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Pitt Football Training Camp: Texas Transfer Brandon Hodges competing for spot on the Panthers' offensive line

Last month, a surprise late addition to the 2017 Pitt football roster was made with the news that former Texas starter Brandon Hodges was transferring to the Panthers with immediate eligibility.

I wrote at the time that Hodges should have a strong chance to start since it would make little sense for him to come here if he didn't when he could go elsewhere and do that. At the very least, he would get considerable playing time. Hodges is just getting his feet wet with the team but by the sound of things, starting is a real possibility.

Brian O'Neill, the de facto leader of the offensive line, was impressed with him today in camp. "I think that he's going to come in and give us a game-ready option right now," O'Neill said. "He looked really good out there today."

O'Neill was asked about Hodges some more and added to his earlier assessment. "He's done a great job so far of picking up stuff," said O'Neill. "He's picked up stuff really quickly, so we're really happy about that and he's done a great job for us.  I'm excited about what he can do because that's an extra addition that we didn't have in the spring or summer. Some guys have to pony-up and see what they can do."

Hodges can play guard but Pitt looks slightly more set there with experienced starters Alex Bookser and Alex Officer. Now, Pitt could have kept Officer at center and that would have opened up a spot at guard for Hodges. But Officer has moved to guard and the team is breaking in a new center with either Connor Dintino or Jimmy Morrissey. Part of me wonders if they would have went with that plan if they knew that Hodges was coming sooner. Regardless of that, though, if Hodges is going to start, his best possibility would seem to be at right tackle where the Panthers have been relying on Jaryd Jones-Smith, who has only four career starts.

Another possibility for Hodges would be to start for Bookser, who is suspended in the first game, and see where that goes. Maybe he remains a guard or maybe he moves to tackle. Heck, maybe he plays both all year.

But as I said, even if he doesn't start, he should see plenty of playing time. You just don't get guys of that caliber to transfer to your program to ride the bench.

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.

CARDIAC SPILL: Winning The Day

REGARDING REAL MOTIVATION AND HOW TO TAKE UR PRACTICE TO THE NEXT LEVEL...

In case you don’t know, Athlete Twitter is 50% this:

No single action in a process creates success/failure. It is the cumulative impact of daily action over time that produces success/failure.— Tim Kight (@TimothyKight) July 27, 2017

And 50% this:

EVERY DAY EVERY MINUTE WE OUT HERE MAKE IT COUNT https://t.co/WrLXSQr5W8— DOG SOLDIER!!!!!!PBS (@N_THEYSTAYTHERE) August 6, 2017

Coach Twitter is basically Athlete Twitter with more fishing.

Good day with my boy on the river pic.twitter.com/oYo75TtESV— Andre Powell (@CoachAPowell) July 11, 2017

Coach Twitter is pretty reliably always this. At the levels of play that are worth paying any attention to, the coaches are the football guys/dudes who make up the sports deep state. They’re lifers, bro. They spent their formative years pumping iron and running cone drills and breaking down coverage schemes and hollering about how success is acquired. That’s them. The core is the same flavor as the skin. It’s sincere and pure because the football life doesn’t allow for anything else.

And sometimes, they go places only they understand.

Scrimmage #2 - Are you willing to Finish the Play? pic.twitter.com/MYBgM3mqRB— Coach Josh Conklin (@CoachConklin) April 5, 2017

DOG SOLDIER.

Love it. Love it love it love it. Everyone can name their leadership award the TOUGH GRITTER or the PANTHER STRONG guy of the day, but it takes a true Football Guy to come up with this. It is original. It is also, at first glance, totally insane.

