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Pitt Football Spring Practices: Jordan Whitehead may be changing safety positions for 2017

News came out after Tuesday's Pitt football practice that Jordan Whitehead may be changing positions. No, he isn't moving from safety to corner. Rather, Whitehead could move from the boundary safety spot to the field safety spot (which is how Pitt classifies their strong/free safety positions, respectively).

Head coach Pat Narduzzi discussed the potential move. "We are giving Jordan a little bit of reps to the field safety as well, trying to find out who our two best safeties are," said Narduzzi. "He's got a chance to play the field as well as the boundary now.

The reason for the possible move? Both players at that spot last year, Terrish Webb and Reggie Mitchell, are now gone. "That's our next step is getting him able to play both and he may be the guy at free safety with Reggie (Mitchell) gone and T-Webb [Terrish Webb] gone," added the head coach. "He might be the next guy out there. I see a lot of good things out of him."

Whitehead acknowledged that he was the only player on the team who knew that spot in Pitt's scheme and that he's been playing there since spring practices kicked off.

"As soon as spring started, I moved to the field," Whitehead acknowledged. "We lost Reggie Mitchell and Terrish Webb last year, so I was the only guy who knew that spot. I learned from them both, in case they need me wherever."

Where does he want to play? It sounds as if he enjoys playing the new field safety spot.

"They're very similar [positions], but with one there is a little more covering. I like it a lot."

As Narduzzi said, the free safety spot is a little more difficult. That's because you're out there and sort of reacting to the play as it develops. The benefit, however, is that playing field safety should present a few more chances for interceptions for him since he's back there with a little more freedom move around and being a little more of a factor in the passing game. The other side to that is that he may not be as much of a force in stopping the run as he has been.

Another thing is that Whitehead should even be a little 'safer' back there and less prone to injury since he'd be less involved in run coverage. He's an important part of the defense and while you can get hurt playing anywhere, seeing a little less contact isn't necessarily a bad thing when you're such a key player and with Pitt's lack of safety experience behind him.

Either way, though, even if Whitehead doesn't move (though, it sounds as if he will), Pitt still needs another safety to replace Webb and Mitchell. Two that Narduzzi cited during practices are Dennis Briggs and Phil Campbell. You can bet that the other safety spot opposite Whitehead will be something to watch this fall.

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.

A Panther for Life - Cardiac Hill Adds a Writer

Meet the Newest Member of our Team

Hello everyone, my name is Jordan, and my obsession with Pitt sports began on a brutally hot August afternoon in 1997. Fueled by several cans of Surge, I walked up the seemingly endless hill to Pitt Stadium with my dad. We were joined by my dad’s best friend and his son. Our pregame activities consisted of several trips to the concessions and my dad trying to convince me that the WQED tower was where the teams kicked field goals. Pitt beat the Southwestern Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (greatest nickname in college football by the way) 45-13 that day and I was hooked. Two years later I was lucky enough to attend the last game at Pitt Stadium.

The early days of my Pitt basketball fandom consisted of a lot of disappointment and trying to convince myself that "if Jarrett Lockhart can just get hot from the outside, they might have a chance." Adolescence was filled with Larry Fitzgerald hero worship and picking Pitt to win the National Championship every year in my bracket (yes, the 2005 team was going to be the first 9th seed to do it). When it came time for college applications, it was pretty clear where I was headed. I applied to Pitt because I was going to go there and Penn State just so I could make them waste paper mailing me an acceptance letter.

One of the highlights of my time at school was going to 13-9 and having a WVU fan with his young daughter tell me, "Thanks for ruining our Christmas" in the stadium parking lot afterward. On the other hand, I also spent money going to the Sun Bowl so not every memory was a happy one.

My writing career began with simple Facebook note basketball game recaps during senior year (2010-2011). It was a way for me to talk about something I loved and inform my friends about each game. The next year I moved to grad school (Pitt, obviously) and started a blog, which I operated for four years before the responsibilities of adulthood took over.

Currently, I am a married father of two (my daughter is 19 months and my son is due in July), working for a sports tech company.  I usually do not have a beard, but below is a photograph of my daughter and me at the Syracuse game this year. I enjoy writing about the emotion of the game and finding trends in the data such as "How much better does Brad Wanamaker shoot when he starts the night off by driving to the basket?" Although I love statistics (I was a high school math teacher for four years), I try not to include too many of them in my writing.

Although, I won’t be able to contribute as much to the blog as I would like, I am thankful to Anson for giving me the opportunity to talk about Pitt sports with fans as passionate as I am.

