This is the second time we've had the chance to exchange blog questions with an opponent blogger. Today, we are trading information with Chas from Pitt Blather, the leading Panther blog. I was impressed at the depth of his responses. I will put them down here, and then I'll follow up with a couple comments of my own....
1. We're familiar with LeSean McCoy at RB, but I think Falcon fans would be interested in knowing who some of your other offensive players to watch are.
And by offensive players to watch, I'm assuming you don't mean the intricacies of line-play. Surprisingly, there is a lot to watch on the offense. Nothing about QB Bill Stull -- rhymes with dull -- will wow you. He's not fleet of foot. Not a big hulking presence of a QB. He's just smart, consistent and knows the offense and his own limitations. The thing is, that despite a run first offense there are a lot of receiving weapons for him.
At tight end and on the Mackey Award watchlist, Nate Byham is a big strong target. Great hands and runs crisp routes. He is actually complimented by Dorin Dickerson who is converted from tailback/wideout. He's got tremendous size and speed to create more match-up problems with the linebacker forced to cover him.
At the WR, the depth is there with Derek Kinder and Oderick Turner, but the player to fear is freshman Jonathan Baldwin. A highly athltetic, 6-5, strong freshman with big leaping ability. When Pitt gets in the red zone, expect him to be lined-up to just try and get open in a corner. He has Pitt fans already putting him in the same category as Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald.
2. On the Coaching Front, two questions. First, what changes, if any, do you expect with the new DC. And, on a more broad basis, what do people there make of Dave Wannstedt. He's a big name, but do people think he will deliver a winner at the college level.
Aggression and turnovers. New DC Phil Bennett (former DC at K-State and HC at SMU) has already been stressing the need to generate more turnovers. Pitt didn't do a lot of that last year. The defense may have had good numbers in terms of yards allowed, but only 4 games had Pitt on the plus side of turnovers, and the defense allowed more points than in the prior 2 years when the defense was statistically worse.
As far as attacking more. This doesn't necessarily mean blitz -- though more of that is expected. It does mean being more aggressive. Bringing the safeties up more in running situations. Taking advantage of the strong defensive line. Not being continually in a "read and react" defensive scheme that was much more passive. It didn't allow the big play as much, but a thousand paper cuts of frustration.
As for Coach Wannstedt. He's a Pitt guy. Born and raised in the area and still has the accent. A former player. He's great with the media and the alumni. He showed as soon as he took the job that he was an excellent recruiter. He's been everything the fans and school has wanted with that.
Now, it's time for him to show the game day coaching and preparing the team week-in-week-out. That hasn't happened and only the most rose-colored glasses can provide a view that doesn't at least raise those questions. He can't have this team come out flat for any game this year. The talk has to translate.
That said, there is a belief that he can do it. That this will be the team that at the very least will establish that Pitt is moving towards winning and winning big.
3. What is the word on your QB? He was injured last year, is he fully healthy? What kind of style can we expect from him.
Stull is all the way back from the torn thumb ligaments. He was healthy in the spring and aside from some bruised ribs has been fine in the training camp. As I said earlier. Stull is a smart QB.He's not a scrambler or some gun-slinging strong-armed QB. He knows OC Matt Cavanaugh's West Coast offense cold. He's been in it since a freshman and is now a redshirt junior. He will make the smart play, and stay within the system and himself.
4. Similarly, is Derek Kinder healthy and back to full strength?
I'm less certain about Kinder. He tweaked his knee again in the beginning of camp. While the end of camp reports were that he was getting back to form, it seems that it has been a big psychological battle to trust his knee on cuts.
5. How are special teams shaping up?
Well, straight kicking is fine. Conor Lee hasn't missed a PATs in a couple years. He is solid on field goals up to 45 yards. Punting, Dave Brytus (a transfer from Purdue) was actually a little disappointing last year, but looks much more precise and with more leg strength.
As for returns, there was the loss of freshman Cameron Saddler in camp. The 5-7 back was supposed to be a big return guy, but he tore his ACL. That leaves Aaron Berry who is also a cornerback on punts. He's the leading returning punt returner in the Big East
On kick returns it's likely going to be RB LaRod Stephens-Howling and a couple other back-up backs.
Coverage should be improved as there will be more experience. It will also be interesting because Coach Wannstedt has taken direct control of coaching special teams.
A few comments.....
- I had no idea Matt Cavanaugh was the OC at Pitt.
- A head coach with direct responsibility over special teams. I love it.
- On the head coach, I didn't anticipate the affection Pitt fans seem to have for Wannstedt. He's not just another coach, and they are pinning lots of hope on his success.
- As for defense, it is endlessly frustrating to watch your team play bend but don't break, don't make any mistake defense. I am sure they will enjoy the aggression a lot more.
Well, thanks to Chas. I'm going to send my answers to him, and publish them here when he has the chance to publish them on his site.
We're heading over for the game, and looking very forward to seeing a game at Heinz Field and seeing our Falcons again.