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Tyler Boyd making early impact with Bengals

We all know about Pitt’s big name guys in the NFL - Lesean McCoy, Larry Fitzgerald, Aaron Donald, and Darrelle Revis, to name a few. It might not be too much longer before we can add another legitimate star.

Wide receiver Tyler Boyd.

To be fair, Boyd isn’t a star yet. But only two games into his rookie season, he is already making an impact with his new team, the Cincinnati Bengals. Boyd was limited in his debut, but still caught two passes for 24 yards. He stepped things up against the Steelers last week, grabbing six catches for 78 yards. On the season, he ranks fifth among rookies in receptions and sixth in yardage.

Against Pittsburgh, he actually had the most catches and yards of any wide receiver on the team - even easily outperforming A.J. Green, who was limited to only two catches for 38 yards. He did have a fumble in the game, but even that looked pretty questionable.

What’s great to see is that Boyd is being targeted quite a bit, including eight times last week. He still has a ways to go, obviously, but at only two games into his career, he’s already off to a solid start to the season and is contributing early.

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.

Yankees fans orchestrating 'Moon Big Papi Night' for Ortiz’s New York finale

David Ortiz is down to the final weeks of his major-league career and a group of New York Yankees fans are planning a less-than-cordial sendoff.

>> Read more trending stories 

A group has founded a website called Moon Big Papi and they want fans to moon the Boston Red Sox star when he plays his final game at Yankee Stadium next week. Ortiz owns a career .315 average against the Yankees, with six homers and 13 RBI.

>>RELATED: Company honors Ortiz's career walk-off with special edition shoes

The site says “if 10 people moon Big Papi, they'll be arrested, but if 10,000 do it it will be a story for the grandkids.”

Panthers’ Olsen: Sunday’s game must go on

More than 70,000 fans are expected in Charlotte this weekend to watch the Carolina Panthers vs. the Minnesota Vikings.

For now, the game will go on as scheduled at 1 p.m. Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

>> Read more trending stories  

The Panthers have tried to keep it business as usual on the field despite the chaos that’s unfolded the past two nights, but safety is never far from their minds.

Panthers’ tight end Greg Olsen said his family normally tailgates on game days, but this week they will likely head right to the stadium, not because he fears for their safety, but just in case.

Olsen said the game must go on. He said sport can heal at a time like this and as silly as it sounds, this game matters.

“Is the game itself as important as the issues at hand? No. But is the game itself a big piece of healing and bringing people together and letting people put their differences aside and just start that process of inclusion and being less divisive? I do,” Olsen said.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said he was a coach with the San Diego Chargers when San Diego was struck by wildfires.

“While the circumstances now are obviously different, playing again was an important step in that community's healing process,” Rivera said. 

Cop saves suicidal man by talking football, hatred of Cowboys

Nothing brings together people like football.

When a police officer responded to a call of a suicidal man and found him sitting on the guardrail of a bridge early Saturday morning, he struck up a conversation with the man. The man was crying and told the Columbia Police Department Master Patrol Officer Michael Blackmore he was tired of living, according to The State.

Then the subject matter turned to sports.

>> Read more trending stories 

Blackmore asked the man what his favorite NFL team was, and the man said the Washington Redskins. Blackmore told the man he'd definitely pull for the Redskins when they play Dallas, because he hates Dallas. (The Redskins play the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day.)

The officer told the man that he should stick around so he can watch the upcoming games.

While he’s talking, Blackmore was able to take hold of the man’s arm, and with the help of two responding officers, they removed the man from the guardrail and placed him in an ambulance.

According to The State, this isn’t the first time Blackmore has used his love of sports to talk someone out of suicide. Just last month, he talked a man out of jumping from a parking garage by talking about college football and the man’s favorite team, Notre Dame.

 

Vow to use James Conner more in passing game being kept

Three games into the season, the Pitt running back has already exceeded his career-bests in receiving

The plan to get Pitt running back James Conner more involved as a pass-catcher has long been discussed. After his monster year in 2014, there was talk of Conner becoming more of a receiving back for 2015. That effort, though, quickly went off the rails when he suffered an injury in the season opener and was gone for the year. This year, that talk returned.

And so far, it’s actually happening.

Through only three games, Conner has 281 rushing yards. That number, of course, is off of his 2014 pace when he ran for 1,765 yards. However, the running back also has nine catches for 105 yards.

Those numbers are astonishing when you consider what Conner has done as a receiver in his career. We’re barely into the season and he already has set career-bests in each of those categories. Even more shocking is that his nine catches already have equaled his past three years combined while the 105 yards have almost matched his three-year combined yardage (110).

Back when the talk resurfaced about Conner being more of a receiver this year, I mentioned that a 20-catch season would help his NFL Draft prospects by showing scouts he was a capable receiving back. Conner is actually on pace to nearly double that.