If you want an explanation, go here. But come on, it’s more fun to embrace the insanity. Football doesn’t have enough weird (anymore). Let’s go in on this. Take a minute and try to make some insane football award titles of your own. I’ll start:

  • Whoever does the most on the field is the FIELD WIZARD of the day
  • Whoever shows the most wisdom on the lines is the TRENCH SVENGALI of the day
  • Whoever eats the most grass is the TURF BOYYYYYYYY of the day
  • Whoever is the least visibly tired at the end of a long day is the SLEEPLESS ASIAN ELEPHANT of the day

Here’s some I just want to give out for any reason:

  • NIGHT PYTHON
  • FLASHLIGHT CAT
  • MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONE
  • #1 FOOTBALL ELK
  • STEAK BUTT

And I’m feeling generous - so just for reading this post, you get one. Find your title with this helpful chart:

Go and fight - just remember to leave it all out there today! Yards are won and lost on the minute of the sweat. Don’t focus on the past when tomorrow’s games are won in the fields of midnight. Fight for every ounce of your life until the grind isn’t the problem. Fall backwards onto the brotherhood and surf into the lighthouse of victory. Conference championships are decided by 90% motivation and 100% determination. Go team!

Join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page or find your path into defeat. Follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics, and understand the will of the champion. @N_THEYSTAYTHERE is the wild horse of the tea party of the sword.

Pitt Football Training Camp: Despite talent, Panthers' freshmen running backs could redshirt

Pitt's football team added two quality freshmen running backs to the roster this fall in four-star recruit A.J. Davis and three-star Todd Sibley, who was formerly an Ohio State commit. Both could probably play for any number of programs this year and they may get on the field for the Panthers this year.

But with Pitt pretty deep at the position even despite the loss of James Conner, there's no guarantee they'll get much playing time. Even a redshirt could be in the works, depending on the Panthers' need, according to position coach Andre Powell.

"In a perfect world, you like to save those guys, but we get guys ready to play," said Powell. "We will get them all ready to play and it will sort out. If we don't need them, we will redshirt them. If we need them and they can play winning football, we will play them."

Now, don't mistake that as they aren't necessarily good enough to play. Powell says both are talented.

"They're talented," Powell confirmed. "It's just the volume of things they're required to know that's slowing them down. That's typical for most freshmen across the board."

I think that's Pitt's stance in general, at any position, typically, so it's not breaking news or anything. But I'm really hoping they can redshirt both, if possible. While both may be able to play and contribute this year, the key thing to remember is if it's worth the cost of losing a year of eligibility. If they are out there playing a lot and able to beat out other guys on the depth chart, by all means, go ahead and play them. But unless the upside to playing them is such that the team is being harmed by not playing them, I'd prefer to see them redshirt if possible.

Two other factors are at play here. First, injuries are always a determinant in trying to figure out what guys can and can't redshirt.. Even one injury of consequence to the other three guys likely means that one of them has to play. Second, Pitt also has some carries going to guys like fullback George Aston, as well as non-running backs Quadree Henderson, Jordan Whitehead, and Maurice Ffrench ... and anyone else Pitt wants to utilize in their jet sweeps and reverses. That will mean even less carries available.

Finally, it should be noted that, even with Conner here last season, Pitt still played four backs. Such a scenario this year, without a given like Conner, no less, is quite possible. That's also especially true in that Pitt's philosophy (as was reinforced after a recent practice this year) will be to go with the hot hand.

All of that said, there's been more talk this week that Qadree Ollison has improved so much and he, along with Darrin Hall and Chawntez Moss, should be enough to handle the bulk of the load if healthy. If we're only talking about Davis or Sibley carrying the ball about 20 times this year, I'd rather keep their year of eligibility intact.

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.

Pitt Football Training Camp: Freshman wide receiver Dontavius Butler-Jenkins standing out

The Pitt football team has some work to do in finding a receiver to help fill the gap that expected No. 3 guy Tre Tipton left with his season-ending injury announced recently. While it might be hard for a true freshman to do it, one guy that's getting quite a bit of recognition at practice is Dontavius Butler-Jenkins.

