Sam Werner's Pitt football chat transcript: 8.30.13

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Guest: What happens should Street and/or Boyd gets hurt? Major drop off?

Sam Werner: To put it bluntly, yes. We knew Pitt was pretty thin at receiver coming into the year, and I think Pitt is pretty thankful that Boyd was able to step up in training camp and claim the job.
Behind him, you're looking at Ed Tinker, Kevin Weatherspoon and probably Chris Wuestner as depth at receiver. All of those guys are pretty nice players, but they're also all unproven and I don't think any of them is going to strike fear in the heart of Florida State's defense. Pitt needs Boyd and Street to stay healthy and play well if they want to have a chance.

Pitt13to9: With being around the team and seeing practice, how much do you anticipate Todd Thomas playing on Monday night?

Sam Werner: I think he'll play a good amount. He has definitely worked his way into the "top six" at linebacker, which means he'll be in the rotation. That said, he has been practicing with the second team since he returned, so he won't be seeings starter-type minutes.
Ultimately, I think he's just too talented to keep off the field, especially against an offense like Florida State. He's one of the few Pitt players who can keep up with the Seminoles athletically. It'll be interesting to watch how the Pitt defense adjusts when Thomas does come into the game. He has been backing up Anthony Gonzalez at the Will position, but I could easily see them sliding Gonzalez back over to Sam when Thomas gets on the field.

The Dude: Do you think Pitt will be able to have a balanced attack against FSU? If not, do think they can move the ball on their defense?

Sam Werner: I think it'll be tough, but that is one of the keys to the game for Pitt. I don't think you can expect Tom Savage to win the game by himself in his first start in two years, and a good running game is the easiest way to calm the nerves and get a team in the rhythm of a game.
If Pitt can establish a running back with Bennett and Conner (both of whom I expect to play), that'll make Savage's job a lot easier. Of course, that's easier said than done.

Tito: In comparison to Tino Sunseri, is Tom Savage an upgrade, equal or a drop off. I know they possess different strengths/weaknesses, but what should fans expect?

Sam Werner: It's really impossible to say at this point. Savage was a four-star recruit out of high school, so he certainly has the talent, but he hasn't played football in two years, so you don't know how that layoff is going to affect him.
In comparing him to Tino, I will say this: Savage definitely has a stronger arm, both in terms of deep throws and velocity on his short throws.
The coaching staff did a great job last year of putting Sunseri in good situations, and that led to his renaissances of sorts as a senior. They've shown that they're good at scheming to their players' strengths, so I would expect that again with Savage.

Larry M.: Linebacker unit as a whole. With a healthy Gordon in the middle and emerging guys like Gonzo and Bradley, a Thomas with his head on straight I think this unit could actually be quite good. What do you think Sam?

Sam Werner: If everything clicks for that unit, then, yes, they could end up being pretty good. The problem is that all of those guys have question marks, and there isn't a ton of established depth at the position. Gordon has dealt with injury issues, Bradley is a redshirt freshman who converted from safety, and Gonzalez is a converted quarterback/safety moving to a new position.
So, I think the unit definitely has some potential, but there are too many question marks there for me to mark it down as definitely good.

Guest: Which potential recruits will be at The Florida State game, Monday?

Sam Werner: Quite simply, all of them. Notably, Washington RB Shai McKenzie, Aliquippa S Dravon Henry and Mt. Lebanon OL Alex Bookser will be there. Those are probably Pitt's "Big Three" at this point of guys they want to get.
Obviously, it should be good for Pitt to sell a "big game" atmosphere to the recruits, but there's always the danger of suffering a bad loss to Florida State. Especially with guys like McKenzie, Pitt's on-field results are going to go a long way in determining where he signs. Pitt is going "all-in" in some respects for this game from a recruiting perspective, so we'll see how it plays out.

Patrick: How excited are you to get to cover an actual game instead of practices?

Sam Werner: Words cannot even describe it.

