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Pitt sees offensive line shuffling in spring practices

As is standard this time of year in the offseason, Pitt is shuffling some guys around on the offensive line. That's pretty typical and is no different this year with spring practices underway.

With tackle Adam Bisnowaty and guard Dorian Johnson graduating, Pitt has two open slots on its line. Brian O'Neill, who started last year at right tackle, is moving over to the left to replace Biz while backup Jaryd Jones-Smith takes his spot at right tackle. Last year's center, Alex Officer, heads over to left guard to replace the spot left vacant by Johnson and backup Connor Dintino looks to have the lead for the center job. The lone returnee at the same position is right guard Alex Bookser.

The Post-Gazette, I should add, also has a look at some other positions, if you're curious.

That might seem like chaos but I expect Pitt to fare well on the line again. Is it as strong as last year's group? Nope. Last year's line had two (what should be early-round) NFL Draft picks on it in Bisnowaty and Johnson. But there's still a lot here. O'Neill will be in his third-year as a starter and Bookser, his second. Officer is in his fourth year as a starter and while he's moving to guard from center, he started at guard in 2015, so it's not a new position for him at all. That's three guys with starting experience under the belts at their 2017 positions, with the exception of some movement to left or right.

Jaryd Jones-Smith is a new full-time starter, but he does have four spot starts in his career. And he's been with the program for four years heading into this season and has plenty of experience. You might also remember that he was expected to be a starter in 2015 before suffering a season-ending injury in conditioning workouts. Jones-Smith should get the most playing time he's ever had but he is more than capable.

Dintino is the biggest question mark, obviously, since his experience is limited. He's also new to offense having just moved there last year after coming over from defense. Dintino, of course, is no lock here. The other guys aren't necessarily either (in particular, if you read Pat Narduzzi's comments in that Post-Gazette link about newcomer Jerry Drake, you wonder if Jones-Smith's job is even safe) but they look much more firm with all of the experience they have.

But while the Dintino move has some concerns, the good thing to know is that Pitt still has Officer for this season. If Dintino struggles in practices, they can always move Officer back there and insert someone else at guard.

The offensive line has some questions and is a little weaker than last year. But it still returns enough to be considered a strength of the team.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Oakland Zoo t-shirt design bracket contest

Louisville player mistakes TV sideline reporter for spy

It was a case of mistaken identity. Friday night Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino assured one of his players that the woman on the sidelines near the Cardinals’ huddle Friday night was not a spy, but a television reporter.

>> Read more trending news

Pitino, whose team advanced in the NCAA tournament with a 78-63 victory against Jacksonville State, said one of his players mistakenly thought CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson was stealing plays Friday for Jacksonville State.

"This is a very inexperienced team," Pitino told reporters. "We're down two scholarships. Our backcourt is a little thin. Show you how inexperienced we are, one of my players said, 'There's a lady in the huddle stealing our plays.' It's Tracy Wolfson."

CBS' Wolfson said via Twitter she found Pitino's assertion humorous, ESPN reported, although the coach apparently was not joking.

"They thought she was giving it to the other team," Pitino said. "I told [sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell], she's not doing that.”

Dayton sports columnist’s mustache gets national airtime

Tom Archdeacon is usually writing news, not making it, but he caught some airtime and the attention of one writer covering the NCAA tournament in Indianapolis on Friday.

>> Read more trending news

The longtime Dayton Daily News columnist drew attention from USA Today’s The Big Lead for his “glorious mustache.” While sitting behind CBS’ Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill, Archdeacon was on television and caught the notice of Kyle Koster from TBL.

“There was much to discuss at the top of the broadcast before tip-off and the trio did a nice job setting things up. Or so I guess. It was quite difficult to pay attention with Tom Archdeacon’s impressive mustache lurking in the background,” Koster said. It’s a tough look to pull off, but the Dayton Daily News “old-school storyteller” is doing just that. The Big Lede posted a link to Archdeacon’s archive of award-winning columns.

Archdeacon has made headlines before — he won the Society of Professional Journalists Sports Columnist of the Year in 2012 and 2013, beating out competition from national outlets like ESPN and Sports Illustrated. 

