Pitt13to9: How is Ejuan Price progressing from his injury?
Sam Werner: We haven't seen Price return to full practice since his injury, and honestly at this point I would be surprised to see him return at all this season. Chryst is pretty vague when it comes to injuries, but when Price got hurt, he said it could be the kind of injury that kept him out for the rest of the year, and that's certainly what it looks like. I think the most likely scenario at this point would be a return for the bowl game after a month to recover.
It's too bad, because Price just sort of found his role in the defense before he got hurt, but I think Bryan Murphy has picked his game up since then.
Chris: Looks like the defense has steadily improved over the last few weeks. Do you think the players are finally getting the hang of adjusting to the new zone schemes under House?
Sam Werner: Yes. I think this is probably the biggest reason for the defense's improvements over the last few weeks. Last year, all guys had to worry about doing was covering their man and sticking on him. This year, there are more zone concepts mixed in. There's the adjustment factor of knowing when you're supposed to pass off your receiver to the next defender.
A couple of Pitt players have said, though, that the defense has simplified a bit over the past few weeks. Rather than exotic zone schemes, they've stuck to some man-based zones (stick with me here for a second) which means man coverage within a zone concept, and therefore less passing receivers off and more of what I think these defensive backs are best suited for.
Pitt13to9: It is getting late in the season. Are there any freshmen, that are red-shirting, who are creating a buzz about how well they are doing?
Sam Werner: That's tough to say at this point in the season because the guys who are redshirting are mostly serving on the scout team right now, so they don't really have a chance to "impress" the coaching staff, so to speak, within Pitt's game plan. All the energy right now is focused on getting the starters ready for North Carolina, and the younger guys will get more of a look during bowl preparation and in the spring.
That said, one guy I think the staff is very high on is offensive lineman Carson Baker. He was in there a little bit in the preseason as a guy who could possibly play this year if he had to. He's redshirting, and I know Pitt has a lot of young talent in the pipeline at offensive line, but I would expect him to challenge for, if not a starting job, a significant backup role next year.
Nick: Is there any expected date that Bookser, Nicholson, Henry, Jennings, or McKenzie are supposed to commit? And of those 5 who do you think Pitt ends up with?
Sam Werner: The only one who has a firm date set is Shai McKenzie, who posted on his Twitter yesterday that he will announce his decision Dec. 20. The rest are all in kind of a wait-and-see mode. If I had to guess, I think Pitt will probably end up with three or four of those five. It wouldn't surprise me, though, to see Pitt land all five either. That's one area where a strong finish to the season could really, REALLY (yes, the caps lock is necessary) help Pitt. If the Panthers can build off the ND win and close out with three wins and a bowl victory to be 9-4, that's a huge amount of momentum heading into the offseason, and I think it would show these high-level recruits that Pitt could seriously be a factor in the ACC down the road. I don't think losses will necessarily kill there chances, but a couple of wins would go a long way.
As an aside, it's also worth noting that Pitt is set up pretty nicely for its 2014 class. They have a good base of 18 commits right now (who aren't going anywhere) and can basically stand pat as they wait for these elite guys to decide. They won't need to do any last-minute scrambling to get bodies at spots.
Jurgen: Give us your projected starting 11 for the USMNT in game 1 in Brazil
Sam Werner: Oh my, I'm honored you would ask me. Real quick: GK: Howard DEF: Johnson, Besler, Goodson, Evans MID: Donovan, Bradley, Dempsey, Jones, Bedoya ST: Altidore
jeff: If Pitt wins 2 out of the last 3 to finish 7-5, what bowl would they be looking at?
Sam Werner: It sort of depends how other things shake out in the ACC, but there are a couple of primary options that appear most likely right now: The Advocare V100 Bowl (Shreveport, La.), the Music City Bowl (Nashville) and the Military Bowl (Annapolis, Md.). If Pitt wins its last three, then it could sneak up into Belk Bowl (Charlotte, N.C.) or Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas) range, but those first three are most likely.
