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Predicting the fall depth chart: Offense

Written by Sam Werner on .

Pitt wrapped up its 2014 spring practices last week, which means it's time to start looking ahead to fall camp, which will kick off at the beginning of August. While that's still a few months away, it's never too early to start taking a look at what the two-deep will likely look like when the Panthers do get going in preparation for the 2014 season.

Before we get started, a few caveats: First, this projection is assuming everyone is healthy. There are a couple of guys (notably along the offensive line) that missed most or all of spring ball with injuries and, while indications are that everyone will be ready to go in August, you just never know. For that reason, this depth chart will look a little bit different to the one that Pitt ended spring practice with. Secondly, there won't be any freshmen in the two-deep below, for a couple of reasons. It's impossible to tell how the rookies will do once they hit the field (remember last year when Titus Howard and Terrish Webb seemed destined for redshirts?), but I also honestly think the Panthers are at a place right now where they don't need any freshmen to step in and contribute. Last year, there were holes to fill along the offensive line (by Dorian Johnson) and at receiver (by Tyler Boyd). As offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said last week, sure, it would be great if a freshmen steps up to the point where he's one of the best guys on the field, but none of the incoming recruits can immediately be slotted into a key position. That said, if there are any notable freshmen at a given position, I'll mention them in my comments on that group.

With that, away we go...

Note: All heights and weights are from Pitt's official 2014 spring roster

Quarterback
1) Chad Voytik (RS So., 6-1, 210 lbs)
1) Trey Anderson (RS Jr., 6-0, 195 lbs)

We'll start with probably the easiest position group to project. This is Chad Voytik's job and there's really no question about it. Voytik didn't blow anyone away this spring, and he even admitted that one of his biggest takeaways from spring practices was how much he still has to learn in the offense. That said, it's still a long way to go until August. This summer will be critically important to him (just as it was to Tom Savage last year), in that he'll need to show up in August completely up to speed and ready to assert himself as the starting quarterback in fall camp. The traditional knock on Voytik has been his size and arm strength, but the biggest issue he appeared to have this spring was his accuracy, which fluctuated from practice to practice. He can throw the ball, but needs to make the easier throws with more consistency than he did in camp.
The bigger question at this position will be what happens if Voytik gets hurt. I was actually impressed with what I saw from Anderson this spring. For a guy who has pretty much been an afterthought for most of his Pitt career, he looked like he's definitely able to lead the offense if need be. Freshman Adam Bertke will join the mix this summer. The obvious ideal situation for him is a redshirt, and, barring complete calamity at the quarterback position, I think that'll be what ends up happening.

Running back
1) James Conner (So., 6-2, 230 lbs)
2) Isaac Bennett (Sr., 5-11, 205)
3) Rachid Ibrahim (So., 6-1, 185 lbs)

The Panthers ended spring practices with only one of these guys (Ibrahim) able to participate fully in practice. Conner suffered a knee sprain, but is expected to be back for summer conditioning. Bennett, meanwhile, needed surgery to correct a shoulder injury, but should be back in August. Conner will be the lead back in this group, assuming he stays healthy, but Paul Chryst likes to mix guys in, so there will be other carries to go around, too. The question is who gets those carries, and a lot of that depends on how ready freshman Chris James is to play when he steps on campus this summer. If the four-star prospect is ready to step into some sort of role, that will likely have a ripple effect throughout the depth chart. Despite Chryst's propensity to spread carries around, there really isn't enough playing time for more than three running backs (last year it was two main guys, Bennett and Conner, with Ibrahim as a third-down guy). If James is one of those top three guys, then that opens the possibility that Ibrahim could take a redshirt next year.

