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The Kevin Stallings Experience: Evaluating the new coach's first year at Pitt

While we've had a lot of discussion during this year's dismal basketball campaign, I wanted to wait until the end was here before trying to sort out exactly how I rated the work done by new head coach Kevin Stallings in his first year. That came with the team's loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament and the official end to the season.

This isn't also going to be the first in a series of articles or anything crazy. We've had so much Stallings discussion this year that I think it's been beaten to death. I hesitated, even, with the idea of writing this article. But it's something I intended to do when he was first hired regardless of the team's outcome this year. So beyond this look at this season, I'll be trying to stay away from too much Stallings stuff until next year.

With that said, let's take a look at Stallings' first year.

Despite returning four of five starters, the team struggled badly. SAD!

My feelings are pretty clear about the strength of this year's team but for the sake of the article, I'll repeat them here. While certainly different than last year's roster, Pitt returned the core of their production. Last year's Pitt team scored 2,476 points and more than 76% of those points were scored by players that returned this year. The biggest source of the points that left was James Robinson and he scored 338 points. This season, Pitt inserted Cameron Johnson into the lineup and he scored 392 points - about 15% more than Robinson.

Of course, it's not as simple as that. Johnson moving into the starting lineup meant the bench produced less. That was even more the case when sixth man Ryan Luther went down with an injury that cost him much of the ACC season. There's no doubt that Stallings wasn't playing with a full deck and that isn't his fault.

But at the top, where most teams live and die, Pitt wasn't much worse off than last year - if any. And yes, I'll get to the James Robinson stuff.

Stallings had no depth, but ...

Any number of Pitt fans will point to the Panthers' lack of depth from last year and declare it to be the problem. But if you look a little closer, that isn't really the case. After all, look at the team's main losses on the bench aside from Robinson:

Sterling Smith - Contributed in the non-conference schedule last year but not much after that. Scored a grand total of two points in the last nine games.

Rafael Maia - Averaged 2.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per game and also saw his minutes/production drop in ACC games.

Alonzo Nelson-Ododa - 1.3 points and 1.6 rebounds per game with a grand total of 11 points in the 21 ACC contests and the NCAA Tournament game.

No offense intended to those guys at all and I don't post their lack of production as a way of declaring that they weren't very good. They all gave up situations where they were bigger parts of teams, so I applaud them for giving some of that up for their final seasons in an effort to help this team. Rather, I'm merely pointing out that all of the depth issues that people throw around are sort of hollow in my estimation because none really panned out all that well. Last year's team was deeper, but it wasn't quality depth. And if you don't have quality guys backing up, say, Michael Young, do you really want to shave Young's minutes if it means replacing him with guys that aren't going to produce?

Sure, Pitt's team this year could have been deeper. But I'd argue that they weren't much deeper last season and there was a lot of fat on that roster. While it would have been nice to have more depth this year, it isn't the underlying reason they weren't very good this season since they weren't very deep last year.

Why James Robinson's loss wasn't as big as you think

The biggest difference, of course, between this year's team and last year's team was that Robinson was gone to manage the chaos at point guard. There's little doubt that Robinson was undervalued by many and even those that appreciated him might not have realized how important he was. All of that said, here are my thoughts on Robinson.

First, and less complicated of a matter, there's the fact that Robinson was not a good offensive player or a strong defender. His shooting plagued the Panthers for years and while he made up for that a little by taking care of the ball and finding the open man, there's no doubt that his lack of perimeter shooting hurt. Teams would even on occasion leave him open and dare him to shoot the ball because, well, when he's only about a 38% shooter, the odds are probably in your favor. And the fact that Pitt replaced him in the lineup with Johnson, who is an athletic player and a real threat from long distance, that certainly helped.

But it goes deeper than that. At the end of the day, I'm not sure how much difference he makes on this team. Let me explain. I clarify that statement with those last three words, 'on this team', and they're important.

In Jamie Dixon's offense, Robinson was vital. He controlled the offense, slowed things down, and took care of the ball. That offense was a plodding, methodical one by nature so you need someone like that running the show. While it would have been nice to have a dynamic scoring point guard at Pitt, Robinson was adequate because of his style of play and ability to manage the offense.

This offense under Stallings was anything but how Dixon ran things, though. Players were given unprecedented levels of freedom, as was stated in the offseason, and even later after things turned sour when Stallings used that as a point of saying that was the only thing players bought into. Given all of that. Given the amount of time that Young and Jamel Artis dominated the ball since they were producing quite literally more than half of the scoring. Do you honestly believe that Robinson would come in and drag things down to a Dixon-like pace after they were given so much freedom?

