time two-way guy.

But we also have a returning 1100+ yard rusher in Quadree Ollison who had a good 5.3 ypc average and scored 11 TDs. Superstar James Conner will be ready to start playing again and he’ll get many yards and many TDs.  Rachid Ibrahim, Darrin Hall and true FR Chawntez Moss are all talented backs and will provide support there.

So Whitehead is not needed at RB on a regular basis one bit. Really, he’s not.

Part of the effectiveness he showed last season is that he was a surprise substitution into our huddle, sometimes delaying running in until later on the play clock and the defense was set in its personnel. Plus his being a true FR meant opposing defensive coordinators didn’t game plan for him on offense, at least not until later in the season and then only maybe.

That said, he’ll play Safety first and foremost because folks, a bona fide ‘Star!’ Safety sure as hell is going to stay in the Safety position.

Where I could see him possibly being put in on offense as a total two-way player, if Narduzzi feels the strong need to have Whitehead touch the ball more, is over at WR to try to replicate some of what we lost now that Tyler Boyd left Pitt for the NFL.

Whitehead was All-Everything at Aliquippa’s Central Valley HS but wide receiver was probably the least played of his positions.   However in his SR year of HS he did have 24 catches for 471 yards at a 19.6 clip. But his real skills were needed and used elsewhere… just like they are at Pitt today.

His HS coached used him sparingly in the WR position for a change of pace insertion – much like Narduzzi and Chaney did with him last year on offense when he subbed as a RB. Whitehead caught only two passes for 10 yards for us in ’15 but if I remember those were swings out of the backfield so WR wasn’t on the radar for him.

The bottom line to me is that you minimize risk in some areas to gain reward in other areas.  Risk isn’t a bad thing but when you have a player who is so integral and valuable to his unit, in this case Whitehead to the defense, you make sure he stays well and sharp enough to play that position at his highest level.

I know that an injury can happen on any play, but why double the chances of losing an indispensable player, especially one in a unit that really needs all the help it can get, when it isn’t truly necessary?

In this Pat Narduzzi agrees with me (somewhat) and showed it in his lessened deployment of Tyler Boyd last season.  Our offense, especially at QB, was suspect coming out of fall camp last year so he knew that Boyd was going to be integral on offense as the WR1 – the go-to guy as it were.

What he and Chaney did was roll-back Boyd’s involvement in Special Teams as the starting return man.  In 2014 under Chryst Boyd was the main punt and kick returner and had 16 out of our 23 punt returns and 16 kickoff returns with Avonte’ Maddox close behind.

However, last year under Narduzzi he was phased out completely from those duties in the second half of the season. Totals for him last year were a drop from 16 to 8 punt returns and 16 to 11 kick returns.

From the end of the 7th game of the season Boyd didn’t go back to receive either a punt of a kickoff at all – zilch.  It wasn’t like he was surpassed by Maddox or Henderson being wonderful return guys either.  Maddox averaged 6.0 yards on punt returns.  Henderson did well averaging 28.0 on kickoff returns(throw the 100 yarder into that average).

Going into that 8th  gameagainst ND we were sitting at 6-2 and had a QB who was psiing the ball extremely well. Narduzzi saw that we could have a very special season, maybe even 9-10 wins, if we kept Boyd healthy

The staff needed to ensure he was on the field as a WR as much as possible, remember we lost our other offensive star in Conner’s injury in game 1, so they minimized Boyd’s risk of injury by pulling him off the return units.  It was a smart move and contrary to the belief some hold that a coach shouldn’t worry about injuries at all – just play the best where needed.

I think this is the way to go with Whitehead especially when our pass defense was poor and would have been horrid if he wasn’t back there.  I don’t care what 2016 freshman we have coming in – not one of them is going to be as effective at Safety as Whitehead is going into this season.

Keep things the way they are coach.  Keep the very-possible Best Safety in the nation on defense and surprise other teams with him on the offense every so often.  But we don’t need Whitehead on offense as a regular player… we have talent there already and he’s too valuable on defense.

The Pitt News had a funny article last year on just this subject.  My favorite bit was this:

Pat Narduzzi to linebacker;   Pat Narduzzi doesn’t have any eligibility left, so this one is purely hypothetical. But I do know that the guy has more than enough energy to man the middle linebacker position for a few plays a game. It’s easy to imagine Narduzzi, after his defense gives up a big play, tossing his headset and grabbing an extra pair of shoulder pads on the sideline, then running out to the field and barking out plays. The move would not only add a spark of energy to the defensive unit, but would also facilitate communication between the play callers and the defense.

And this is why I never make ‘profound predictions” (except that Voytik wasn’t going to be a star QB for us).  Take a look at what Mark Madden wrote about young Rod Rutherford back in the day…

Rod Rutherford will not start at quarterback for Pitt this season. That’s pretty much guaranteed by the presence of senior David Priestley. The two may “battle” for the spot in pre-season, but Priestley has that job in his back pocket. Rutherford will take the odd snap but won’t start unless Priestley gets hurt.

That’s no big deal. Rutherford is only entering his sophomore season eligibility-wise. Thing is, Rutherford won’t start next season, either. Or the season after that. Rutherford will never, ever be Pitt’s first choice at QB.

That will be a decidedly big deal.

I know hindsight is 20/20 but Madden was so damn sure (!!) RR would never see the field as our starting QB…

When the Pitt quarterback job passes from Priestley to Pat Hoderny to Tyler Palko, teeth will be gnashed and oaths will be muttered. Rutherford, after all, was to 1998 what Palko is to 2001: the very best scholastic football player in western Pennsylvania.