Ray: We here so much about 4 & 5 star recruits. How much real difference is there between a 5 start and say a 2 or 3 star recruit? If you look to the NFL it seems to have as many low star recruits as 4 & 5 stars.

Sam Werner: This is sort of an age-old recruiting debate. I don't think that recruiting rankings aren the be-all, end-all, and you're right that a lot of underrated guys make it to the NFL. Chryst certainly showed at Wisconsin that you can win at a high level with lower-ranked recruits.
That being said, I'd rather have a team full of five-star guys that two-star guys. Especially in college, where you only have four years to play. Some lower-ranked guys make it to the NFL because they're just late bloomers, but that doesn't really help you in college.
Put it this way, there's a reason that Alabama is consistently at the top of both the AP Poll and the rankings.

YOKNATION: Will Matt Yoklic be in the Ray Guy award race at all?

Sam Werner: We can only hope so.

JohnRamella: Pitt had near zero athleticism at OT last year. Has that improved?

Sam Werner: To an extent, yes. Adam Bisnowaty and TJ Clemmings (even though he's a converted defensive end) are more prototypical tackles than we saw with Cory King and Matt Rotheram last year. Those guys both moved back to their natural position of guard.
The line still has a long way to go, though. That was the area hurt hardest by the coaching changes because Pitt just had trouble getting enough bodies in their recruiting classes to stockpile linemen. It's getting better (especially with guys like Dorian Johnson in the pipeline) but I think we're still two or even three years away from seeing the type of line Paul Chryst really wants.

Pitt81: Ejaun Price mentioned he'd run some from stand-up and down positions. From what you've seen, does Ejuan have the skills, speed, and size, to put pressure on quality opposing tackles like the Seminoles' from a three point stance....or still adjusting from the stand-up LB position?

Sam Werner: That's tough to say, mostly just because Florida State's tackles are really good. I think Price is explosive enough to be a pretty good defensive end, but that may not show up Monday night necessarily.
I think there also is still some adjustment going on from stand-up LB to true defensive end. If I had to guess, I would think that Price's most effective role Monday night will come in situations where he can rush the passer from a stand-up position. That's really where he can excel.

StringerBell: We already know about Boyd, but what's the likelihood Clairton's Webb/Howard see the field against the Seminoles?

Sam Werner: First off, great name. Here's hoping Pitt avoids a 40-degree day against the Seminoles.

Sam Werner: As for the other Clairton guys, I think Howard is more likely than Webb to see the field, though they both definitely could. Howard has worked his way up the two-deep to second-string, and has been the first guy on in some nickel situations as well.
While we may not see them on defense, I would expect at least Howard (and maybe Webb) to play on special teams.

Pitt81: Appreciate the Chat and Diaries, Sam! This staff clearly trusts its own judgement. That said, do they expect some of their early under-the-radar verbals to blow up during their senior year?

Sam Werner: Thanks! Appreciate the kind words. I think they do expect big senior years out of a couple of guys they have committed right now.
One that sticks out to me is Shady Side Academy RB Dennis Briggs. Briggs doesn't have the most impressive numbers, but from talking to his coach, that's mostly because he serves as the blocking back in Shady Side's offense. He's going to get a lot more carries this year and, as a result, should put up some better numbers. Now, that doesn't mean he's going to jump to being a five-star recruit, but he might be a little more "on-the-radar" than he is now.

Jeff: Should it be concerning that Pitt will be trotting out a freshman kicker Monday night?

Sam Werner: Well, first off, from watching practices and talking to people this week, it does look like Chris Blewitt will be able to kick on Monday night.
From what we've seen in practice, Blewitt has a really strong leg and good accuracy on his field goals. He's definitely the best kicker on the roster and has all the physical tools you want in a kicker.
But a freshman, under pressure, under the lights at Heinz Field (a notoriously tough place to kick) could make things interesting. If Pitt's stuck in a close game, they may need some big kicks from Blewitt.

Sam Werner: Alright, folks, that's all we have time for today. Feel free to tweet me any questions at @SWernerPG between now and kickoff.

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