Hail to Pitt,

Jordan

Former Pitt center Steven Adams enjoying career year in Oklahoma City

With the loss of superstar Kevin Durant in the offseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder probably expected to get a little more out of players whose opportunities may have been a bit limited in the past. One of those guys is former Pitt center Steven Adams and the big man has mostly played well this year.

On offense, Adams is experiencing career-highs almost across the board. His minutes are up, playing about 30 minutes a game instead of the 25 or so he was playing in each of the past two seasons. As a result, Adams is scoring and rebounding more as both his 11.7 points and 7.6 rebounds to date would both be career-bests, as would be his assist and steal totals - both just slightly over one per game. Without Durant, Adams is a larger part of the offense. He's getting over eight shots per game, which is easily the most he's had in any season during his career.

Perhaps most importantly, if you've not yet seen the videos he produces with fellow big man, Enes Kanter, you're missing out.

One area where there's room for improvement? On defense. He's been mostly solid, but admitted to having some lapses in a recent slide for the Thunder.

But overall, Adams is playing pretty well this season and he remains one of the team's key players beyond MVP candidate Russell Westbrook. He's now in his third consecutive year as Oklahoma City's starting center and carving out a nice career after his Pitt days.

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.

Pat Santoro reportedly interviewing for Pitt wrestling coaching job

Pitt's head wrestling coaching vacancy has been open since the program dismissed Jason Peters back in January. At least one report has the Panthers targeting a big name in Lehigh coach Pat Santoro. According to Lehigh Valley Live, Santoro will interview for the job on Tuesday.

Santoro would be the splash hire that many have coveted for the wrestling program for a while. If you're unfamiliar with him, he runs a top wrestling outfit at tiny Lehigh. Year after year, they are a ranked program and he's had a lot of success developing top talent despite being at a smaller school. Lehigh was 12th in the team scoring at the national championships this season (a full 20 spots ahead of Pitt) and produced a national champion at 125 pounds in Darian Cruz.

Equally as important is that Santoro is a Pitt grad and wrestling for the program, won two national championships himself. If he lands this job, it very easily could be the last one he takes, despite being a relatively young coach (he wrestled for Pitt in the late 1980s). A Santoro hire could ultimately mean that the wrestling program doesn't have to worry about another coach for 20 years or so.

The thing that could stand in the way of Pitt and Santoro? As mentioned in that Lehigh Valley Live article - money and commitment:

Santoro, the Mountain Hawks' nine-year head coach and a graduate of Pittsburgh, told a meeting of Lehigh wrestlers that he was unlikely to take the post unless Pitt made a major financial commitment to the program and updated its facilities, according to sources.

The interest in Santoro was natural and, as the same site said only a week ago, he apparently isn't as appreciated by all of the fan base despite having a good amount of success there.

It should go without saying but Pitt needs to do whatever they can to land Santoro. As has been discussed on this blog for quite a while, it's one of the sports that the Panthers could dominate given the right situation. They're in arguably the best recruiting territory in the country and with a past history of All-Americans and Top 25 finishes, have a strong foundation.

The facilities are a big hurdle to clear and hopefully Pitt decides the investment is worth it. That's important not only for trying to land Santoro but also for the future to bring in recruits and keep guys from transferring out (see Teshan Campbell).

Interestingly enough, facilities is one area that new athletics director Heather Lyke worked on recently at her last job. As I mentioned in my initial writeup about her, she recently developed a plan for $35 million in funding for facilities. Hopefully, upgrades for wrestling facilities is one vision she can communicate to Santoro in the hopes of landing him.

Other qualified candidates certainly exist but between his ties to the school and reputation, Santoro might be the best one.

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.

Pat Narduzzi seeing improvement at cornerback in spring practices

It's spring. There's plenty of optimism surrounding the football program. So yes, I take most of these types of statements with a grain of salt.

"I've been impressed with our corner play so far. We are playing against Jester Weah and Tre Tipton and good receivers. I can't sit there and say, `Man, we are playing against average receivers, I don't know what's going to happen on gameday.' Our corners are playing better right now. We are doing a better job at coaching them and they are doing a better job making plays. I don't see many deep balls being thrown or caught. The ones that we are dropping we have to catch, but we are at least getting pass breakups right now."

Combined with the safety spot, the cornerbacks helped make up one awful secondary last season. By far, it was Pitt's greatest weakness and even competent play there could have resulted in the team winning ten games. As it stood, the Panthers still won eight and that was despite having one of the worst pass defenses in the nation.

