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Despite Houston Texans drafting Deshaun Watson, Tom Savage remains starter ... for now

In the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, the Houston Texans selected Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. That might seem like an ominous sign for former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, but the team's head coach said that Savage will remain the starter with Watson taking on a learning role:

After the pick, Smith and head coach Bill O'Brien reiterated that Savage is still their starting quarterback. "I don't know if people believe us, but we're comfortable with Tom Savage as our quarterback," Smith said with a laugh. ... "As a rookie quarterback it's a big jump," O'Brien added. "Tom is our starter and Deshaun will come in and he's going to work hard and we're going to teach him and feed him a lot of information and he'll work at it."

Savage keeping his job right now is the obvious move. I don't know that you can take any first-round quarterback and declare an all-out competition for the starting job before the guy's even gotten into his first practice. All of that said, when you take a player that high, sitting him on the bench for more than one year isn't usually the plan. Savage will likely have less leeway and more pressure from fans who will want to see their first-round pick in action. How he handles the first month of the season will be critical for him. Most fans won't be pressuring management to play Watson in the first few months but if Savage struggles, the calls for Watson will get louder as the year goes on.

Since being drafted in 2014, Savage has moved up the depth chart only to see Houston bring in more guys. When he finally won the job last year, he got injured just before the playoffs, giving up his job to former starter Brock Osweiler. Osweiler led the team to a win against the Raiders before keeping the job the following week and losing to the Patriots. The team believed enough in Savage to deal Osweiler to the Browns. But now, another hurdle stands in his way in Watson.

One thing on Savage's side is that this isn't a bad team and this shouldn't be a throwaway year for a team that not only made the NFL Playoffs but won a game. It's a lot harder to play a rookie quarterback when you have a decent team. If the Texans were bad, the thought process for many would be to let Watson go out and get some on-the-job experience. You don't do that with a team hoping to compete for an AFC title.

Savage will likely keep the job through training camp and the preseason and be the team's opening day starter. But he'll also have Watson breathing down his neck and looking for playing time if he starts to struggle a little.

And no, you're not the first one to think that this will be Pitt beating Clemson again.

Pitt going to beat Clemson again when Tom Savage starts week 1 — David Lawrence Hall (@PittDLHall) April 28, 2017 Pitt over Clemson? When's the last time that happened? https://t.co/aQaptuVJpw — Ryan S (@rys1324) April 28, 2017 @TomSavage03 Don't worry Scooter you will beat him out just like Pitt beat Clemson! #H2P — Skip Conway (@skipway66) April 28, 2017 Can't wait for Pitt to beat Clemson again when Savage beats out Watson for the staring job #TommyFootball — Tommy (@thust26) April 28, 2017 Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

FSU’s Dalvin Cook among high-profile players still undrafted

The first night of the NFL draft was full of surprises, from the seemingly lopsided trades of teams looking to move up to the players selected several spots before they were projected to go.

>> Read more trending news

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Thursday’s first round was the collection of names that remained on the board for Day 2. Here’s a look at the some of the players with first-round talent who didn’t hear their names called in Round 1:

>> Photos from NFL draft

Dalvin Cook

Florida State’s star running back seemed like a lock to be selected in the first round after posting 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns in his junior season. Cook saw both Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey go in the top 10, Fournette going fourth overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars and McCaffrey going eighth to the Carolina Panthers. Cook could conceivably go to the Packers or Seahawks, the teams that hold the first two picks of the second round.

Cam Robinson

The 6-foot-6 former Alabama offensive tackle was projected to go somewhere in the middle of the first round, but after a 20-pick wait, the first offensive lineman off the board was Utah’s Garett Bolles. Tackle Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin joined Bolles later in the first round, leaving Robinson as the odd man out.

Quincy Wilson 

The University of Florida defensive back was considered a fringe first-round selection after a 33-tackle, three-interception season. Eight defensive backs came off the board Thursday night, but not Wilson.

Forrest Lamp

Much like Robinson, the limited number of offensive lineman taken in the first round pushed Lamp to the back of the line. Considered one of the most talent players at his position going into the night, Lamp undoubtedly will find a home on Friday night.

DeShone Kizer

Although Kizer wasn’t slated to be taken as high as some of the other quarterbacks available, some believed a team at the back end of the first round would take a chance on the Notre Dame product. With several teams still seemingly in precarious quarterback positions entering next season, it appears he’ll find a home sooner rather than later.

 

 

Amber Washington becomes Pitt's First All-ACC Tennis Player

Recently, I mentioned the struggles of the tennis team this year. The program was only 3-15 on the year and was quickly ousted in the ACC Tournament this week with a loss to Notre Dame.

One player that sort of bucked the trend this year was senior Amber Washington. On Wednesday, she was named to the All-ACC Third Team. Washington is the first Pitt tennis player to be named to an All-ACC team since the school joined the conference.

If the Washington last name sounds familiar, it should. Her sister Taylor Washington played on the team a few years ago and is now as assistant coach. She was previously the team's No. 1 starter just as Amber was this year.