Pitt wrestlers sent packing at NCAA Championships

The Pitt wrestling team sent four wrestlers to the NCAA Championships this weekend. Three, you could say, seemed to have legitimate All-American chances. Dom Forys, Teshan Campbell, and Ryan Solomon were all ranked in the Top 20 this year and had a shot. Taleb Rahmani had been very impressive but an All-American ranking seemed like a reach there.

At the end, all four of Pitt's wrestlers had some success but were sent packing on Day 2 of the event without making the All-American team. Here were the brackets going into tonight's session. The only change from a Pitt perspective is that Solomon's final loss is not shown here.

At 133 pounds, Forys managed only one win in the Championship bracket before being upset by No. 11 Bryan Lantry in the second round, 5-3. Ironically, Lantry barely moved on after posting a 3-1 first-round win over a lower ranked guy while Forys, the No. 6 seed, easily defeated No. 7 seed Eric Montoya. Forys dropped into the wrestlebacks bracket, won a match, but then was upset again by No. 14 Mitch McKee - the guy that also lost to Lantry. In all, Forys was 2-2 and lost to two lower-ranked wrestlers. Forys, 21-3, ended up losing to a nearly .500 wrestler (22-18) in McKee.

Now, to be fair, McKee is no slouch. That evidenced by the fact that he was ranked despite being only 22-18. No one else in that weight class had such a bad record with such a high ranking, so the kid is pretty good and almost surely had a difficult slate of competition. But at the end of the day, you still would consider that an upset because of how good Forys had been this season.

Campbell had the exact same path at 165 pounds, winning his first match then dropping his second. In wrestlebacks, the 10th-seeded wrestler won a match before being upset by No. 15 Drew Hughes and also finishing 2-2.

Rahmani continued to impress at 157 pounds. He dropped his first bout to No. 7 Dylan Palacio, but then went on to win two matches in wrestlebacks, including one against No. 9 Joshua Shields in the biggest upset win of the tournament for Pitt. He lost his next bout to No. 15 Archie Colgan but absolutely shouldn't hang his head about his performance coming in unranked.

Solomon had the most success and came closest to being named an All-American. He finished 3-2, winning two matches in wrestlebacks after a win in the Championship bracket, but was defeated by No. 5 Nick Nevills of Penn State for an All-American slot. Ranked No. 15, his losses were hardly shameful, losing to the No. 2 and No. 5 ranked heavyweights.

I want to feel a little torn on how to feel about Pitt's showing. The easy way out is to be fine with the results because of all of the turmoil this year in changing head coaches. But at the end of the day, wrestling is very much an individual sport. And when you look at guys like Forys and Campbell, in particular, that had three dual losses combined, there's just no way to not feel disappointed and feel like they came up short. I'm not going to attempt to speak for them but I don't know how you wouldn't feel that way to be honest with such high expectations.

So do I feel like it's just one of those things you chalk up to the instability of the program this year? Maybe from a team perspective in terms of some of the duals, etc., but certainly not from an individual standpoint at NCAAs. Jason Peters being dismissed doesn't really have much to do with guys not making All-American status. They were very good wrestlers when he was here and that doesn't change simply because he's gone. I have a really hard time pinning upset losses in NCAAs on the fact that Pitt lost its head coach in the middle of the year because those guys still went on to a lot of success after he was gone.

The good news is that the future looks bright for next year in terms of who should be returning. Pitt still has to find a coach, but doesn't lose too much to graduation. John Rizzo and Mikey Racciato were the only two seniors and Racciato was dismissed from the team a few weeks ago for a violation of team rules. Both guys did some decent work at times for Pitt but certainly aren't irreplaceable. Racciato was about as up and down as you can be at 149 pounds and Rizzo was 13-16 on the year at 197. I really enjoyed watching Racciato wrestle, especially. But there's no getting around the fact that he was very up and down for Pitt after a very nice 2014 campaign when he won an ACC title.

Now, you can never account for unexpected departures. After all, I don't know if there will be any more fallout from the incident earlier this year that cost Peters his job (I doubt it) and you also can't account for random departures, such as the team losing Cody Wiercioch (an NCAA qualifier in 2016) this year. But it looks like Pitt will return the core of their production from this season, including all four NCAA qualifiers. There are question marks at some weight classes that I'll cover later, but overall, they should return a ton from this year.