Butler-Jenkins, a Florida kid, was a pretty unheralded recruit when he committed to Pitt last summer. His only other major offer had come from North Carolina State. And while expecting him to leapfrog a huge group of wideouts for the No. 3 job is probably asking too much, it sounds like he is in the mix for playing time, according to head coach Pat Narduzzi.

"The guy who's really stepped up, when you listen to the strength coach and the guys who were around this summer, is Dontavius Butler-Jenkins," said Narduzi. "One day you heard about it. Dontavius is a receiver who's going to really help us this year."

So what about him makes him special? "He gets football," Narduzzi added. "He's a natural football player. He has those football instincts that you just don't teach. Today he got involved in a scramble. The quarterback broke contain and got out, and he did it like a pro. Instinctually, he has the effect."

Naruzzi also added that he's further ahead than your typical freshman.

One thing that's probably helping him is that Aaron Mathews, a guy expected to potentially fill the role slotted for Tipton, has been out with some personal things, according to Narduzzi. He's expected to be back next week.

I'm not sure where Butler-Jenkins ultimately fits in terms of this season. As I mentioned before, Pitt has a lot of other guys in the mix. But at the very least, it sounds like he's going to be playing this year, which probably comes as a surprise to most.

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.

DeJuan Blair wins The Basketball Tournament with Overseas Elite

The Pitt product was making his case for an NBA return

Former Pitt Panthers star DeJuan Blair just wrapped up a month’s work at The Basketball Tournament as a member of Overseas Elite, and he earned $147,000 for his troubles.

On Friday night, Overseas Elite completed a TBT three-peat, topping Challenge ALS 86-83 in the tournament championship. It was a back-and-forth affair with plenty of lead changes, but Overseas Elite pulled ahead with about seven minutes to go in the second half and never let up after that.

Blair, who spent seven seasons in the NBA after leaving Pitt, contributed three rebounds and six points to the win, shooting 2-of-7 from the field. It wasn’t one of his best games, but he did have three memorable outings in the tournament.

He had a decent all-around game on July 8 against the Chattanooga Trenches, amassing seven rebounds, six points, two assists, one block and one steal. And he did even better against the Matadors on July 9 and Ram Nation on July 23, scoring 15 and 10 points, respectively.

However, he also had three off games, including the championship, and that doesn’t bode well for his overarching goal of returning to the NBA, which he shared with the Washington Post on Friday.

“I’m definitely trying to get back into the NBA,” Blair said. “The back door is always the hardest one, so you just got to keep going and keep grinding until something happens.”

Aside from The Basketball Tournament, Blair played his most recent basketball in the NBA’s G League (formerly known as the D-League), and his minutes and production have been in fairly steady decline since his third season in the NBA.

While there were moments when he shined over the last month, his lingering inconsistencies might ultimately hamstring his efforts to make the leap back onto an NBA roster.

New Cardiac Hill Staff Announcements

You may have noticed a new post went up today from an unfamiliar name. Fact is, we've got a few new contributors on board as we gear up for football season.

First, Mike Wilson, who posted today's article about Scott Orndoff, is joining us as a regular writer. He was previously at the Pitt News as an editor and will be writing on a variety of news topics. You give Mike a follow on Twitter, @xmikewilson.

Next is HokieMark, who you may have seen here before. As you might have surmised from the name, Mark is a Virginia Tech fan. So why is he here? Simple. He's got great insight into the ACC as a whole, as demonstrated on his blog, ACC Football Rx, which has been operating for several years. For a while, I've been wanting to get an ACC person in here to give takes on what's happening within the conference. I try to hit some of that but really need someone that has more expertise in that area, and that's him. He'll be writing several ACC-related pieces for us.

Finally, Jeff Ahearn will be joining us as a photographer. Matt Hawley, who has done some great work for us, is still around. Jeff will be photographing football games while Matt covers the basketball side.

Glad to have all of these guys on board. They are super talented and will be great additions.