I only casually followed the team this year and knew that Washington was their best player. But I wasn't aware that she had beaten three ranked opponents this season. Not only did she win three ranked matches against opponents but she was the only member of the team to defeat a ranked singles opponent. In all, Pitt was 3-16 in those matches.

The Panthers had a pretty down year, but Washington's All-ACC status was nice to see considering it was a first for the program.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Photos: 2017 NFL Draft, live from Philadelphia

Pitt NFL Draft Projections: Scott Orndoff

I wanted to take a quick look at one other Pitt player with the potential to be selected in this weekend's NFL Draft - tight end Scott Orndoff.

Orndoff was overshadowed a bit in his first two seasons here. Even by the time he was a junior, he was still sharing the spotlight with J.P. Holtz, a highly regarded tight end. Orndoff still managed to show some big play ability in 2015, despite some modest numbers.

In his junior year, Orndoff managed only 13 catches for 244 yards. But he also averaged nearly 20 yards a catch and scored five touchdowns. Last year, with more opportunities, he responded. 2016 saw the tight end heavily involved in Matt Canada's offense, catching 35 balls for 579 yards and five more touchdowns.

One thing of note is that, like James Conner, he had a monster game against Clemson in that big upset. In that game, Orndoff caught a ridiculous nine passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. That would be a big game for a wide receiver. For a tight end, it's kind of unbelievable.

Orndoff is also a solid blocker for the position - something that's desperately needed since that's a huge job a tight end has to fill.

I'm not sure all of that is enough to get him selected, but it should land him in the conversation as a fringe guy. One thing hurting him is that he didn't have a great Combine and that was a place that could have helped him create some separation with other guys. But he still had a strong year this season and all it takes is getting one team interested to be taken.

Do you think Orndoff will be selected in the NFL Draft?

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Opinion: The ESPN we used to enjoy is dead and never coming back

The worst thing that ever happened to ESPN was the success of PTI.

>> READ MORE at Marcus Hartman’s “Cus Words Blog

Shortly after Pardon The Interruption debuted in October 2001, the network set about trying to replicate it on every other show on the network.

That has proven to be a disaster because nobody in Bristol gets the debate isn’t what makes that show great, it’s the debaters.

Tony Kornheiser and Michal Wilbon, not just colleagues but friends who genuinely seem to love arguing with each other about things they’ve actually put some thought into, have a unique rapport that can’t be copied easily.

And yet more than 15 years later, the people running ESPN continue to try in vain.

Collateral damage in this war against people who want good content has been mounting for years, and Wednesday was one of the worst as the company parted ways with a bunch of people who actually do good work and produce things worth consuming (mostly for their website) in an effort to offset financial losses wrought by spending more than they can afford on the rights to broadcast live sports.

If you wondered if the product on ESPN was ever going to get better, the answer is now clear.

For the most part, it appears ESPN kept the carnival barkers while cutting many of the people who actually gather the information people like Stephen A. Smith hyperventilate about.

>> Read more trending news

There’s a theory out there that mixing in too many liberal political messages has hurt the network’s bottom line, but I’m not sure I buy that. Of course, I don’t watch it enough to know just how liberal those messages are. It could be true. It’s probably at least a small factor.

I can’t imagine skewing in one direction politically helps, and I believe the whole stick to sports thing is actually good advice most of the time.

Not that everyone isn’t entitled to their opinion and encouraged to share it whenever they want, but there are a lot of sports fans who really don’t want political commentary in their sports.

And that’s a very fair request, at least 99 percent of the time. There are plenty of sources for news, politics and whatever else, but ESPN has the market cornered on live sports. So feel free to be obstinate, but don’t be surprised if there are consequences. 

Responding to consumer demand is important in any business, but ESPN hasn’t made a habit of that lately.

As often as they take a former athlete off the street and throw him or her into the studio – or worse yet, onto a broadcast – with no experience and much to learn about how to actually express themselves in an informative and entertaining manner, it’s clear ESPN doesn’t care about the quality of what it puts out there.

So at this point I assume if ESPN is having ratings problems (they are), it’s mostly because their product sucks.

I assume they’re cutting people from their website because it doesn’t generate much revenue in the grand scheme of things. The people who have run the network so poorly probably also figure whatever money the web does bring in can probably be maintained mostly by posting viral clips from their terrible sports opinion shows anyway.

Maybe I’m making a lot of assumptions for someone who gave up on ESPN long ago, but actually watching ESPN didn’t used to be essential in appreciating it.

I grew up without cable, but I knew all about SportsCenter.

There was no Twitter to make the catchphrases of Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Stuart Scott, et al, go viral as they might today, but ESPN became a cultural icon in the 1990s anyway.

That was, oddly enough, because they presented sports in a fun and entertaining way. 

A lot of the good stuff was still there when I finally got cable in 2001 (dorm livin’, baby!), but it didn’t last long.

Within about three years, I quit watching for the most part (aside from live events and PTI), and nothing since has indicated I’m missing much. Certainly social media gives few endorsements, and neither have I found the few snippets I catch here and there appealing.

That’s why I keep coming to the same conclusion.