Also nice to see is that Conner has been used as a receiver near the goal line. Against Villanova and Penn State, he recorded a receiving touchdown in each game - the first ones of his career.

Further, Conner isn’t just catching bubble screen passes. As evidenced in the Oklahoma State game, he’s actually getting downfield a bit. This weekend against the Cowboys, he had a big catch and run going for 55 yards. Even if the pass wasn’t intended for him (it didn’t appear it was), he was still out on a passing route and was fortunate to catch the ball and make a big play out of it.

While his role in the passing game is great to see for Pitt’s offense, I’m also glad that it will benefit Conner. He’s just a more marketable draft pick if he shows he’s capable of catching passes and that will ultimately help his stock.

Conner isn’t the same rusher he was in 2014 when he was able to (excuse the pun) catch the nation off guard. His 4.5 yards-per-carry are down significantly from that season when he was at 5.9. He’s also on target to fall well short of his record 26 rushing touchdowns that year. But by adding the receiving dimension to his game, he’s becoming more of an all-purpose back, which is a good thing.

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.

Cam Newton on Charlotte unrest: 'I'm a firm believer of justice'

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and head coach Ron Rivera held their weekly press conference Wednesday, but the talk wasn’t about football. 

For about 12 minutes out of a 15-minute press conference availability, Newton didn’t talk about the Minnesota Vikings; instead, he talked about the unrest in Charlotte following a deadly officer-involved shooting.

>> Charlotte police shooting: State of emergency declared during 2nd night of violent protests

Newton spoke passionately about how he feels about his role in the community.

Newton make it clear before he started that he didn’t know all the facts of the shooting or what followed and that he intends on getting all the information before taking a stance.

>> PHOTOS: 2nd night of violent protests after Charlotte police shooting

He added that it’s hard for him to speak out at times because it’s a lose-lose situation. He’s either – in his own words – a traitor or he’s too real.

“If I say something, it's going to be critiqued and if I don't say something, ‘You fake or you’re flawed.’ I'm a firm believer of justice. I'm a firm believer of doing the right thing and I can't repeat it enough of just holding people accountable,” Newton said.

>> Watch the video here

While Newton was speaking, Rivera was listening to what his quarterback had to say. He said Newton is very thoughtful and sincere about his feelings, and he thinks about what he says before he talks.

But Rivera also said it wasn't fair to ask his players their thoughts on what he saw as a political matter, but he did offer his opinions on the violence that broke out Tuesday night.

>> Read more trending stories

“Maybe instead of tearing up your own city, maybe instead of doing things the wrong way, this is a Democratic society and like I said, vote, maybe. That's what we need to do – take a deep breath and do it the right way. I’m not sure if what happened last night was the right way,” Rivera said.

Pitt’s Receiving Corps Must Step Up

It’s not breaking news, but with everyone looking at Nate Peterman, we decided to look at the players catching the ball.

We’ve talked a lot lately about how Pitt’s passing game needs to step up for the offense to be productive. The interesting thing is how successful they have been putting points on the board without much of a downfield threat. That won’t last forever and it has proved to be a problem at key moments of a game early on this year.

Obviously, there’s been a lot of focus on what quarterback Nathan Peterman needs to do and how the staff needs to trust him more. But the other side of that is the Panthers’ receivers.

Pitt hasn’t faced the best of defenses yet, but they will eventaully. And when they do, they must see what they have. With defenses already stacking the line and Dontez Ford out for a period of time, the coaching staff has to allow some players a chance to make plays. The receiving corps is very inexperienced to say the least.

If you want to find a security blanket, Pitt’s tight end, Scott Orndoff would probably be it and this is one of my frustrations. He’s pretty sure handed and a good athlete. He has 33 career catches and nine touchdowns. Those are nice numbers for someone who was behind J.P. Holtz for his first few years. He’s not going to be the second coming of Dorin Dickerson for Panther fans, but the Waynesburg native’s 6’5” and 255 pound-frame would give fits to defenders so I’m all for him being even more involved. He leads the team in receptions but I’d like to see him involved more downfield.

In addition to Orndoff, it’s starting to look like Quadree Henderson is developing into the top receiver. Henderson can score from anywhere on the field and he’s a candidate to be targeted a little more as well. He already has nine catches this season, has good hands, and is plenty capable of doing more.

Every team needs a downfield threat. Whether it’s a speed threat or a height threat, you need them. Pitt has both the speed and the height to make teams pay for covering one-on-one but hasn’t gone downfield enough. Jester Weah is a former track champion and has six catches for 123 yards. The question with Weah has always been his hands but you have to try to stretch the defense. He did that a bit with a long grab and score this weekend.

