Camp Profiles: Mike Caprara

We are getting close to the beginning of Pitt’s fall camp as players report to Pitt on Aug 7th and on Aug 8th the fun begins.  That is only  11 days from now so I thought I’d take a day or two per week from now until Sept 2nd to peel back the curtain on some of the  lesser known players who we’ll see out on the field this season. We’ll call these articles “Camp Profiles”.

I’ll concentrate on Panthers in the two-deep who we recognize, and may even know a little about, but who are not in the glare of the spotlight.  I firmly believe that star players are fun to watch but the less heralded young men actually win the ball games.

James Conner might make a nice 20 yard run to give us the winning points late in the 4th quarter but it is the others who grind it out every play to get us within striking distance of the win.  Those players are the guys who usually don’t get much playing time until their junior or senior years but then really start to contribute.

So I’m crossing these more well-known players off this profiling list: Conner, Peterman, Bisnowaty, Ollison, Johnson and Orndoff on offense and Price, Soto, Hendrix (we’ve discussed his background already on here), Bradley, Whitehead, and Galambos on defense.

Most of those have been on the roster for some time and we are familiar with them.  Others maybe not so long but have had a lot of media coverage already.

So – let’s begin with our ‘Who’s that?‘ tour with Money Linebacker Mike Caprara.

This guy is an interesting player with a full back story.  Caprara was somewhat of a local WPIAL legend as he ended his HS playing career at Woodland Hills High School as their leading tackler (350) after starting every game from mid-freshman year on.

First off 350 tackles is a lot – but look who else played their ball at Woodland Hills that he bettered in that area:

Pretty heady competition for an all-time defensive record right there especially considering seven of those players were on defense.  The cool thing about that achievement is that he did it as a 6’0″ 207 lb kid and that is undersized for a middle linebacker.  Caprara HS

Call him “Tenacious Mike” I suppose because what we have seen out of him from his HS highlights through his career at Pitt so far is a young man who doesn’t listen to others tell him what he can and can’t do.  Now he stands a real 6’0″ and is up to 225 lbs and even by college standards that is still on the small size.

But he’s smart, coachable (more on that later) and is, I think, faster than he looks. He’s not a speed demon like some other at that position but when he sets his sights on the QB or the ball carrier he gets there in a hurry and makes plays.

Yeah Mike!!

You can see by the Rivals recruiting site snapshot above that he wasn’t highly thought of by many college scouts as rated a 2*.  Chryst and staff saw something in him worth taking a chance.  But truth be told the Chryst staff was pretty desperate to get bodies on scholarship right then as Todd Graham had left Pitt a month earlier and his 2012 recruiting class was falling apart.  Seven out of the 16 recruits verballed after Graham had left with Caprara being the first of those.

I’m not a football coach but I think if I had a shot at a leading tackler at a football factory HS I’d take the chance also. But let’s look at who Chryst had on the roster back in 2012 that Caprara was going to have to compete with to get future playing time.

rsJR Dan Mason was already seriously injured in 2010 and wasn’t going to get much PT after that.  rsSO Todd Thomas was coming off an injury also and became a solid starter, SO Ejuan Price was at one LB end and was moved to DE later on.  FRs Bradley and Rippy came in with Caprara; Rippy bagged out and rsFR Nick Grigsby was going to be another part-time starter that season.

So in a real sense there was some room for him to move up the depth chart if he kept plugging away at it and that’s what happened.

He did what most of these late-blooming kids do, at first he played well on special teams, then rotated onto the field in cases where the starters could be rested.  Then in his third year he began to get more firm opportunities to show what he could do given more playing time.

Here are his stats line from 2014 and 2015 – compare the two and you’ll see that progression that happens when a player is more trusted by his coaching staff to contribute:


At this point I don’t see anyone in the LB corp who is going to overtake his starting position in this fall camp.  We have some talent alongside him I think – youngsters such as rsSO Elijah Zeise who has moved over from WR, where he had five catches last year,  and he’s impressed and is going to try to get playing time, just as Oluwaseun(‘Sean’ to us folks) Idowu has been talked about.  I gather the staff sees good potential in both those players.