The stuff about playing against above average receivers was kind of amusing. No offense at all to a guy like Tre Tipton, of course, but he has 12 career catches. Even Jester Weah, who had a breakout season, and was one of the top deep threats in the ACC last year had mostly modest production (36 catches for 870 yards). Both guys could be pretty good and it can be argued that Weah already is. But I don't know that I'm citing them as a reason why the secondary could struggle in practices.

Pitt, of course, doesn't have their full complement of secondary guys, either. Several players will be arriving in the fall and that will hopefully get more guys in the mix at cornerback.

Like I said, I take statements like this with a grain of salt. But I'm hoping that between getting a little older and playing a little better that the secondary improves. It almost  has to, right?

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 baseball sweeps Virginia Tech for first ACC series win of 2017

After a solid 6-1 start to the season, the Pitt baseball team has been struggling lately. The Panthers dropped games to the likes of Wofford, USC Upstate, Kent State, and Wright State even before they got into ACC play. Since then? They were swept by Louisville and managed to take only one out of three against Notre Dame.

At 1-5 in conference heading into this weekend, they really needed a positive showing. Fortunately, they got it with a sweep of Virginia Tech.  The Panthers were impressive, outscoring the Hokies by a combined 20 runs to nine. That again put the baseball team up over .500 as they currently have an 11-10 record.

Pitt has been plagued for the past several years by plenty of bad losses and this year hasn't been any exception to that. And as we've discussed before, that's made it difficult for the program to make any real progress since the ACC schedule is extremely difficult.

Before the season began, I said that Pitt really needed to get over the hump and produce a record over .500 for the first time as an ACC member. They were close last season, but still fell short at 25-26. At only 11-10 at this point in the year, it will be an uphill battle to get there. But hopefully the series against Virginia Tech provided a bit of a spark.

Next up, Pitt faces West Virginia at home on Tuesday before a road series with Duke over the weekend.

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.

Oakland Zoo t-shirt design bracket contest - Final Four

In honor of this being the 16th year of the Oakland Zoo, we're running a bracket to determine what was the best Oakland Zoo T-Shirt design. Since this is entirely subjective, seeding was based on something objective - total number of wins each season.

We're now down to the Final Four!

You can refer to this tweet from the Oakland Zoo twitter for pictures of all of the designs through the years (this year's version is obviously their current picture). Since we're now down to the last four, I've taken screenshots of the tweet for these four years.

Zoo Twitter Account

And now, the matchups.

Matchup #1
No. 1 (2001-03) vs. No. 5 (2010-11) 2001-03 (57 wins) 2010-11 (28 wins) pollcode.com free polls
Matchup #2
No. 11 (2011-12) vs. No. 2 (2008-09) 2011-12 (22 wins) 2008-09 (31 wins) pollcode.com free polls

Brenna Wise transferring from Pitt women's basketball program

The Pitt men's basketball team has seen its fair share of transfers with three guys bolting in the last couple of weeks. That wasn't unexpected with new coach Kevin Stallings seemingly wanting to bring his own guys in and clean house. The wrestling squad lost a top ten grappler in Teshan Campbell, who will head to Ohio State. That wasn't expected but given Pitt's turmoil without a coach right now and some team disappointments this year, isn't completely incomprehensible.

On Friday, though, the women's basketball program lost Brenna Wise, who announced she will transfer, in a move that looked to come entirely out of nowhere for the casual Pitt fan.

As the Pitt News notes, Wise's departure is different from the basketball ones in that she is the star of the team and the men's players that transferred were all bench players who played sparingly or, in the case of Crisshawn Clark, not at all. Wise has been the focus of the team's marketing efforts this season and after averaging 14.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game this year, she's now led the team in those two categories for two consecutive seasons. She had a career-high 31 points this year in a home win against Virginia Tech and I was actually at that game.

When I heard of Wise's transfer, three things stuck out to me pretty quickly.

First, I remembered back to a game this year when Wise was really struggling. It was one of several games I watched on ESPN3 but for the life of me, I can't remember which one it was. I think it was Purdue and after looking at the box score of that game, it makes the most sense. But Wise was 1-11 and just had a miserable game. The interesting thing I remember specifically about that is that coach Suzie McConnell-Serio didn't hesitate to take her out of the game and leave her out. Usually you see that in blowouts but the game was close throughout (Pitt lost by six) and Suzie still only played her 19 minutes. Brenna wasn't in foul trouble, either. It was basically one of those 'If you're not making shots we'll try someone else' type of deals.