In addition to those guys, Pitt has a few more that are in the mix here. First, there’s true freshman, Aaron Mathews of Clairton. He’s a bit taller and is listed at either 6’4” or 6’5” for the most part. Either way, reports in camp determined he was not much fun for defensive backs. He’s still looking for his first catch, but Narduzzi said in his weekly press conference that he’s a guy we should see more of. Mathews doesn’t have to know everything in the playbook to go up for a jump ball. Take a shot.

Finally, there needs to be a security blanket in a group of receivers. Tyler Boyd was it for three seasons. He ran great routes and caught balls in traffic. I think Orndoff can provide some security, but a receiver helps too. I’ve heard way too much about Tre Tipton early last year and then again this season in training camp to not think he may have a knack for coming down with tough balls and taking hits. A week ago when Pitt was trailing Oklahoma State, they needed to get downfield to tie up the Cowboys. Tipton came down with three catches, on the last drive, and one of them was a very tough fourth down conversion.

Also in the mix is JUCO transfer Rafael Araujo-Lopes. He has only one catch on the year but with Ford out, he could see a bit more time as well.

Pitt’s receiving corps is a virtual unknown and it’s understandable that we haven’t seen much from these guys aside from Henderson and Orndoff. But if the Panthers’ offense is to do more, at some point, they’ll need to trust the passing game a little more. Like Oklahoma State, North Carolina is capable of scoring a lot of points so we might see that sooner rather than later.

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@BrunoPittsburgh

UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast w/ Corey Cohen (S2 Ep5)

In this episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen welcomes Jim Hammett to discuss the Pitt loss at Oklahoma State and the loss of recruit Donovan Jeter.

In this brand new episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen welcomes Jim Hammett to discuss the Pitt loss at Oklahoma State and the loss of recruit Donovan Jeter. Plus they preview North Carolina and answer the Three Rivers Pack of Questions along with choosing a Panther of the Week.

Don’t forget to leave your comments for us here or on Twitter @CoreyECohen and @JimHammett. And please subscribe to the podcast on SoundCloud or iTunes.

Pitt at North Carolina: Breaking Down the Two-Deep

Looking at Pitt’s depth chart for the North Carolina game

QB - 1. Nate Peterman 2. Manny Stocker

Nate Peterman made some big throws in the Oklahoma State game. His 237 passing yards was his second highest total ever as the Pitt quarterback. Still, he wasn’t overly accurate with a 48.3% completion was problematic at times. Peterman did show the actual ability to hit some passes and make plays, which he wasn’t able to do against Penn State.

RB - 1. James Conner 2. Chawntez Moss OR Darrin Hall OR Qadree Ollison

James Conner had another good showing last week, and looks to be about on par with where he was in 2014. Conner has been strong with the ball, showing good bursts in space, and the same physical player he has always been. Conner came down with a spectacular 55 yard catch, and has been showing receiving abilities all season long. Pitt will look to control tempo again this week, and Conner’s play will be vital to that.

We did not see much of Qadree Ollison, but he did bring down one catch for eight yards in his only touch against the Cowboys. Darrin Hall was in the mix slightly, but didn’t break many big runs. We got our first look at Chawntez Moss carrying the ball, with two carries for eight yards. Pitt will need another back besides Conner on Saturday, and the competition for those snaps is ongoing apparently.

FB - 1. George Aston 2. Jaymar Parrish

This is a change to the first three depth charts. Pitt was listing three different starting wide receivers and no fullback, but now we officially see Aston as a starter. He had one catch for 12 yards and a negative one yard run against Oklahoma State. He also got his hand on the one blocked punt. Aston is a good football player, and will see the field quite a bit on Saturday.

WR - 1. Quadree Henderson Jester Weah 2. Aaron Mathews OR Zach Challingsworth Tre Tipton OR Rafael Araujo-Lopes

Jester Weah had two catches on Saturday against Oklahoma State, but they were big ones. Weah had a 60 yard touchdown just before halftime to bring Pitt to within a touchdown. He had another nice catch on the sideline for a first down. Weah is a weapon, and he’s starting to show some of that raw ability we’ve heard about for years now.

Quadree Henderson is third nationally in all-purpose yardage per game. The leader is Christian McCaffrey for context purposes. So yes, Quadree Henderson is really, really good. Henderson had 95 rushing yards and two scores plus two catches for 31 yards. Pitt will continue to find ways to get him the ball, as he’s starting to become a weapon that Pitt has never really had in the past.

Araujo-Lopes and Tipton both got some looks this past weekend. Lopes is going to be used in a Henderson type role it seems, as he carried some jet sweeps. Tipton looks like he can be a nice option in the slot for this team. There’s room to grow for these younger guys with Dontez Ford out for an extended period of time.