I'll have more in an upcoming article about the outlook for next season.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt Football Spring Practices: Qadree Ollison hoping to bounce back from rough 2016

With the loss of running back James Conner to the NFL a year early, the Pitt football program will be turning to a new starter in the backfield in 2017. As I wrote at the end of last season, there's plenty of opportunity with all of Conner's carries now available. One of those guys hoping to land the job? Qadree Ollison.

The entire trio, consisting of returning contenders in Ollison, Darrin Hall, and Chawntez Moss, of course, is hoping to be named the starter. But it's Ollison who probably has the most work to do in terms of catching up.

Ollison had, by most measurements, a great 2015. After taking the starting job as a freshman, he won the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year award and ran for more than 1,100 yards. Last year? With the return of Conner after he had missed most of 2014, Ollison had only 38 carries and saw his yardage per carry drop to only 3.8. Ollison wasn't only behind Conner, but he also fell behind both Hall and Moss - two guys that are returning. Add in a pair of talented freshmen backs coming in (A.J. Davis and Todd Sibley), and you can see that he will have to fight off many players for the job.

Pitt is only two days into spring practice but head coach Pat Narduzzi is at least encouraged by what he's seeing so far.

"He's looked good," said the head coach. "Again, it's in shorts and we are letting them run through the line of scrimmage, so they all look good when no one is getting tackled. The good winter is going to transfer onto the field for sure."

So, what's different? Well, with practices mostly closed (Narduzzi is again allowing only a small portion, mostly consisting of warmups, of the actual practice open to the media), it's hard to say. But Ollison talked a little about how he wants to approach this season.

"I'm smarter now," Ollison said. "I am the oldest running back in the room going into my redshirt junior year. The new me is really trying to be a leader. Last year, we had James [Conner] and Rachid [Ibrahim] who were both older guys, leaders in the room. Now, I'm that older guy who is trying to be a leader for the younger guys in the room, not only for my position, but for the team as well."

We'll see how it plays out. It was weird to see Ollison, who had such a big year for a freshman in 2015, relegated to the No. 4 back on the roster only a year later. I'm not sure I can recall that happening before on a Pitt depth chart. And as mentioned, he not only has the two returnees to worry about but also the incoming guys. Even if the freshmen don't contend to be a starter, they will be contending for playing time. And, similarly, if Ollison isn't named the starter, he'll be battling those guys for backup time.

Heck, you can even argue that there's more competition since Davis and Sibley are two players as opposed to just one with Conner. Neither is as good as Conner, obviously, but you get the point. There are a lot of bodies here.

Based on how quickly he was buried last year and how much competition there is this season, I'm not sure I can see him winning the starting job back. But if he shows improvement, hopefully the opportunity is there for him to get some carries. The more capable guys that Pitt has, the better. And if he's in the mix, Pitt will hopefully be able to redshirt at least one of the two freshman they have coming in since there's just no need to play five guys - especially when all three returning players are pretty good.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pat Signal: Jay Symonds commits to Pitt

Pitt landed their first recruit for the 2018 class

PITT IS IT! #L1TS8URGH #H2P— Pat Narduzzi (@CoachDuzzPittFB) March 16, 2017

The long wait is over. In case you missed it, Pitt got their first commitment for the 2018 recruiting class when Jay Symonds committed to Pitt yesterday afternoon. Pitt was one of the few programs in the country without a commitment for whatever reason, and now they are on the board.

Jay Symonds is a 6’4” 250 pound tight end/H-Back from Cambridge, Massachusetts. He chose Pitt over offers from Boston College and Temple, along with some FCS offers. He is not graded out by the four recruiting services yet, and he should get a ranking during the upcoming Spring evaluation period.

Symonds plays for Buckingham, Brown, and Nichols School in Cambridge. He helped lead his team to a 7-2 record in 2016 as a junior. His team used him all over the field, and you can check out his highlights here.

Pitt brought in three tight ends last recruiting class, and only have four total on the roster. This is obviously a position that still needs to be replenished over time. Pitt’s recruiting class will be interesting this year. There are only 11 seniors on scholarship heading into the 2017 season, so a large recruiting class is not expected. It’s hard to pinpoint a number at this point for this class. It’ll be a wait and see approach.

Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr rescues stranded driver, reveals post-football plans

Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr is known for his random acts of kindness. This week, he came to the rescue again.

