Let’s get back on the football track here.
Post-Gazette has a few interesting articles – this one has been repeated every single spring since I have been following Pitt football – the defense is ahead of the offense this spring. Honestly, I can’t remember one time when the reverse was said.
“Two weeks ago, on the third practice of spring football camp, Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi made an announcement to his team just before their first 11-on-11 action in full pads.
“Stay off the quarterback!”
That advisory might have said as much about the value of sophomore signal-caller Kenny Pickett as it did about the gap between Pitt’s defense and offense at this point. As the Panthers enter a long weekend of three days off Friday through Sunday, they do so with one side of the ball ahead of the other.
Damn right – stay off the f’ing QB!!
That is one kid we absolutely cannot afford to lose due to injury. Everyone else on the roster is expendable – Pickett is not. This bit is interesting – and the first admission in mainstream media I can point to where a writer has said something that has been written on here a hundred times and that is this: Narduzzi’s defenses have sucked even with his rep…(emphasis mine).
I mean, we had a blitz period today that was a little scary just because of how fast they are on defense right now. They know what they’re doing, and it’s not easy to pick ’em up for an offensive line that’s as young as ours is right now.”
That all makes sense, and it’s a good sign for a defense that still hasn’t consistently lived up to expectations since Narduzzi took over the program, what with his reputation as an elite coordinator at Michigan State. When turned loose in March, a group of “crazed dogs” — as senior linebacker Quintin Wirginis described them — with 130 combined career starts, plus a bevy of young players trying to avoid falling down the depth chart, should be able to terrorize an offense searching for new answers.
I would have dropped the “consistently” above – they have been across the board bad save a few games. And the fact that they are blowing by the OL in scrimmages isn’t at all hard to believe – the problem will come when our opponents are doing the exact same thing. And it’s going to happen folks – the only light at the end of the tunnel will be what I call “Pitt’s Hope” and that is that pre-season we know the OL will start off in trouble then we “hope” a light goes on and they mesh toward the second half of the year.
Sometimes it works – sometimes it doesn’t, like last season.
Here is a P-G piece about a unit that just lost it’s only experienced player – the TEs and Chris Clark. Color me not surprised one bit when the news broke that Clark left the team – I’m just surprised that it didn’t happen earlier. Honestly, he’s the type of self-centered player who has to be promised that he’ll be a starter before he can be happy anywhere.
Well, he’s just left the only school that would either give him a spot on a roster or any playing time whatsoever. I wish I could say that his absence, and I think he’s gone for good, is addition by subtraction but I don’t believe that. What we have now is a TE roster with exactly one kid who has any playing time whatsoever in Tyler Sear.
What was once one of the more stable spots in the program year-to-year, manned by Scott Orndoff or J.P. Holtz from 2012-2016, tight end has been somewhat in flux for the Panthers two seasons in a row. Graduate transfer Matt Flanagan provided an old hand in 2017, but had never taken a snap at Pitt. Clark had been in the program for a season, but had barely played any college football.
Now, the current trio is both young and inexperienced, but offensive coordinator Shawn Watson would love to see them come along as quickly as possible for an offense that could use a reliable safety valve other than steady slot receiver Rafaul Araujo-Lopes. Right away, Watson mentioned Reeves — who appears to be taking the most reps with the first-team offense for now — as a young player who’s still learning the fundamentals, “but when he flashes, he flashes big.” He called Carrigan, a Pine-Richland High School graduate, “Mr. Consistency” and added that Neshannock product Sear has “picked up where he left off.”
Look – I don’t care what anyone says – 285-290 lbs is way too big for a college TE, or any TE. But I don’t think we’ll see them as an integral part of the passing game – they will be kept in on the LOS to pass protect most of the time anyway. We’ll see one of them switch position before fall camp I’m sure – the OL is in that much need of help.
In the “Well, Let’s Hope So!” column here is a piece by the Trib on Pickett and Shawn Watson…
Watson, who has coached at eight Power 5 conference schools, compared Pickett to one of the most prominent quarterbacks he mentored during that time: former Big East offensive player of the year and first-round NFL Draft pick Teddy Bridgewater.