Wide receiver
1) Tyler Boyd (So., 6-2, 185 lbs)
2) Ronald Jones (RS Jr., 5-8, 170 lbs)
3) Kevin Weatherspoon (RS Sr., 5-10, 175 lbs)

Wide receiver
1) Manasseh Garner (RS Sr. 6-2, 230 lbs)
2) Dontez Ford (RS So., 6-2, 200)
3) Zach Challingsworth (RS Fr., 6-2, 185)

I took a stab at listing two wide receiver positions, like Pitt does in its official two-deep, but the reality is a bit more complex than this. It's pretty obvious that Boyd and Garner are the top two guys, and will likely line up opposite each other on most plays. Beyond those two, Jones and Weatherspoon are probably the top two slot options. The coaches have been pretty effusive in their praise for Jones coming back from suspension this spring, and Weatherspoon (though limited by injury this spring) came on pretty nicely before he got hurt late in the year.
The question here is who the options are on the outside beyond Boyd and Garner. Ford looked more and more impressive as spring went on, and physically looks even better than he did in Detroit last year. Challingsworth has drawn a lot of praise from coaches and teammates dating back to last year's bowl preparation, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a role for him, too. Jester Weah started to show some flashes at the end of spring practices, but he's still probably a little too raw to contribute significantly on offense this year.
These outside depth guys could play a bigger role than last year, too, because Boyd said he has been working in the slot a lot more this spring than he did last year. The goal there is to get better matchups for him, but you also need to capitalize on that with guys on the outside who can beat their man (we'll see if Ford or Challingsworth fill that role). A big answer to this could be incoming freshman Adonis Jennings. As his name would suggest, Jennings is impressive physically, at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds. If he's ready to play right away, he gives a nice immediate injection of depth at the receiver position.

Tight end
1) JP Holtz (Jr., 6-4, 245 lbs)
2) Scott Orndoff (So., 6-5, 255 lbs)

Tight end/H-back
1) Jaymar Parrish (So., 6-2, 230 lbs)
2) Tony Harper (RS Fr., 6-4, 200 lbs)

This sort of delineation came about last year, when the Panthers moved away from using a true fullback, and more towards an H-back/hybrid type (basically a second tight end). Let's start at the traditional tight end spot, though, occupied by Holtz and Orndoff. One of the problems with Pitt's offense last year was that the pass protection was so bad that Holtz had to stay in and block, which removed him as a weapon in the passing game. He'll still probably do a lot of that this year (which, frankly, might be a better role for him anyways), but he did catch some red zone passes during scrimmage drills this spring. Orndoff, meanwhile, seems to have a real connection with Voytik. Both practiced with the second team a good deal last year, which may explain that rapport. If I had to make a "bold" prediction for 2014, it would probably be that Orndoff will be Pitt's leading tight end receiver.
As for the other position, it's really similar to what a fullback does, but Parrish will flex out wide a bit more often. Sometimes he'll motion it to block inside, but he can also work in space. Fellow redshirt freshman Devon Edwards could also see some time at this spot.

Left tackle
1) Adam Bisnowaty (RS So., 6-6, 300 lbs)
2) Jaryd Jones-Smith (RS Fr., 6-7, 295 lbs)

This might be one of the biggest concerns on offense heading into the summer. Bisnowaty missed all of spring with the same lingering back injury that cost him the end of last season. The coaches say he'll be back for the summer, but back injuries (especially since this is something Bisnowaty has dealt with since high school, can be tricky). In his absence, Jones-Smith spent the entire spring working with the first team. He certainly looks the part, with a giant frame and almost impossibly long arms, but might not be quite ready for primetime yet. I asked Matt Rotheram at the end of spring if Jones-Smith would be ready to step in a game right now if need be. Rotheram hesitated and basically said that we'll see where Jones-Smith is at next fall.

Left guard
1) Dorian Johnson (So., 6-5, 290 lbs)
2) Gabe Roberts (RS So., 6-5, 305 lbs)

Roberts is another guy who has had his Pitt career plagued by injuries. If he can stay healthy this summer into fall camp, he could (though it's probably unlikely) push Johnson for the starting job here. Remember, a lot of people sort of assumed Roberts would be the starting center heading into last year before he was unseated late in training camp by Artie Rowell. Johnson practiced with the first team for all of spring camp, and he'll probably be the guy on opening day next year. That said, while he has the talent to be a good offensive lineman, he still needs to bulk up a little bit. That's probably the area where not redshirting last year hurt him the most. It helps that he seems to finally have found a home at guard after bouncing around during his first year, but this summer will be critical to Johnson as he tries to fulfill his five-star potential as a starter next year.