Ron Reeser said he ran out of gas Tuesday and was ready to trek to the nearest gas station with his gas can when a young man in a SUV pulled up and asked if he needed help, according to the Fresno Bee report.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting newsWhen Reeser explained the situation, the young man said he'd give him a ride to the gas station. Reeser accepted, and proceeded to have a revealing conversation with the good Samaritan, not realizing he was an NFL star quarterback.

The young man told Reeser he was a football player when asked what he did for a living. He told Reeser that he'd like to be a pastor when he retires from the sport. Reeser thought the young man was a college player, so he asked his position and favorite team. That's when it was revealed that the helpful young man was actually Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.

Before departing, Reeser and Carr prayed together. 

In January, Carr was given a shout out by law enforcement for helping to find a missing girl.

In addition to performing good deeds, Carr is spending the offseason recovering from a brutal leg injury he suffered during a Dec. 24 game against the Colts.

Photos: NCAA cheerleaders

They cheer on the teams at every NCAA game. Take a look at some of the cheerleaders you may see during March Madness.

NBA Outlook: Jamel Artis

Throughout the season, I’ve had a dozen or so conversations about why senior forward Jamel Artis isn’t going to be on an NBA roster by the end of this October. Honestly, the fact that he’s atleast a year older than his draft class and already 24 should stop the conversation right there. For the sake of argument, and because this article has to be more than two sentences, let’s dive into why Artis isn’t an NBA caliber player.

Measurements and Position:

Artis is listed at 6’7” on the Pittsburgh Panthers official website, but in reality, he’ll more than likely measure closer to 6’5” in socks. Couple that with his slender frame and it would be impossible for him to play either forward position in the NBA. Even at small forward, his career rebounding rate of 10.1% is low and was an unimpressive 8.2% this past season. Obviously, not every player has to fit a physical profile, but how many of those players are an exception also average athletes and lack one truly elite skill?

But he’s a playmaker:

It’s certainly true that Artis can create for himself and for his teammates at the collegiate level. He’s a very good passer, and that ability really shines in mismatch situations. As a senior, he had the highest assist percentage (22.8%) and usage percentage (27.2%) of his career while also bringing his turnover percentage (14.5%) down from his junior year; that’s no small feat.

The main thing you have to ask yourself though is if any NBA team, and I am talking about their second unit, would benefit from having Artis use up a ton of possessions in order to be at his best? The answer is no. The Los Angeles Lakers, the worst team in the Western Conference, have Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. coming off the bench. Clarkson is roughly seven months older than Artis is right now, but is in his third year in the NBA. Nance Jr. is in his second year as a professional and is all of 11 days older. Both are already effective spot-starters and rotation players.

Yes, Artis is a playmaker, but every NBA player has to do other things well to warrant being on the court, especially if you’re going to use a ton of possessions. People like to compare Artis to Jared Dudley, but you can’t discount the fact that Dudley came into the league in 2007 and is also a career 40% three-point guy with a good reputation around the league and works hard. Artis has never connected at a 40% rate from the NCAA three-point line and I think this season spoke to a lot about his intangibles.

Just use a second round pick on him:

This one gets me the most because it doesn't make sense. I realize we don’t have an NBA team in Pittsburgh, but second round picks carry value. They can be used to facilitate trades, keep overseas players in a situation to develop without taking a salary cap hit, and to grab a player who may have slid out of the first round on a non-guaranteed contract just to kick the tires. Most second round selections don’t turn into Draymond Green or Isiah Thomas, but they can be solid rotation players. Very raw players that didn’t produce in the box score are also candidates to be a second round pick so that I team can evaluate a player in an NBA environment without carrying as much financial risk.

So where does that leave Artis who is at least a year older than this draft class, has ideal measurements for the point guard position, needs a lot of possessions to be effective at the NCAA level and doesn’t guard anyone? I just don’t know if that’s someone I’d classify as one of the best 60 draft eligible players in the world.

Look, Artis was a fine player for Pitt and developed nicely during his tenure here. Don’t mistake my pessimistic outlook about his potential NBA career as a slight against what he accomplished as a Panther. It’s not easy to make an NBA roster, you have to have a lot of things go right for you, and a lot of those things aren’t always in a player’s control. In this case, there are just too many things stacked against Artis coming off a disappointing season, both individually and as a team to warrant serious consideration from an NBA team, in my opinion.

-Stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author @Stephen_Gertz

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