Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pitt Hits | by Jay

Are you keeping up with the glut of previews, reviews, interviews and other assorted fluffy bits of media commentary swirling through the noosphere this week?

Neither are we. The sheer volume of stuff (from near and far alike) for ND's first game this year is overwhelming; I feel like a little kid at Chuck E. Cheese, trapped in a cage of a thousand plastic balls.

Still, let's take a stab at pulling out some of the more interesting bullet points we've come across, and give a few links worth perusing in full.

Charlie Weis: "Brady Quinn is all-day tough." Brady Quinn: "Charlie is extremely blunt and honest."

Greg Lee, 100% and ready to go.

Freshman Rashad Jennings gets the start at tailback for Pitt. 6'1", 235 pounds. As Keith would say,

Bill Lewis talks about a possible edge for the Irish, since he worked for Wanny last year. Per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
"It's going to be very exciting to compete against (Wannstedt)," Lewis said. "You get in that situation where you're competing against a good friend, and I've always enjoyed that. I think that brings out the best in your competitive spirit."

"Whatever information (about Wannstedt's schemes) that coach Weis would want me to share, I'll certainly share," Lewis said. "We'll try to study Dave's background and then the background of his coordinators and so forth."
• Pitt defensive back Darrelle Revis loves that the season starts off with a bang (unlike other teams):
"Notre Dame is a great, historic program. I watched them, growing up," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "It's gonna be a tough game. A lot of teams open up with smaller schools, but we're moving up to the next level. We're going to be ready."
• Über-cornerback recruit (and Pittsburgh native) Darrin Walls will be in attendance on Saturday. He's got both ND and Pitt on his final list.

• Unlike Charlie, Wannstedt won't be calling any plays on Saturday.

As for actual game management, he said he will allow his coordinators to call the plays, but he will be in constant contact with them and will offer his suggestions based on situations.

He also said he will keep offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh on the field (as opposed to in the press box) for games because he wants him to keep in close contact with quarterback Tyler Palko.

"I think it's important that Matt's down on the field with Tyler," Wannstedt said. "He's a guy that gets very emotional. And there will be good plays, and there will be great plays, and there will be some not so great plays in every game. And I think that the relationship that those two guys have right now, I think it's important that they're looking eye to eye in talking during the course of the game."

• Speaking of Cavanaugh, he's got some bittersweet history at Pitt as a former Panthers quarterback.

• Here's a fantastic profile of Darius Walker. We're banking on 1,500 yards for Darius this year, and according to this piece, his parents will be sure to see every one of them.

• Another entry in the NFL-to-college storyline, care of the Indy Star. Interesting for an Ivan Maisel backtrack (you know, the guy at ESPN who said repeatedly after the firing of Ty that "the mystique is dead" at Notre Dame):
"Any school with the tradition and foundation of a Notre Dame or USC doesn't need a lot of time," said Ivan Maisel, a college football writer for "It took Pete Carroll a season-and-a-half. Maybe the Notre Dame administration was on to something when they determined that three years was long enough for Tyrone Willingham to prove himself."

• Charlie thinks that the presence of twin towers Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija, both 6'5", gives this ND team a unique advantage (per Tim Prister in the Indy Star):
"It's a different group of guys than I've ever had before. I've never had that kind of size," Weis said. "There aren't too many teams playing with receivers that size...I told [Quinn], 'You've got to be loving this, seeing those guys lined up on either side of you.' "

"Coach is real big on mismatches, whether it be a running back on a linebacker, a mismatch in height between a receiver and a DB, or if we're in the slot lined up on a linebacker," Samardzija said. "If guys want to come up and (closely defend) me or Mo or Rhema, it's tough for them to stop a guy who has height and maybe 20 or 30 pounds on them. It's intriguing for (Weis)."
• Just because Charlie's new, and the guys are learning a brand new system, don't look for a vanilla offense at Pittsburgh.
Said Weis: "With that veteran offensive line returning and with the number of veteran skill people we have, it allows me to be versatile. I don't have to come out here and be conservative."
David Wolke's our #2 quarterback behind Quinn.

• One difference between Charlie and, say, Bob Davie? Charlie actually appreciates Lou and Ara, and isn't afraid to lean on them for advice.

• Wanny returning to Pittsburgh has much of same resonance as Charlie returning to ND.
"It feels like we've got a guy who understands what we go through, who's walked to class the same way we do, who understands the mentality in this town," Palko said. "People might leave Pittsburgh, but they migrate back because their roots are there. That loyalty is part of the mentality of Pittsburgh. It's a blue-collar mentality that goes back to the steel mill days. You wake up early in the morning, you go to work for 10 hours, come home, eat dinner and go to bed. When you wake up, it's the same thing again.