From our last recruiting class of 2015 we landed both rsFR Saleem Brightwell and rsFR Anthony McKee who were pursued by major Power Five schools but I don’t think we’ll see them much.  I get the impression that as much as Narduzzi, and in turn DC Josh Conklin, like speed they also value smarts and experience… which Caprara has right now.  Although Brightwell was listed in the pre-camp two-deep that just came out.

Caprara’s progression is one we see played out at every school and every season.  Some of these kids who stick with it become solid starters as Caprara has done and some get the chance to contribute to the team in other ways.

I do think that college football fans tend to think that if a recruit comes into the program and hasn’t landed a starting job by his SO year he’s a bust.  I’ve read that about Pitt players many times on the internet.  But the reality is that after a head coach has been established at his school for three or four years most of the starters will be upperclassmen.

We won’t see that much yet at Pitt with Narduzzi being only in his second year with us.  Right now he’s playing some of his own early on in addition to players he inherited (like Caprara).

I expect big things out of that Money LB spot this year.  Caprara and Galambos are in their second seasons with Conklin and his schemes.  They are in their second year of being coached by LB coach Rob Harley and he’s already made a difference in the way both kids play.

BTW – I love what the Media Dept says about Harley here as it really captures the jump in production by the LBs from 2014 to 2015 under his coaching:

Rob Harley enters his second year as Pitt’s linebackers coach. Harley’s debut season witnessed career production from the Panthers’ starting linebackers, indicating big things for the unit in 2016.

Departed senior Nicholas Grigsby was an All-ACC performer in 2015 after posting personal bests in tackles, TFLs and sacks. Returning linebackers Matt Galambos and Mike Caprara are viable all-star candidates this year after enjoying their best seasons as Panthers.

As Pitt’s starting middle linebacker, Galambos had a career-high 88 tackles, 10 TFLs, five sacks and two interceptions. He forced two fumbles that were returned for touchdowns.

Caprara, who entered last year with five career tackles, seized the starting Money linebacker job and proved to be a disruptive force with 49 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, five sacks–including one for a safety–and an interception.

So – keep an eye peeled during camp for Caprara to assume even more of a leadership role on and off the field this year.  And keep an eye out for any of the other LBs who may just play so well they make a liar out of me in regards to Caprara keeping that starting job… which won’t happen.  At least I hope not.

Here’s a look at Caprara at Woodland Hills:




25 thoughts on “Camp Profiles: Mike Caprara

  1. Good article Reed!

    Caprara’s a football player. I’ll bet his numbers and production improve this year.

    I’m guessing that Zeise and ‘Sean’ will be used more to cover tight ends and in blitz situations and less so in run situations.


  2. I hope Zeise becomes a good player for us and plays every down. We have not had a LB with his speed in a long, long time. keeps improving and I now check it everyday day too. GO PITT


    1. Harry Psaros is writing for them now also, he’s a very nice guy and a good writer.

      That website is a whole different animal than here or the Blather or Pitt Nation, etc… I read their stuff also less the recruiting articles because things change too much from now until LOI Day.

      Here is an interesting thing Pitt did a long time ago with Harry’s first website…


  3. On the same page again Reed. Caprara, imo, was a no brainer. You just don’t put up those kinds of numbers while playing for a school like Woodland Hills. Good college football teams need a combination of athleticism and football smarts. Sometimes you can get that in one player and sometimes you need a combination of players on the field to make a great unit. I know mike is at least one of those types. BTW, Mike is another PITT player that has been beaten up by some on the messages boards only to once again, prove all the critics wrong. Look forward to watching him this season and Galambos who I look to have a great season as well.