…Pitt insiders say Rutherford – his opinion bolstered by family and friends – is adamant about playing quarterback. Adamant enough that he’ll transfer if Harris asks him to switch positions. So Harris probably won’t ask Rutherford to switch. So Rutherford won’t switch. And he won’t play, either.

Well Mark – I guess Rod didn’t read your article… all he did was throw for 6724 yards and 60 TDs(!) for us and started his final two years.  BTW – WTH is a Pat Hoederny?

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17 thoughts on “Let’s Get Crazy with J-White!

  1. Charles Spencer switched from DL to OL and played a few years in the pros. So did John Malecki and Jason Pinkston.

    In 05, Clint Session switched positions with HB Blades (MLB-OLB); both played in pros for a handful of years, Session started in SB for Colts.

    Hank Poteat switched from RB to DB and has the distinction of being the last player the Steelers drafted from Pitt (00). He also got a SB ring as a member of the NE Pats.

    About 7 or 8 years ago, there was an interior lineman from Hopewell who switched between OL and DL about every 6 months … forgot his name .. but he never started.

    Rutherford did play RB/WR in his 1st year of eligibility with the distinction of the last player to score a TD in Pitt v PSU.

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  2. Lots of questions about this year. Defensive front 7 is 2nd,,,And the Head Coaching ability is 1s…Still don’t like what he did on the sidelines of the Bowl game when game was lost…Bush league.

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  3. I really think it was click bait and the “news” will be minor. Whitehead is rehabbing after knee surgery so more work is unlikely. To create controversy I’m going with Conner to DE. lol.

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  4. Reed,

    I was the one who made the original comment about Whitehead moving to offense. Reason I said that was simply the context of Vukovcan’s cryptic remarks. The previous paragraph, he mentioned about George Hill and somebody else moving to DB, then he says there’s something interesting afoot that he can’t talk about yet…since he was talking about RB’s moving to the secondary, it seemed logical to me that might be because somebody who’s in the secondary now might be moving elsewhere.

    You’re absolutely right about this team not needing another RB, by the way, and that if they do use him on offense, the logical place is in the slot or one of the WR positions. Wildcatter QB if Matt Canada wants to go totally bonkers.

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  5. Jeff – you did do that on here… however there has been talk on blogs and mostly boards for Whitehead to play on the O full time. i don’t get it myself.

    I think you develop kids to excel in positions they are familiar with and then keep the stars where they are.

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    1. Gotcha.

      I, personally, take a somewhat agnostic approach to where people play. The coaches are there in practice every day and they see what these guys (and their backups) are capable of; they’re going to be better judges than fans are, generally. During the season, if it looks like a certain position assignment didn’t work out, either because someone’s playing poorly or not playing at all, that seems like a more appropriate time for second guessing.

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  6. Zeke Gadson went from little used 3-year running back to star linebacker his redshirt senior year. I think he led the NCAA in sacks and was a great player on defense for us.

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    1. Rayhpgh, When I was writing my original posting above, I actually thought of Gadsen, but didn’t include him since it went back > 30 years. He was excellent on the outside blitzes as I recall

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      1. Dokish rated Gadsen 45th of all time Pitt FB — he unofficially broke the sack record:

        45. Zeke Gadson (1984-87)- If one were to name the top ten most dominating seasons by a Pitt player, Gadson would have to be high on the list. He started his Panther career as a running back but after toiling behind the likes of Ironhead Heyward, among others, he was moved to linebacker. The rest is college football history.

        In his only season as a starter, Gadson was turned into a hybrid linebacker/safety who blitzed from all of the field. The result was an incredible 24.5 sacks in 1987. The official NCAA record is 22 set by Terrell Suggs at Arizona State, but that’s only because the NCAA didn’t recognize sacks as an official stat until long after Gadson graduated. It was believed that Gadson held the unofficial single season NCAA record until the next season when Derrick Thomas of Alabama had 27 sacks.

        But Gadson was not just an oddity that rang up sack totals and did nothing else. Besides being a linebacker that was just 6’0″ and 210 pounds, he not only totaled 137 tackles and 32.5 tackles for loss on the season, but he also came up big in the Bluebonnet Bowl with 13 tackles and Defensive MVP honors.

        Ultimately, despite one amazing season, he has to be this low on the list because he did really only see time in that one season. One never knows how it would have effected the program, or his legacy, had the Panthers staff at the time moved him to linebacker earlier.

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    2. Which is the exact mirror opposite to a freshman DB being an immediate star at safety winning ACC freshman awards then pulling the defensive plug on him to play offense.

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  7. Lets not over look an important fact. Coach Dooz understands that for his defensive scheme to be what he wants it to be, his secondary must be , repeat must be the best it can be with the best bodies he can put on the field, I doubt he is going to move one of his top tier db s for any reason other than situations that give us an advantage personnel wise. to give an opposition defense a short but different look.

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    1. Turnley was from Hopewell … but so was Craig Bokor, who was the one I was thinking of. He went to prep school where he played defense, and played on practice squad as such in his redshirt year. Then he switched to offense .. then later back to defense the following year. He saw PT on both sides of the ball but to my knowledge, never started

      TJ Clemmens was the best example, I believe, of a switch working out great

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  8. Your daughter should of done the uniforms. Would be better than that big head Herman Munster asshole AD of ours. Smug asshole.

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