Center
1) Artie Rowell (RS Jr., 6-2, 305 lbs)
2) Alex Officer (RS Fr., 6-4, 290 lbs)

As I mentioned earlier, Rowell sort of came out of nowhere to win the job last fall, but has done a good job and really grown into the role through a full season as starter (in addition to being one of the best interviews on the team). He'll be the guy directing the line and, even if Rowell got hurt, I think it's more likely that Roberts would slide over to take the job ahead of Officer. Officer practiced with the second team all spring, but still seems to be probably a year away from being ready to contribute. He still has some conditioning issues, and is working on getting his weight down to a manageable playing weight. If Officer can get that under control, offensive line coach Jim Hueber said he certainly thinks Officer can be a valuable offensive lineman for Pitt.

Right guard
1) Matt Rotheram (RS Sr., 6-6, 330 lbs)
2) Carson Baker (RS Fr., 6-5, 280 lbs)

Rotheram is probably the most sure thing along the offensive line. He's the most experienced guy, and the leader of the unit. Seeing No. 74 lined up at right guard against Delaware is, barring injury, one of the safest bets you can make regarding the 2014 Pitt football team. I know the coaching staff is high on Baker, but, ideally, he won't have to contribute this year.

Right tackle
1) T.J. Clemmings (RS Sr., 6-6, 305 lbs)
2) Aaron Reese (RS Fr., 6-5, 300 lbs)

Clemmings drew rave reviews from the coaches and fellow offensive linemen this spring, his second since moving from defensive end at the tail end of the 2012 season. At the end of the spring, he was rewarded with the 2014 Ed Conway Award for the Panthers' most improved offensive player. Clemmings seems to have made really remarkable progress since making the position change, and, ideally, he'll look even more comfortable in the role next season.

Keep in mind that Pitt will bring in two high-level offensive line prospects this summer in Mike Grimm and Alex Bookser. As I mentioned earlier, for the first time in Chryst's tenure, Pitt's depth is at a point where neither guy will have to come in and contribute. In fact, I'd say it's highly unlikely that either guy will see the field this year. It would probably take a catastrophic injury situation, plus an incredible training camp from one of them. Both are certainly talented, but, even with the best offensive linemen, a redshirt year is almost always the best course of action. Grimm and Bookser will both likely be good players for Pitt along the offensive line, and could compete for a starting job as early as 2015, both I wouldn't expect to see either this year.

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Praying mantis egg case found on Earth Day

Written by Doug Oster on .

Praying mantis on Earth dayThis praying mantis egg case was found during Earth Day planting at the Fort Pitt Blockhouse in Point State Park. Post-Gazette photo by Bob Donaldson

Interim Penn State Master Gardener Coordinator Philip Bauerle found this Praying Mantis egg case among the branches of a foethergilla shrub along the fence of the Fort Pitt Blockhouse during the Earth Day planting of native shrubs and flowers.

 
The foethergilla were being relocated because they were about to grow higher than the ornamental fence around the Blockhouse. They were replaced with plants native to the era of Fort Pitt including 'Red Sprite' and 'Jim Dandy' winterberries, wild geraniums, clethera and blueberries.
 
Post-Gazette photographer Bob Donaldson counted almost 50 people doing the work in Tuesday morning's rain.

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Party on August Wilson's birthday

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

Wade AugustWilson 

 
August Wilson would have been 69 on Sunday, which would be young enough for him to still be, a realization that makes his age at death a hard fact to swallow considering how much writing there remains in a gifted 60 year old. He died in 2005 in Seattle, the home he had adopted after a childhood and young manhood in Pittsburgh.
 
His niece, Kimberly Ellis, had been planning a birthday party for her mother, Mr. Wilson’s sister, Freda, when Gab Cody, the Pittsburgh regional rep for the Dramatists Guild, asked her if they could throw a party celebrating Mr. Wilson's birthday.
 