Of course not.

Having Robinson may have helped when things were spiraling out of control during certain games, as they often were. Perhaps he gets to the team in that 50-point disaster against Louisville and keeps their heads in the game a bit more. And it shouldn't be forgotten that he made some very clutch plays for Pitt over the years. With Robinson, this team wins maybe 2-3 more games. But that's also a best-case scenario. Factor in things like his 3-15 game against Wisconsin in last year's NCAA Tournament when Pitt couldn't score at all. Or the 28% he shot in a crucial five-game ACC stretch last season. That's not even counting the other bad stretches he had over his career.

As I outlined here, Robinson's shooting was a career-long reclamation project that never really got fixed and while he helped win games, his poor shooting also cost the team a fair amount, too. In other words, those 2-3 potential wins I mentioned could just as easily been canceled out.

'But the turnovers,' right? Well, that's another thing. While Robinson did a great job taking care of the ball, the team as a whole wasn't affected there this year. The 12 they averaged per game was no more than the 12 they averaged last year. To be fair, Pitt did average three fewer assists per game, so they weren't getting enough good passing that led to open shots. But on a team that featured two guys scoring about 20 points per game most of the year, they were able to create a lot on their own so I consider that less of a factor.

So why the lack of success?

I maintain that the real difference on this Pitt team was getting a concerted effort on defense and in rebounding the ball. This year's team produced about 10% less on the boards and also gave up a lot more points. Under Stallings this season, the team allowed just under 75 points per contest. Last year, they gave up only 67. I'd argue that this year's drop in success is much more about that and much less about Robinson (again, because of the different style of offense employed under Stallings where Robinson would have been less effective).

Sure, some of that may be attributed to a lack of presence in the middle. But Pitt has really been without a season-long presence in the middle with enough size since Steven Adams jumped ship to the NBA after the 2012-13 season. And even then, Adams didn't really start to develop until later in the year. Pitt has been lacking in the middle for quit a while. They've generally found other ways to compensate in the past on the defensive end and weren't able to do that this year.

The buttons that Stallings pushed to motivate his team on the defensive end or in rebounding the ball either were not the correct ones or he didn't press them hard enough.

Perhaps some of that, I will concede, goes back to the depth issue. With guys playing more minutes, giving 100% on the defensive end every time out isn't logical or really even very smart. But 7.5, 8 points a game on defense is a lot more. You're taking a lot of breaks in that scenario. And here's the thing that a lot of people don't realize. Pitt actually scored less this year (73 points per game to 75 last year). Ultimately, the freer style of play, the up-tempo pace ... none of it mattered. The defensive woes would make more sense if the team was scoring a lot more points and at a faster rate. But that simply wasn't the case.

Conclusion

In the end, Stallings deserves some leeway. Like any new coach, he deserves a shot to bring his own players in and be fully evaluated at a later date. Pinning the team's lack of depth on him, or the loss of Ryan Luther, or even the development of some of the backup guards is unfair.

Still, I find it difficult to comprehend how, given all stated above, this team turned into one that won 21 games last year and made the NCAA Tournament failed to even play .500 ball with two of the best scorers in the conference. Stallings' refusal to adjust on the offensive end, reign guys in a bit more, and get his team to play even passable defense cannot be overlooked. None of that even addresses the controversial philosophy of throwing players under the bus, which he did earlier this season very publicly. As I said before, it didn't ultimately help Pitt play any better or win more games. Ultimately, for that reason, it seems like a poor decision in hindsight.

The offensive freedom, allocated by Stallings, certainly came too soon as well. Stallings made that claim to players before they had played even a minute for him, according to those offseason quotes. In hindsight, a better approach, perhaps, would have been to make that decision later after they had earned some trust. I don't know that it would have made a difference. What I do know is that the entire 'offensive freedom' thing crashed and burned before our very eyes.

Long-term, what do I think about the Stallings hire? I'll say again what I said initially when he was hired. The track record does not suggest that he will leave Pitt in a better place. The program under Jamie Dixon reached the NCAA Tournament on a nearly annual basis, so essentially, that is the bar. At Vanderbilt, Stallings, missed the NCAAs more than he made them while playing in an inferior conference to the Big East and ACC. Further, he also has the same glaring hole that Dixon does on his resume in terms of making any deep runs lately. Stallings did make two Sweet 16s with Vanderbilt, but that was a decade ago. The track record does not suggest that Pitt will make deep tournament runs, or even return to the days of making the tournament on an annual basis. I hope that things do not end up that way, but it's easy to assume judging by Stallings' career, which has been very up and down.