ESPN is dead and never coming back. Today is just one of the sadder reminders. 

Pitt NFL Draft Projections: Ejuan Price

So far, we've looked at four Pitt football players with pretty good chances to be selected in this week's NFL Draft - Nathan Peterman, James Conner, Dorian Johnson, and Adam Bisnowaty. But the Panthers have at least a couple of more guys with real chances to be taken, too.

One of those is defensive end Ejuan Price. Price was a highly touted recruit that came to Pitt but had some injury issues early on. He was a six-year guy that guy some extra eligibility and that's part of the problem. Already 24 years old, some teams will be scared off a little bit.

But if you look at what Price did on the field, he's proven he's capable of playing in the pros. He didn't do too much in his first four years here, but his last two seasons have been superhuman. Price's 2015 season saw him pick up 11 1/2 sacks and 19 1/2 tackles for losses. What I love about him is that he still managed to have an even bigger 2016 year. Despite Pitt missing its other starting defensive end Dewayne Hendrix and teams being prepared for him after 2015, he still went on to have 13 sacks, 23 tackles for losses, and three forced fumbles.

Price's 29 1/2 career sacks are fourth on Pitt's all-time list. He was a first-team All ACC player in those last two years and he was a second team All-American in 2016.

I get that he's a little undersized and that he's older. But what he did in the last two seasons was pretty mind-boggling. As one of the top defensive ends in all of college football, I don't think a late-round pick is too much of a gamble. What do you think?

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.
Poll Where do you predict Ejuan Price will land in the NFL Draft? Rounds 1-3 Round 4 Round 5 Round 6 Round 7 Undrafted   2 votes | Results

Pitt Tennis Knocked out of ACC Tournament with 4-0 Loss to Notre Dame

Earlier this week, I noted that Pitt's tennis team finished the regular season only 3-15 and were winless in the ACC. The Panthers played in the ACC Tournament today and were ousted in the opening round, falling 4-0 to Notre Dame.

The loss shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, really. The Panthers have won a total of one conference match since joining the ACC and are an incredulous 1-55 in ACC play.

I don't know what the long-term outlook is for the tennis program but as I said earlier, when you lose that much, it's time to at least start asking some questions. To be fair, the Panthers did win seven matches last year so things weren't this bad last season. But when you look at the overall picture, the program has only averaged a total of three wins in each of the other three seasons they've been in the ACC. And given that there are some cupcakes in there every year, well, that's just not real good.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

ESPN lays off 100 employees including on-air talent, reporters

Cable sports network ESPN is expected to lay off close to 100 employees on Wednesday.

Several on-air personalities and reporters have already been notified.

“Dynamic change demands an increased focus on versatility and value, and as a result, we have been engaged in the challenging process of determining the talent -- anchors, analysts, reporters, writers and those who handle play-by-play -- necessary to meet those demands. We will implement changes in our talent lineup this week. A limited number of other positions will also be affected and a handful of new jobs will be posted to fill various needs,” ESPN president John Skipper said in a statement to employees.

Below are messages from a few broadcasters and reporters affected by Wednesday’s decision:

ESPN laid off around 300 employees in October 2015.

Sam Ferry hired to Pitt Basketball coaching staff

Pitt hires Sam Ferry to be an assistant coach.

Ferry Joins Pitt Coaching StaffREAD: https://t.co/SBMWcFC8JC#H2P pic.twitter.com/lI7YDYqekz— Pitt Basketball (@Pitt_MBB) April 26, 2017

Pitt has announced the hiring of Sam Ferry to join the basketball coaching staff this afternoon. Ferry comes to Pitt after working as an assistant coach at Monmouth University the past four seasons.

Ferry is familiar with head coach Kevin Stallings as he worked as a team manager and then Director of Video Operations for Vanderbilt from 2007-2011 before taking a job at Monmouth.

Ferry was on the coaching staff of a very successful Monmouth basketball program in recent history. He has worked under King Rice, one of the hottest young names in coaching currently. The Hawks have reeled off a 55-15 record over the past two seasons while capturing two regular season MAAC titles. Rice said this about Ferry in his Monmouth bio.

“Sam is a star in the making," stated Rice, who worked alongside Ferry with the Commodores. "He is a very energetic young man that can mentor and teach young men."

Last year, Ferry was named to Under Armor’s 30-under 30 team, which recognized the top 30 assistant coaches under the age of 30. His youth and experience working in the Northeast will be expected to be his benefits on the recruiting end of the business. Ferry is here to replace Jeremy Ballard, who left to take a job at VCU last month.

In the release by Pitt this afternoon, head coach Kevin Stallings said this about his new hire.

“Sam is a tireless worker on the court and on the recruiting trail,” said Stallings. “He has established great recruiting ties across the Northeast and down into Virginia. His energy and enthusiasm for the game of basketball are infectious and his ability to connect with players is impressive. Sam is an outstanding addition to our staff and will make a significant impact as we build our program here at Pitt.”

Pitt has somewhere between five and seven roster to fill before next season. Ferry will be expected to go to work right away on the recruiting front, as Pitt has much work to do on a roster for next season.

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