“My mother’s birthday is April 17 and his is April 27; I remembered that ever since I was a little girl,” Ms. Ellis said. “With all the talk about the August Wilson Center, Gab approached me thinking about doing something to celebrate his birthday. We decided on a party to remind people about the person and why he is celebrated and respected, not the center debacle.”
 
The August Wilson Center is currently in the hands of a bankruptcy judge who recently had been parsing offers from suitors to buy it when it became apparent she had a favorite; the foundation group that had made an offer to buy it, restructure it and retain the mission of the center, bowed out. Read that story here.
 
The memorial birthday party for August Wilson is from 3-6p Sunday, April 27 at the Kaufmann Auditorium, 1835 Centre Ave.
 
The event is free but you need to register so the organizers can know how much cake they will need. You can also donate at that link to help them with the expenses of producing this party.
 
Besides cake, there will be live music, dramatic readings, birthday card readings and presentations of Wilson's monologues.
 
Ms. Cody said she presented the idea to the Dramatists Guild, "an idea of people from all over sending cards and celebrating August Wilson and they loved it. The guild works to promote in any way they can writers and playwrights by offering them opportunities to work on their craft or to learn more about what the guild offers, including rights writers have when they enter into contracts with theaters."
 
The guild also has fellowship and scholarship funds and emergency funds sometimes made available to writers in need.
 
"This event is a celebration of an author whose legacy has had a big impact on the region and the purpose is to bring a large group of people across the theater community and to strengthen and build rapport." But you don't have to be in theater to attend.
 
“I’ve never taken on the role of maintaining August Wilson’s legacy,” Ms. Ellis said. “But Pittsburgh is experiencing change, and I thought let’s do something that is unifying and fun, celebrates a great legacy and brings the figurative family together. The Dramatists Guild supports the idea and wants to see more inclusive projects.” 
 
In an email, Ms. Cody wrote of the opportunity “to bring folks of varied backgrounds together through this event, which we see as a community-building celebration.”
 
Pittsburgh was a disquieting hometown for the playwright. He told an interviewer once during a visit back:
 
“Like most people, I have this sort of love-hate relationship with Pittsburgh. This is my home and at times I miss it and find it tremendously exciting, and other times I want to catch the first thing out that has wheels.” 
 
Pittsburgh gave him deliciously and delightfully rich fodder for the 10 plays he wrote that cemented his legacy in American letters. Each play presented scenes of each decade of the 20th century, mostly portraying the life and characters of the Hill District. One of them, "Fences," won Pulitzer and Tony awards and "The Piano Lesson" also garnered a Pulitzer Prize.
 
Post Gazette photo by Bill Wade
 
 

 

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Empty Netter Assists - 04-22-14

Written by Seth Rorabaugh on .

Playoff Stuff
Penguins - Blue Jackets

-Dave Molinari's recap from last night's game. “It wasn’t the start we wanted. But we sort of put it behind us and looked forward to the next 55 minutes.” - Lee Stempniak (above, with Kris Letang).

-The Columbus Dispatch's recap. “They put their skates on one foot at a time, just like we do. They’re nothing special. We’re a pretty good hockey team, too. We’re not shying away from anything. We’re in this to win the Stanley Cup, and they’re in our way.” - Blue Jackets defenseman Johnson.

-The Associated Press' recap. "It's not ideal, especially when it's 2-1 and you fall behind [by two goals] again. Typically, it's not the way you win hockey games. But it showed a lot of character and a lot of patience." - Sidney Crosby.

-Highlights:

-Mike Lange's goal calls.

-Columbus' Brandon Dubinsky couldn't beat Marc-Andre Fleury here:

-Brandon Sutter and Columbus' Dalton Prout battled for this puck:

-A hockey night in Columbus:

-Crosby is as popular as ever in Columbus:

-Dan Bylsma speaks:

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-Marc-Andre Fleury speaks:

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-Stempniak speaks:

-Brooks Orpik speaks:

-Crosby speaks:

-The Penguins are 2 for 29 (14.5) on the power play in this series.

-“The kid’s been awesome. Young but so mature. All season he’s been improving.” - Fleury on the Olli Maatta.