Former Pitt tight end Scott Orndoff waived by Pittsburgh Steelers

The ex-Panther was waived Wednesday and replaced by Jake McGee

Former Pitt tight end Scott Orndoff was waived by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday afternoon, per an announcement from the team on Twitter.

The former Panther and his family were also the victims of some unfortunate timing.

“Just after noon Wednesday, Scott Orndoff was beaming about how his parents were planning on coming to Latrobe for the first time to watch him practice Thursday at training camp,” said Chris Adamski of TribLive.com.

“No more than an hour later, Orndoff was informed he won’t be practicing with the Steelers anymore.”

Orndoff was not selected in this year’s NFL draft after a standout senior season with the Panthers, but he was picked up by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in late April.

In his final season at Pitt, he pulled in 35 receptions for 579 yards and five touchdowns, ranking second on the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. The only Pitt receiver to outplay him in terms of stats was Jester Weah, who enjoyed a breakout season.

Orndoff suffered a soft-tissue injury on Sunday, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com, and it appears that injury was the deciding factor in the Steelers’ decision to part ways with him.

The team signed tight end Jake McGee, who played his college ball at Virginia before transferring to Florida, to replace him.

From the Steelers’ point of view, McGee should fill the void left by Orndoff, as they’re both primarily blocking tight ends. However, McGee has proven to be more limited as a receiver, never reaching the 400-yard mark in any of his four seasons in college.

Orndoff, on the other hand, emerged as a downfield option for quarterback Nathan Peterman last year, and it would have been interesting to see what he could accomplish with Ben Roethlisberger, who also has an affinity for the deep ball.

Pat Signal: Cameron O’Neil commits to Pitt

Pitt lands a wide receiver from Alabama

PITT IS IT!! #L1TS8URGH #H2P— Pat Narduzzi (@CoachDuzzPittFB) August 1, 2017

The Pitt football program received some good news this afternoon, as Cameron O’Neil committed to the Panthers. Jerry DiPaola of the Tribune Review was the first to be able to verify that O’Neil was the commit following Pat Narduzzi’s “Pat Signal.” O’Neil is a 6’3” 190 pound wide receiver from Phenix City, Alabama. He chose Pitt over additional offers from Virginia, Illinois, and Wisconsin, along with a slew of mid-major offers.

O’Neil plays for Glenwood High School, and helped lead his team to an 8-4 record in 2016 and a trip to the AISA class AAA state semifinals. This marks the second straight recruiting class that Pitt has landed a player from Alabama, as he joins linebacker Cameron Bright from Montgomery in the class of 2017. Here is a better look at O’Neil on the gridiron.

In an article for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in May, Glenwood High School head football coach, Jason Gibson, praised his star wide receiver, and gave a description of his play,

“He’s the best player on the field,” Gibson said. “He can run, he catches the ball better than anybody in this area, he’s physical and he can block. He’s the prototypical Division I football player. He’s what you’re looking for.”

O’Neil will likely be the only wide receiver in the class of 2018. Pitt has added three receivers in each of the past two recruiting classes, and this class is not expected to be very big, thus wide receiver is not a high priority.

Cameron O’Neil is the 12th player to join this class of 2018. Pitt won’t be taking many more, some are expecting a class size of about 16-18, and the numbers suggest that’s probably the case. This may not be the last recruiting news before the season. Brian Asamoah, a highly touted linebacker from Ohio, announced he will be making his college choice this week, and many feel he is between Pitt and Oklahoma.

Secondary news on first day of Pitt football training camp

With the first day of training camp, there was a lot of news from head coach Pat Narduzzi. Several things related to the Panthers' secondary.

The biggest question, from an eligibility standpoint, is regarding Paris Ford, who is trying to get eligible. Ford isn't quite there yet and, as a result, isn't practicing with the team. But he and Narduzzi are hopeful that he'll get academically cleared before the season.

"We’re obviously in constant contact with him," Narduzzi said. "He’s doing well. He’s doing better than expected at this point, and we’ll just wait for a decision to be made. I am hopeful with him and so is he.”