  4. Smarts, because they can’t be or currently aren’t subject to analytical analysis (other than interviewing a player, how do you know when the exact moment came that they were going to break on a play . . .you can’t really) are one of the more underrated aspects of football. If a linebacker diagnoses a play two tenths of a second earlier than “average” then even if he has 4.7 speed, he will play like a 4.5 speed linebacker with average smarts. Linebackers most important responsibility is to diagnose run/pass and the faster they do that the “faster” they will play. I look for big things out of Caprara this year due to his smarts putting him in the right place at the right time more often than not.


  5. If memory serves, former MLB Scott McKissop fit in this mold and maybe to a lesser extent, Shane Gordon (when healthy) and Max Gruder also. All were play makers but would never impress at the NFL Combine (although McKissop did play for the 49ers)


  6. Not ripping Caprara here (great kid, great heart), but he is not the type of LB Pitt needs if they want to win the ACC. They need bigger and FASTER.
    I agree smarts can make you better and faster on the field at the point of attack, but if you don’t have the speed once the play breaks down that not so fast player is no help. For example, against a dual threat QB that is fast and runs from the pocket. A problem Pitt had last year and will continue to have until they have better athletes at LB.

    Moving Zeise to LB shows me a little desperation. They are searching for any speed they can get at LB.

    I hope a young LB steps up.


    1. ^^^ Matt Galambos about a month ago in Southside practice here. Crazy, Matt Galambos is going to end up being an almost 4 year Pitt Starter at middle linebacker……

      Love Mike Caprara and he’s a real Rudy-level inspiration. Lol I mean, I’m sure Reed would know better but with his media access —- hahaha but I’m most definitely not buying the “Media Guide Bio” of 6′, 230. Caprara looks look a scrappy and tough as heck 5’9” guy out there who just somehow gets to the Quarterback.

      @ “notrocketscience” I see the fact that our Pitt defense is Starting Matt Galambos in the middle, Mike Caprara on the outside last year and this year in the Big-Boy ACC , and our defense still competes.

      The reason I say that is because yeah, it’s not-ideal from a talent and speed perspective of course — but these two gutsy guys are in the position they’re in because Pitt football was totally sabotaged and only now is rising like the Pheonix from the ashes. Caprara especially but also Matt Galambos —> great guys! But alas, they’re both 2 star, no Power 5 offer, not-explosive players. They are starting and not 3rd string, special team players because of the Wanny – Graham – Chryst 2 year Hurricane of Pain left Pitt Football with….sorry….high-MAC level talent.

      Think about four years from NOW with Pat Narduzzi — when the R.S. Seniors and Seniors will be guys like Anthony Mckee, Saleem Brightwell (Tall, Rangy, long and fast 230 pounders by then) — AND they’ll be fighting off all these new young guys Narduzzi and co keep bringing in!

      If Pitt’s defense is a decent upgrade this season, I can only imagine how dominant and downright *Scary* Pitt’s defense will become when Narduzzi’s handpicked crew all matriculate into Seniors and R.S. Seniors. Yikes!

      —- And if Mike Caprara and Matt Galambos aren’t MAC – level players who are only starting because of circumstance…prove all of us haters wrong by balling-out this year!!


  7. Just did some checking. McKissop ran 4.7s at the Combine yet was drafted in the 5th Round.

    Pre-draft measurables
    Ht Wt 40-yd dash 10-yd split 20-yd split 20-ss 3-cone Vert Broad BP
    6 ft 0⅝ in 244 lb 4.70 s 1.56 s 2.75 s 4.39 s 7.00 s 35½ in 9 ft 11 in 27 reps
    All values from NFL Combine


  8. Pitt’s had some smart linebackers in the past like Brian Bennett, who interned with the FBI, and it did nothing to prevent 4.3 speed WVU players from busting off big gains. I hope Bam Bradley starts and gets more snaps that Caprara, who is perfect as a backup with all his experience. I still prefer speed over smarts.