"Coach Wannstedt has lived it, so he understands everything about it."

Pawn to Queen Four. The chess match has already begun:
Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator last year, said Wannstedt will "look at (H.B.) Blades as his Zach Thomas," now that Blades is playing middle linebacker. Wannstedt coached Thomas with the Miami Dolphins.

When told about Weis' comparison, Wannstedt gave a cryptic response: "He's probably going to try to block H.B. Blades like he blocked Zach Thomas." Thomas had just eight tackles, his second-lowest output of the season, against the Pats in 2004.

• Even Tyler Palko's grandmother jumped his ass for dropping an F-bomb on NBC last year.

• Our offensive line has to be licking their chops at the state of Pitt's defensive front:
“I feel good about our secondary and our linebackers, we’ve just got to unfold the defensive line,” Wannstedt said. “That’s the one position that I’m not really sure [about].”
• A nice read on Charlie from the Philly Daily News. Seriously, it's better than ninety percent of the puff profiles that came out this week. Check it out if you have a few minutes.

• Ryan Harris gets brutally honest:
Players scoff at the notion that Notre Dame's talent might be the root of the problem. They point to the number of prep All-Americas that come into the program each year, saying Notre Dame remains a national player in recruiting.

"To say that there is no talent here is insanely inaccurate," Harris said. "But we can't fault people for saying that because we have played like there wasn't any talent. Obviously we haven't been playing to our abilities."

• Was it all a dream? Unfortunately not:
In three years using the West Coast offense [under Ty Willingham], the Irish never clicked, never ranking higher than 81st in the nation in total offense. Their usually strong running game averaged a school-worst 127.4 yards a game last season.
• Yet, change is afoot:
"We're a game-plan oriented team that is concerned with matchups personnel-wise," Weis said. "It's not about West Coast or East Coast. It's all about personnel groups and multiple formations. I think the more you can get the defense thinking and less reacting, the better chance you have."

Weis has spent a lot of time during preseason camp trying to make sure the Irish are ready to react to anything opponents, officials or circumstances throw at them. He found that was a weak spot when he arrived.

"I think when we first started you could have said we were the Bad News Bears. But I think as this has gone on, our players are starting to think on their feet," he said.
• If Pitt linebacker H.B. Blades can see it, why couldn't Ty?
“Their running back and offensive line worries me the most,” Pitt junior middle linebacker H.B. Blades said. “They are big and have been playing together for two or three years now. They are very good run blockers.

“I think the running back is the best player on the team. He’s got great vision and can see holes that no one else can see. He’s the best player on their team.”
• A pretty decent Wannstedt profile from the Chicago Sun-Times. No individual quotes worth picking out, but take a look if you want to familiarize yourself with the history of the feathered-hair Panther coach.

• Lastly, Jason Kelly talked to Ara about the dinner he shared with Charlie last week, and the conversation between the two coaches.

"I didn't impart anything," Parseghian said. "We just discussed Notre Dame, we discussed football. It was just interesting to hear him say how they were handling their offense and so forth, what kind of audibles they called and how they did it. Those were very interesting to me because I've been gone for a long time."

He might not be current on all the modern tricks and intricacies, but Parseghian figured out something only an elite few coaches have.

How to win at Notre Dame.

Time doesn't diminish the significance of that, and aside from the evolving strategies, the elusive means to that end remain very much the same.

Since Parseghian has a 95-0 lead on Weis in the wins department, the new guy wanted some of that wisdom to rub off on him.

"Just hearing his approach I think was a very educational experience, because you could see how he approached the game and how he approached all the little sidebars that go with being the head coach at Notre Dame," Weis said. "It was quite educational."

From Parseghian's perspective, Weis already completed the most important task -- conveying confidence to a battered team. Confidence in himself, in the players, in the plan the coaching staff would implement.

During his first meeting with the Irish, months before the 1964 season began, Parseghian outlined his expectations point by painstaking, inspiring point, from conditioning to conduct.

Then he illustrated his utter trust in that system with a promise that must have sounded borderline insane to returning players who won only two games the previous year.

"I remember telling them, 'If you follow this format, we will win, and we will win this year,'" Parseghian said. "That is very important. You've got to make them believe. But the important thing is you must believe yourself, and it's very evident to me that Charlie believes in himself and he believes in this team."