The second thing also tied into that a little. Suzie's comment in the press release was pretty straightforward, but one thing stuck out like a sore thumb to me. Here was the quote and I'll let you try to take a look and see if it sticks out to you as well:

“Brenna was a strong representative of the University of Pittsburgh and we wish her the best of luck as she pursues opportunities elsewhere. As a program, we will continue to recruit and develop well-rounded, team-oriented student-athletes. It is a privilege to be part of the foundation of a winning culture."

Maybe I'm making more of this than is there but that last bit about 'team-oriented' sort of jumped off the page to me when I read it, as did the part that followed about it being a privilege to be a part of the foundation of the team. That's not something you typically throw into one of these official statements when a player transfers out. 'We wish Player X the best of luck in their future endeavors and thank him/her for their contributions to the program.' That's about the size of it. When I read it, I thought back to that Purdue game where Wise had struggled and was subsequently benched for much of the game. It's easy to wonder if there was a little friction there.

Finally, this is noteworthy because it's the second season in a row where Pitt lost a star player. Stasha Carey transferred last season (ending up at Rutgers) and was the third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder on the team. Her loss, coupled with Yacine Diop's season-long injury, was a big reason the program struggled this year. Diop and Carey would have likely been starting for the team this year and two of the team's top three players. When you lost that much in one year, it's very hard to make up.

A lot of people will now look at the transfer of both Wise and Carey, look at the struggles of the women's program, and wonder about McConnell-Serio. But I remain fully convinced she knows what she's doing and is still an outstanding coach. She won 20 games a year at Duquesne in her last five season there (winning 24 twice) and was a National Coach of the Year semifinalist in 2015 when she won 20 games at Pitt and took them to the NCAA Tournament. McConnell-Serio, I fully believe, is not the issue. The team has won only 13 games the past two years but I would be surprised if she did not turn it around.

I don't say that to downplay the issue. Wise was a very good player and unquestionably the best one Pitt has had over the past two seasons. Her loss to a program that is already struggling hurts them right now. But as I said, I still have little doubt that McConnell-Serio will get this team turned around. She's already done it once when she took a team that was winless in conference play before she arrived and leading them to the NCAA Tournament only two years 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 and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast w/ Corey Cohen (S2 Ep16)

In this episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen and Jim Hammett compliment the hire of new Athletic Director Heather Lyke, discuss Pitt Basketball transfers, and analyze the NCAA Tournament.

Make sure to follow us on Twitter @CoreyECohen, @JimHammett, and @PittPantherBlog and vote in our Bracket of Hindsight: Coaches You Wish Pitt Hired bracket.

Damon Wilson transferring from Pitt basketball program

First it was Crisshawn Clark. Then came Corey Manigault. Now, Damon Wilson becomes the latest member of the Pitt basketball program to depart.

I am grateful for my experience at Pitt for these last two year, but I have decided to finish my college years at another school. H2P!! — Damon Wilson (@IHate_DamWilson) March 22, 2017

If you count the Justice Kithcart mid-season dismissal and the graduations, that makes a total of eight players that are gone from this year's sub .500 squad.

I'm not entirely sure where I come out on the Wilson departure but it's really difficult to be too upset about it. Wilson played nearly 11 minutes a game last season and, despite not making a big impact, certainly got onto the court to show a little of what he can do. He shot below 35% from the field and was benched for much of this season. When he did get onto the court this year, it mostly was not very good. He made only 26% of his shots and missed all 12 three-pointers that he shot.

There just wasn't a whole lot there and it's pretty clear that without a change in scenery, I'm not sure how much he would have progressed here. I always caution about giving up on underclassmen too soon and if Wilson went somewhere else and thrived, it wouldn't be the strangest thing in the world, I suppose. But I just think his confidence had to be shot here after this season. Pitt desperately needed guard depth and with Clark out and Kithcart often struggilng, Wilson's chance to play was probably as good as he was going to see. So when even this year he couldn't play, I'm sure he felt like the writing was on the wall.

Wilson averaged less than a point per game this year after scoring 3.3 the year before. Where he ends up is anybody's guess. But don't forget that he is only two years removed from being a four-star recruit once with several offers from programs like Georgia Tech, Georgia, and Virginia Tech. Maybe someone is convinced that all he needs is a year of development and some playing time. He also has two years of eligibility left. He may choose a lower level just to get playing time but a weaker major-conference team with holes to fill showing some interest wouldn't surprise me entirely, either.

The narrative that Kevin Stallings will have his own team next year only gets stronger. And ordinarily, while losing so many players in one season is a major blow, when you finish under .500 it's a lot easier to swallow.

As Craig Meyer of the PG notes, Pitt has two scholarship spots open for next year.

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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