    1. Would you not defer to coach Narduzzi’s decision? I know I already trust him with the entire PITT team especially on defense. I also had high expectations for Bennett but I did see him out of place way too often considering he was thought of as smart player. MC is better imo


  9. I love Capara..a tough-nosed Western Pa hometown football player..would love to have 2 or 3 Mike’s on the team every year. He does remind me of Scott McKillop and Jerry Ol.savsky both gamers who got a little NFL time. Duzz coached the Bullough Bros at MSU, similar rugged LBs. I don’t know why he gets criticized -is he too small ..too slow. All I see is the kid making plays. Wish he had more Caparas to follow in his foot-steps. He has a brain for the game and that can compensate for what some perceive as diminished physical attributes.


  10. The Bullough brother are in a different class the Caprara. Both were highly recruited, especially Max. He was one of the top LBs coming out of high school.

    No doubt, if he is the best on the team, he will start under Narduzzi as well he should.


  11. I’m not holding out high hopes for Zieze at LB. When pulling OL get to the next level and get on him, will be interesting to see if he can shed their blocks. If he gets a lot of playing time, it speaks more directly how weak our LB core is.


  12. Sorry to not be excited by him or the other LB last year who took terrible angles to the ball carrier and who are very slow. Notrocketscience is 100% correct. These types beat MAC schools and bottom barrel ACC schools. We need way better talent at LB. Nice write up Reed but no way we should be in a situation where this young man has to start. After all, Narduzzi is such a Defensive Guru he should of locked down some studs.


  13. Galambos is another one who shouldn’t start but that speaks to the well being dry.


  14. While it galls me to agree with UPitt, he is right.
    The linebackers as a group fell way short last year.
    And for those who question that, replay the NAVY game.
    Sure, there were others at fault, but does anyone think opposing coaches won’t watch that game and exploit our weaknesses?
    Even J F, once he gets done fighting those nasty negative recruiting comments.


  15. —- Never, ever enough. I read comments about Pat Narduzzi saying Pitt v Ps. ‘Who’ needs to be every year….and PSU “fans were commenting about Pitt like Pitt talks about West Virginia.

    Let us take 3/4 against the Nits, and relish Pitt being the King of PA. And since PSU’s AD tried to be cute and cut off the Pitt series at 4 games Penn State can bask in Pitt’s superiority like they’ve had to live with 12-0 for the last decade+ (Pitt NEEDS to win this 9/10 contest)


  16. As bad as the Navy game was, it means nothing outside of the Ga Tech game for 2016. Unless Pitt’s opponents have mastered the triple option, there isn’t much on that tape to exploit.


    1. Nick, I beg to differ on your conclusions about the Navy game. There is a lot to exploit starting with the dismal play from our DT’s. I know we are discussing the LB play for this season but even more troubling may be the lack of penetration and execution from our DT’s.


  17. I like him but he seems a little bit like a hybrid lb/safety type…good playmaker but maybe not in your starting line-up. I’d really like to see Wirginis play a lot more this year — that kid looks very fluid and active when he’s on the field, and good size too. Galambos is solid but doesn’t wow me…rather have Wirginis or Bradley out there full-time, or at least rotate everyone.


    1. There has been a lot of buzz for Wirginis and the kid is already entering his junior season. He might end up being a one-year starter. The last staff didn’t do the greatest job of redshirting certain players and Wirginis comes to mind, along with Jarrett. Tyrique played some in the first two games his freshman season and never saw a snap again because of Donald. It sure would have been nice if Jarrett was only a junior, Wirginis a sophomore and Soto a junior.

      I hope Narduzzi can squeeze some redshirts out of some kids in the 2016 class.


  18. Capara reminds me off Jerry O – undersized, not the fastest but understands the game and he and Whitehead IMO are the best tacklers. I look for big things from the little man. I agree with UPitt that ultimately we need to get faster at LB and our two best are on the slow side. Tom Tumulty was no speed burner.
    That’s why great defenses aren’t built overnight. I hope some younger talent get reps; too often in the past our 2 deep guys haven’t got the game experience they need the next year.


    1. Tumulty was 6’3″ 240-plus pounds and played in the NFL. He was probably faster than you realized. It’d be nice if Pitt landed some bigger linebackers, especially in the middle.


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