TE - 1. Scott Orndoff 2. Jaymar Parrish

Scott Orndoff had a quiet afternoon in Stillwater with just one catch for five yards. His ten receptions still lead the team to this point however. I look for Pitt’s offense to evolve throughout the season, and Orndoff should be a constant. I expect him to get the ball more this weekend.

LT - 1. Adam Bisnowaty 2. Aaron Reese

LG - 1. Dorian Johnson 2. Carson Baker

C - 1. Alex Officer 2. Connor Dintino

RG - 1. Alex Bookser 2. John Guy

RT - 1. Brian O’Neill 2. Jaryd Jones-Smith

Pitt’s offensive line helped pave the way for 527 total yards. Pitt also controlled the time of possession battle 37:50 to 22:10. They really did their job, and the result was more on the defense than the offense. I think the pass protection could have been better at times. Nobody is perfect, but this line has been good the past two weeks. It almost seems silly how concerned everyone was after their play against Villanova.

DE - 1. Ejuan Price Rori Blair 2. James Folston Allen Edwards 3. Rashad Weaver

The defense surrendered a ton of yards and points. Still, Ejuan Price found a way to shine. He was named the ACC Defensive Linemen of the Week after posting four tackles for loss, two sacks, and another forced fumble. The forced fumble led to a defensive touchdown. He’s among the national leaders in all three of those categories.

DT - 1. Shakir Soto 2. Amir Watts OR Keyshon Camp

Shakir Soto had three tackles on Saturday. Amir Watts got some reps, but did not get into the box score. Pitt limited Oklahoma State to 3.1 yards per carry, and have been good against the run. The pass rush was almost nonexistent besides Ejuan Price, and that needs to change.

NT - 1. Tyrique Jarrett 2. Shane Roy OR Mike Herndon

Jarrett’s effectiveness was limited against a spread passing team like Oklahoma State. He posted just one tackle, and play a lot less than he did in the first two weeks. Shane Roy got some work, and did recover a fumble and had a pair of tackles.

Money Linebacker - 1. Mike Caprara 2. Saleem Brightwell

Mike Caprara came down with two tackles for loss, one of which was a sack on Saturday. He’s been coming down with some big plays this season. Pitt may need a sack, or a fumble recovery type of play from him this weekend.

Mike Linebacker - 1. Matt Galambos 2. Quintin Wirginis

Matt Galambos was able to secure a loose ball and score a defensive touchdown for the Panther defense in the second half. Him and Wirginis combined for six tackles on Saturday against Oklahoma State. They draw a tough task with a strong running game from UNC this Saturday.

Star Linebacker - 1. Seun Idowu 2. Bam Bradley

Idowu had six tackles, and one for loss against the Cowboys. Bam Bradley also had a tackle for loss and made some plays on special teams.

Cornerback - 1. Avonte Maddox Ryan Lewis 2. Dane Jackson Phillipie Motley

Not much to say here, they got burnt last week. They need to be better individually, and the coaches may need to send more safety help in these one on one situations. Saturday was on coaching and the players, no way around it. They got torched most of the day.

Strong Safety - 1. Jordan Whitehead 2. Dennis Briggs

Jordan Whitehead has been really good since he’s stepped foot on campus, but Saturday was a game he would probably like to forget. He missed the chances to make some plays. I don’t have any concerns with him overall, he’ll be better. He continues to get looks offensively, and he’s been good in that role as expected.

Free Safety - 1. Terrish Webb 2. Reggie Mitchell

This past week, the corners drew a lot of flak from the fan. The prior week against Penn State it was the free safeties. I’m not sure if they were any better this week, but it seemed like they made some plays. I think the corners just stole the attention of most of us for all the wrong reasons. However, if you give up that many passing yards, nobody in the secondary or entire defense was doing too much.

Kicker - Chris Blewitt Punter - Ryan Winslow Long Snapper - Pat Quirin

Chris Blewitt made his first kick of the year, which is a big deal actually. They need him on track, and now hopefully he is.

Kick Returner/Punt Returner - 1. Quadree Henderson 2. Avonte Maddox

Henderson didn’t have much of a chance to make plays on special teams, but made up for it on offense.

Ejuan Price named ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week

The Pitt defensive end picked up a weekly honor for his play against Oklahoma State

The Pitt defense got quite a bit of criticism this past weekend after Oklahoma State topped the Panthers with a total of 45 points. But the conference recognized at least one player on that side of the ball that had a big game.

Defensive end Ejuan Price was named the ACC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week after a monster effort against the Cowboys. Price had six tackles, four of which were for losses, including two sacks. Price also forced the fumble that Pitt recovered and returned for a score.

Just a mammoth effort for Price who is quietly having a huge year. He now has three forced fumbles on the year and his 1.0 forced fumble per game leads the nation. He’s also fourth in the country in sacks per game (1.5) and tackles for losses per contest (2.5).

After a big season last year, it’s good to see Price maintain that pace.

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.

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