There is one other option, too, most likely coming into play if Pitt finishes 6-6. There's a good chance that the ACC will have more bowl-eligible teams than its eight tie-ins. If that's the case, the lowest-ranked ACC teams will have to go find bids from other leagues that can't fill their spots. The most likely spot would be one of the bottom Big Ten bids, either the Heart of Dallas Bowl or the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl (Detroit). That last one is interesting, because the team going there will likely face either Northern Illinois or Ball State, both really good teams.
Guest: What are JP Holtz's thoughts on North Carolina?
Sam Werner: No fightin' words from Holtz this week, but UNC hoops and Notre Dame football share a lot of qualities in their blue-bloodedness, so I would bet he's not a huge fan.
JimBob: How will Pitt's defense handle the spread this week?
Sam Werner: This would be the biggest area of concern if I was Pitt heading into this game. North Carolina has struggled this year, but their offense is the type (high-tempo spread) that can give Pitt fits. It won't help that the Panthers will be without their top two nickelbacks in Titus Howard and Trenton Coles, so they'll probably be forced to stick in their base defense more than they would like. That means more Anthony Gonzalez in pass coverage against receivers, which he can certainly do, but I'm not sure if it's a good idea for 60 minutes. Add to that Marquise Williams, a mobile quarterback, and I think Pitt's defense will ultimately decide whether or not the Panthers win this game. If they can stop the Tar Heels, the offense will likely score enough and get enough chances to win, but if this becomes a shootout, that could be trouble for Pitt.
Mike, Sarasota, FL: Sammie "got the bar back", with the late camp change in coaching responsibilities (D Rob. moved to Admin role) how has the staff adjusted over the coarse of the year and what adjustments do you think might happen in the offseason?
Sam Werner: Interesting question. I think it has been a bit of an adjustment for Joe Rudolph moving to coach running backs, a position he has never coached before, but it's hard to argue with the results freshman James Conner has put up under his tutelage this offseason. I know Chryst really likes Mickey Turner, the GA coaching tight ends, and Chryst himself is pretty hands-on at that position.
If there are any shakeups in the offseason, I think it would probably be on the defensive side of the ball. Nothing major, but maybe just some responsibility shuffling, because right now there's a lot of overlap between the duties of Palermo (DEs), Breckterfield (DL) and Haering (LBs), while it's only Matt House and Hank Poteat, a GA, handling the secondary. I think Poteat will end up being a good coach, but it's only his first year in the role.
Jarrett: What are the chances that the coaches move Dorian Johnson to guard or keep him at tackle next year?
Sam Werner: Hueber said a few weeks ago that he still wasn't sure where Johnson would end up long-term, but my money is he sticks at tackle. That's generally where you want your best linemen, and he certainly looks like he'll be a star down the road.
Next year will be interesting because Cory King is the only lineman graduating. Now, I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Johnson push Clemmings for the starting right tackle spot, but the coaches could also put him in at that left guard spot if they think he's the best option there. The other thing I could see pushing him inside to guard is if once Grimm and, potentially, Bookser get on campus and if the coaches think they project better as tackles long-term.
BBVABound: What's the update on Trenton Coles? That looked real ugly last week.
Sam Werner: Out for this week. Didn't sound like a season-ending injury, but he won't play Saturday.
Jurgen: Bedoya? You Dumkopf. Anyway last time we faced a spread team (ODU) Todd Thomas barely played. Please tell me the House plans on playing his best defensive player (not including Donald, cause he is not a player, he is a God).
Sam Werner: Ale Alejandro!
I think we'll see more Todd Thomas Saturday, but it might only be because of Coles and Howard's injuries. It'll come down to whether the staff thinks its base package with three LBs is better than the nickel package with a guy like Jahmahl Pardner or EJ Banks playing nickelback. And I also think the staff likes Gonzalez more than Thomas at LB in those passing situations. I know Thomas has athleticism, but he has also had two major knee surgeries, so I don't think it's out of the question to think that Gonzalez might actually be better in space at this point.
PJ: Prediction for this weeks game?
Sam Werner: A little more high-scoring than Chryst and company would probably like, but I'm going to go with Pitt, 31-28.
Sam Werner: And that's all we've got time for today. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @SWernerPG for all the latest updates throughout the week and on game day.