“(Pickett) is way ahead — way ahead — of where a freshman would have been because it comes so easy to him,” Watson said. “I made a statement the other day — and I don’t want to put a burden on his back — but he’s the same type of student and same type of player, with his natural instinctual part of it, as Teddy Bridgewater. He’s the same guy — and Teddy was a fast study.”
Watson praised Pickett’s decision-making, grasp of the offense, ability to pick up things mentally and arm.
And here is a bit on Pickett’s go-to receive WR Arujo-Lopes:
A fifth-year senior, Araujo-Lopes was asked how he could build off a team-high 43 catches for 531 yards. The Florida native did not cite statistics, instead turning to leadership.
“Definitely, the main thing would be being a leader,” Araujo-Lopes said Thursday from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex after Pitt’s spring practice session. “Not necessarily so much of the football aspect, but encouraging the guys and making sure everybody knows what they’re doing. I think my role as a leader that is what is going increase from last year to this year.”
That my readers and fellow Pitt fans is a student-athlete with his head on straight. We need someone to step up and complement Lopes and I’m not sure who that is going to be.
No one is talking about Pitt’s Special Teams much – no one ever seems to do unless there is a problem or a bad play that loses a game. I have never understood this.
You can have a defense that can or can’t stop an offense but I’ve never seen a defense that can push the opposing offense 40+ yards down the field on one play – but Punters do that all the time. A good punter is the best defensive player on the field when it comes to opponent’s field position bar none.
We just lost a very good punter to graduation and have a kid now who is pretty much a mystery. Not only is P Kirk Christodoulo from a place that has winters in summer but he’s also never played a down of college ball.
Here is the Trib-Review on his bending an ear (and I’m sure an elbow) with the Steelers’ Aussie punter:
Pitt redshirt freshman Kirk Christodoulou takes over the Panther’s punting duties in 2018. During Pitt’s ninth session of spring practice Thursday, there was another Melbourne, Australia, native on hand to see him: Berry.
“I have known him for years now, so it’s good to just have a chat,” Christodoulou said. “And given the fact he’s the Steelers punter, if I have any problems or had a bad day at practice I can always ask him, ‘What do you think about this?’ It’s good to get a few tips here and there from someone who’s a professional.”
Our Kicker last year, Alex Kessman, was spotty at best with only a 58% success rate but even more importantly his Touchback rate on the year was only 50%. This is a very important stat here. In 2017 our punt return defense was a poor 113th nationally giving up 12.55 yards per return.
As was our Kick Return Defense with a very poor 123rd nationally with opponent’s getting an average of 25.1 yards after the kick reception. Getting consistent touchbacks limits the opponent to starting back at their 25 yard line – instead of 25.1 yards forward from where they caught the ball – and that is a big deal, especially if you have a suspect defense.
What is disheartening about those stats is that we were much better at these actions in 2016 when we were 44th in kickoff return defense and 73rd in punt return defense. Field position means so much when you don’t have a great offense or a great defense so we have to rebound in that area.
ESPN’s Pitt page has an interview with Narduzzi and here is something Pitt fan’s want to hear:
The struggles of the running game at times were really the biggest departure from traditional Pitt football. How’s the backfield shape up for 2018?
Narduzzi: Our backfield is looking really good. Darrin Hall returns, and I think offensive football starts with running the ball. There was a time in the middle of the season where we couldn’t run it like we wanted to. We went back to basics and got it cleaned up. That happens sometimes with a new coordinator where you’re still figuring out who you are and what you can do. We’ve figured that out, and that will go a long way in 2018. I’m happy with where our backfield is right now. Qadree Ollison. A.J. Davis has a ton of potential. And Mychale Salahuddin, he just adds to it. We weren’t just going to take a guy. We were going to take a great one, and I think we got a great one.
Well, I’ll believe it when I see it. We may have a good one in Salahuddin but if we are to rely on the guys who have been carrying the rock up to now I think we’ll fall short in that area again this season.
Anyone who wants to chip in an article or two or three please feel free – I’m very busy with my other committments (as evidenced by no new posts for three days) so help out if you can….