Then, there's the case of one of the Panthers' suspended players, Jordan Whitehead. If you were hoping to hear from Whitehead about his recent suspension, well, think again. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Whitehead wasn't at camp and a clear reason wasn't given. Narduzzi's only explanation was that he is dealing with some stuff from a 'university standpoint.' Not only was Whitehead not there today, but he will apparently be 'in and out' for the next two weeks.

There was also some news regarding players who were actually in camp. Prized recruit Damar Hamlin, who had a disappointing first season last year, was there and is going to be playing some safety in addition to cornerback.

“He’s played a little of both," Narduzzi said. "He ran a lot of the stuff with the corners in the summer. I didn’t get to see much of it. He’s going to meetings with the safeties, but he’s getting the mental load back there. I think that there is more mental in the safety area, but he can line up and play corner. So we expect him to play both. We want him to be a utility guy depending on how healthy he really gets, but we’ll decide that when it comes.”

Hamlin at safety is still a big question mark to me. What Pitt has really needed are corners and if Ford can gain eligibility, he would bolster the safety unit even more. Part of this could be to help cover things while Whitehead is suspended for the first three games but part of me also wonders if we're going to see him end up at safety as Whitehead did, even though Whitehead was expected to be a corner.

If Hamlin turns out to be as good at safety as Whitehead has been, it's hard to argue. And if Whitehead leaves at the end of this season for the NFL Draft as some have projected, the Panthers will need help there. Plus, right now, Hamlin seems buried on the depth chart not even cracking the two deep. If this is a way to get him on the field then maybe it's the best way to go.

But Pitt really needs to find some corners. That's especially true as Maddox, who will have started for most of his four years at Pitt, graduates after this year.

Speaking of Maddox, Narduzzi also casually mentioned the struggles of being in camp and also taking classes at the same time.

“Everything is sped up here with our kids going to classes and writing papers," Narduzzi said. "Avonte [Maddox] was up until midnight worrying about a poetry class. The issues that we are dealing with here are not just football. It’s university-related, which is great, but we are a week early, so it’s like spring ball. We’re practicing in the morning and have the afternoon off.”

Just another reminder that these kids have more on their minds other than football.

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.

Pitt Football Training Camp: Qadree Ollison continues to lead Pitt's crowded backfield

As we've reviewed a few times this summer, one position of strength for Pitt seems to be at running back. The Panthers lost James Conner but returned a stable of capable backs, including Qadree Ollison, the 2015 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Ollison struggled to gain any traction last year. Part of that was because of the return of Conner but part was simply being beaten out on the depth chart. Ollison wasn't only topped by Conner for carries and yardage, but also by backups Darrin Hall and Chawntez Moss.

This year, though, Ollison seems to have the edge to be the team's starter. First, he looked good in spring practices. He was listed as the starter on the team's initial depth chart at ACC media days, earlier this month.

And at training camp, head coach Pat Narduzzi confirmed that (for now, at least), Ollison is the guy.

“We’re obviously excited," Narduzzi said. "We have a great backfield replacing James Conner. We’re looking forward, whether it’s Darrin Hall or Chawntez [Moss]. [Qadree] Ollison right now is leading the way I believe, at least after today. We’ll see what he did after today from the video, but I’m excited with what they are doing.”

We'll see how this plays out. I honestly thought that Moss was Pitt's top back early in the year until Conner got going. Moss did slow down a bit later but it's still surprising to see Ollison leapfrog both he and Hall when he (Ollison) was the fourth back last year.

All of that sort of speaks to the fluidity of the situation. When Conner was out in 2015, Narduzzi went back and forth quite a bit with Ollison, Hall, and Chris James, who was still here. I'm not still not sure we'll see a stranglehold on the job like Conner had when he was here and healthy but for now, Ollison is getting rave reviews. It will also be fun to see if one of the two freshmen, A.J. Davis and Todd Sibley, can get into the mix for carries.

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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