I do not question that Kevin Stallings can coach to some degree. He's been around enough good coaches and has had some success. You do not reach two Sweet 16s, recruit relatively well, or make seven NCAA Tournament appearances if you are a complete bum. The idea that Stallings is the worst coach in the world is foolish. What I do question is just how far can he take Pitt based on the expectations here and based on his prior history.

But enough of the long-term prognosis. For this year, if I'm grading Pitt's head coach with a firm letter grade, it's probably in the D+/C- range. Certainly not average by Pitt standards, anyway, but not quite a failing grade. What say you?

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.
Poll How do you grade Kevin Stallings' first season at Pitt? B+ or higher B B-/C+ C C-/D+ D or worse   0 votes | Results

South Carolina trolls USA Today after beating Duke

Consider the 2017 NCAA Tournament party crashed after South Carolina’s upset win on Sunday night.

The Gamecocks took down No. 2 seed Duke in a game that many pundits had all but given the Blue Devils prior the the meeting in Greenville. After all, the South Carolina program had just won its first NCAA tournament game in 44 years and had never visited the Sweet 16. They’d be happy with just one win against Marquette, right? Wrong.

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In fact, USA Today was so confident that the Gamecocks would fold on Sunday that its sports account tweeted out a message after No. 1 seed Villanova fell to Wisconsin on Saturday, proclaiming: “Duke’s path to the Final Four looks ridiculously clear with Villanova’s loss.”

Let’s just say the fine folks at South Carolina bookmarked that tweet for future reference.

On Sunday night, in the moments following the Gamecocks’ historic victory, the school’s official Twitter account sent out this zinger to the news publication:

South Carolina will next play Baylor for a chance to advance to the Elite 8 for the first time in program history.

Report: Pitt reportedly to hire Heather Lyke as new athletics director, per ESPN's Brett McMurphy

Recently, the Post-Gazette posted an article about potential athletics directors for Pitt. One of those folks said to be in the running was Eastern Michigan's Heather Lyke.

On Sunday, ESPN's Brett McMurphy said the hunt is over.

Eastern Michigan AD Heather Lyke is leaving to become Pitt’s new athletic director, source told @ESPN — Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) March 20, 2017

The Post-Gazette's Brian Batko said it will become official on Monday.

Here's a look at her Eastern Michigan bio as well. She would become Pitt's first female athletics director and one of the few in that role for a P5 school.

Initially, I expected this to drag on for another couple of weeks and didn't see a hire coming until April. But that's always dependent upon finding the right person and if you're convinced you have that, there's no point in waiting too long just to follow protocol.

One of Lyke's accomplishments was helping to turn the football program around. She was hired in 2013, brought in new coach Chris Creighton in 2014, and after winning only three games combined that year and 2015, they won seven this year and made a bowl game. And, at least according to this quote, she seems like a 'football drives the bus' type of AD, which Pitt had with Scott Barnes.

That doesn't mean she doesn't care about the other sports. She has hired ten coaches there her coaches have also won 17 Conference Coach of the Year awards. So she's seen some success across the board covering a lot of sports despite only being there since 2013.

She was also a softball player in college and a few years back, interestingly enough, was even commentating for the Big Ten Network in that sport while an associate AD at Ohio State. We don't yet know her but she at least seems to have an interest in the Olympic sports and has made a lot of hires there.

One thing that was important in Pitt's last search for an athletics director? Fundraising. Lyke has done that, too, setting a record at Eastern Michigan last year in terms of dollars and new donors. Her bio also states that the school is on track to outpace those numbers again for 2017's fiscal year.

Another thing that likely impressed Pitt was her involvement in Eastern Michigan's current facilities plan. She recruited a team of people to help with their building facilities plan. Pitt has been, and will continue to be, upgrading facilities around campus. Recently, Eastern Michigan put a plan in place for $35 million in facility upgrades.

Finally, also noteworthy is that, while she came from a smaller, non-P5 school in Eastern Michigan, she was an associate/senior AD at Ohio State for about 15 years. She received her undergraduate degree at Michigan and also spent some time in Cincinnati's athletics department. Lyke very much has experience working in high-level administration at the P5 level.

This wasn't the big splash hire that many wanted but I have to say that, on the surface, the hire at least makes sense from a Pitt standpoint in terms of what they wanted. Many of the same qualities they wanted with Barnes they seem to have gotten with Lyke in terms of fundraising, Olympic sports, and putting football first. And with the many years at Ohio State, she doesn't appear to be in over her head.

Thoughts?

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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