-"You don't want a 3-1 lead in this series, I guess." - Jussi Jokinen on each losing team in this series blowing 3-1 leads.

-Sidney Crosby and Johnson are BFFs.

-“We can’t give them six or seven opportunities. It drains the (penalty) killers. It takes guys out of rhythm.” - Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky.

-Hockey Night in Canada's pregame montage:

-The pregame montage in Nationwide Arena:

-After the Jump: Matt Cooke faces a suspension.

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Happy Earth Day! Green grass without chemicals

Written by Doug Oster on .

Organic Lawn blogHaving an organic lawn isn't hard, gardeners just need to look at their cultural practices differently.

Happy Earth Day! One way to help the planet is to stop using all the chemicals on the lawn. Home gardeners use more fertilizers and herbicides overall than commercial farmers. Nothing can outgrow grass when it's happy, the trick is getting the pH and fertility right. That will also help with the weeds, but there's also another great natural control for unwanted plants which needs to be applied in the next few weeks.

When it comes to controlling weeds in the lawn, a blooming forsythia alerts organic gardeners to apply a natural weed control called corn gluten meal.

Seeing the flowers of this shrub indicates that crabgrass and other annual weeds are about to sprout, if we get to them before they germinate we'll cut their numbers dramatically.

For people who want to stay away from chemical herbicides like 2,4-D, which is a derivative of Agent Orange, corn gluten is a good choice.

It's a byproduct of the corm milling process and is applied in a granular form. It can be found at any nursery or garden center. When purchased at the garden center it's ground to be applied by a spreader. It's usually cheaper when sold as a livestock feed additive, but it's ground in a way which is harder to apply.

When corn gluten meal comes in contact with a seed, the seed is allowed to germinate, but then the corn gluten robs it of moisture and it dies.

A word of caution, corn gluten works on all seeds, not just weed seeds so wait six weeks after application to over-seed the lawn.

Gardener's can have a beautiful lawn without reaching for chemicals, SafeLawns.org is a great resource for organic lawn care.

Here are some of my favorite tips to grow a healthy lawn without reaching for chemicals-

Treat the grass like any other garden plant. Nothing can outgrow grass when it's happy. That's why we try so hard to keep it out of our flower and vegetable gardens. A soils test from the Penn State Cooperative Extension will tell you everything you need to know about your lawn. When the pH is correct and the fertility is right, look out, the lawn will prosper. The test is less than $15 and can also be purchased at some local nurseries.

Aerate the lawn to reduce compaction and allow both water and fertilizer to reach the roots. Renting an aerator with your neighbor is a great idea. The machine pulls plugs out of the soil about as thick as a thumb and three inches long. Leave the plugs on top of the lawn, they will decompose nicely.

Cut it high and leave it lie. Leave the grass as long as possible to shade out the weeds. Grass clippings should be left on the lawn, they are a great source of nitrogen. The only time to remove them is is they are so thick, they will kill the grass.

Use a good organic, granular fertilizer. I love ReVita from Ohio Earth Foods, and can get it for $20.00 for a 50 pound bag, but there are lots of other brands. The ReVita is a balanced fertilizer, not super high in nitrogen. Instead of fertilizing for just the fast green growth, I'm treating the grass like any other plant and giving it phosphorus and potassium too (NKP). Hahn Nursery is one of the only local retailers for ReVita. Many Agway stores also carry the fertilizer.

Over seeding is a great trick to keep the lawn looking great (just remember to avoid corn gluten when you seed). When the weather is cool and rainy, throw some fresh seed onto the lawn. New sprouts grow strong, revitalize the lawn and choke out weeds.

There's a brand new organic control for broad leaf weeds like dandelions that uses chelated iron as its active ingredient. It overdoses the weed with iron, but the grass is not effected and it's completely safe for us to come in contact with. It's sold locally by Scott's organic brand Whitney Farms as Lawn Weed Killer and online through Gardens Alive as Iron X. This is a game changer for organic weed control as natural gardeners struggled with broad leaf weeds.

Having a natural lawn takes work, but in the long run will save money and most importantly be safe to walk barefoot on.

 

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