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Pittsburgh Sports Report

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APRIL 2014

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PSR INTERVIEW

UP CLOSE DAVE OGREAN Just a few weeks removed from the 2014

caught up with Ogrean to discuss Sochi, Pen-

Winter Olympics, USA Hockey Executive

guins coach Dan Bylsma, Bronze Medal games

Director Dave Ogrean was in northern Virginia

and the “stake in the heart” that was the ending

for

to the Women’s Olympic Tournament.

the

annual

Congressional

Hockey

Challenge. PSR contributing writer Alex Nseir

“You’re going to lose games, and you’re going to lose games sometime that you shouldn’t lose.” Alex Nseir How do you wind down

from the highs and lows of Sochi? Dave Ogrean: Those of us who work in the Olympic movement, your brains get wired in a four-year cycle, and when the Olympic flame goes out you just reset the clock for four years. Because no matter how well you do or how poorly you do, it’s never a final report card. You’ve got to do your very best to be prepared the next time that you go out. And so there are things that you learn, and one of those things that you learn is sometimes you’ve done everything possible and you just lost. Because of a bad bounce, a bad call, somebody was better that day. And just like in real life, you just have to go on from those days. AN: What were your thoughts on

the women’s tournament? DO: The women’s loss was about as

gut-wrenching as we’ve ever had because, as you probably know, we won the Gold Medal for the first time in ‘98 in Nagano. Canada has won the three since then. We wanted to be back on top so much. We thought we were going to win this time. It’s always razor-thin

when U.S. and Canadian women play, but we had won the last three or four games against them. So, we were very, very optimistic and confident… with four minutes to play we were up 2-0. It was just a stake in the heart, the way we lost. I thought there was a call, it just kills me, but I’ve never blamed the refs for a loss, I’m not going to put it all on them now.

Canada 1-0 and then… It is frustrating, but the exposure that we made the medal round, with both teams, the exposure our game got with all of those games being live on NBC Sports Network and restreamed and all the other stuff, the numbers are just astronomical. AN: No regrets about who you sent

to man the bench in Sochi? DO: I think they’re terrific. I think

AN: And the men’s tournament? DO: I think we had as good a team

as we’ve ever had in the Olympics and they played great through the preliminary rounds. The game against Russia was probably one of the most electrifying sports atmospheres that I was ever in. But we were frustrated against Canada, lost 1-0. And I think that when we got behind to Finland it seemed like the gas in the tank went out. It’s very hard to get up for a Bronze Medal game because it means you’ve lost the game before. We did it successfully and we won the Bronze Medal in the World Championships last May, but sometimes you’re just so down and it’s a tougher thing to do... You put so much into it, you lose to

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the coaching staff was great, the management was great. I don’t second-guess those guys. They play in the NHL; I haven’t seen any of them go 80-0. You’re going to lose games and you’re going to lose games sometime that you shouldn’t lose, you’re going to win games you shouldn’t win. But the puck bounces, sometimes it gets stopped, sometimes it doesn’t, but I think we had a tremendous coaching staff. I think Dan Bylsma is dynamite, I think our GM’s who selected our team put a great team together for the right reasons. You know, everybody’s a good Monday morning quarterback, and I can be too, but you empower people who you trust to make decisions and then you go with it.

-Dave Ogrean, USA Hockey DAVE OGREAN Listed among The Sporting News’ Top 100 Most Powerful People in Sports from 1993-99, Ogrean is currently among The Hockey News’ Top 50 People of Power and Influence. • 2005 - present: Executive Director, USA Hockey • 2002 - 2005: Executive Director of USA Football • 2000 - 2002: President and CEO, Colorado Springs Sports Corporation • 1999 - 2000: Deputy Executive Director of Marketing, United States Olympic Committee • 1993 - 1999: Executive Director, USA Hockey • 1990 - 1993: Director of Broadcasting, United States Olympic Committee • 1988 - 1990: Assistant Executive Director for Television, College Football Association • 1980 - 1988: Corporate Communications and Programming, ESPN

PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • APRIL 2014 3


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PSR EDITOR

It’s all starting to make sense. The Steelers have not made the playoffs the past two seasons. The team parted ways with players who were integral to a sustained run of success that resulted in a pair of Super Bowl championships. The defense got old, the offense fizzled and the locker room purged the veteran leadership that made the 2000’s so special. So it all went according to plan. When general manager Kevin Colbert signed so many veteran players to long-term extensions several years ago, he knew full well he was risking the future for the now. The deals were going to blow up future salary caps. The hope, however, was to keep that championship window open just a little longer. It almost worked. The 2010 team reached the Super Bowl; a season later they went 12-4 before losing a freakish

overtime game in Denver to the Tim Tebow-led Broncos. Then, right on cue, players got old, cap hits came and the playoffs passed by. And the rebuilding—to the extent that consecutive .500 seasons can be considered “rebuilding”—took place. That rebuild is not yet complete, but the heavy lifting has been done. The Steelers released former All-Pro linebacker LaMarr Woodley last month and let out a sigh of relief that echoed throughout the AFC North. They were finally out from under their most disastrous contract in recent memory. When the Steelers signed Woodley to a $61.5 million extension in 2011, they had little way of knowing that he would miss nearly 45 percent of the team’s defensive plays over the next three seasons. But that’s exactly what happened. Nagging injuries turned a once-lethal weapon into just another guy opposing teams handled with one blocker. It dramatically hastened the demise of the once-feared Steelers defense. Now, with the overpaid and seldom-

played Woodley out of the picture, the final piece of the Steelers salary cup puzzle is in place. His release saves the team $25 million over the next three seasons. The savings this year alone will pay for the entire 2014 draft class. The Steelers are currently on the books for $94 million in salary for the 2015 season, according to OverTheCap.com. The NFL salary cap is expected to reach $140 million that same year. Factor in the next two draft classes, and the Steelers will realistically enter next offseason more than $30 million under the cap. That will allow them to extend Ben Roethlisberger’s deal and do the same with Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro if they choose. The extra cap space will allow them the luxury of doing so with ease, and still have money to add pieces in free agency. This didn’t happened by accident. The current financial reality of the NFL dictates that you have to pay the piper. The Steelers are paid up.

Contents

April 2014 Vol. 18, No.3

FILM CREW

6 BLUE LINE: Penguins

Shelby Cassesse, Andrew Havranek, Taylor Duncan, Nick Frost

As the playoffs arrive. the Pens are turning out to be just another hockey team.

CHIEF PHOTOGRAPHERS Charles LeClaire, Justin Berl

10 NORTH SHORE NOTES: Pirates

Neil Walker, Charlie Morton, Gregory Polanco and more.

CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS Mark Alberti, Aaron Doster, William McBride, Kris Mellinger, Vincent Pugliese, Nick Susnjer, Ronald Vezzani Jr.

14 PURE STEEL: NFL Draft Preview

Steelers targets, PSR’s big board, future stars, 2015 prospects & more.

21 ON CAMPUS: College Sports Pittsburgh Sports Report is published 12 times annually by Pittsburgh Sports Report, Inc. a Pennsylvania business corporation, Norwin Professional Building, 40 Lincoln Way, Suite 301, Irwin PA 15642-1887. Distribution at selected outlets. This and every issue of Pittsburgh Sports Report, and all contents therein, are subject to copyright protection held by Pittsburgh Sports Report, Inc. (“Corp. 2014 Pittsburgh Sports Report, Inc.”).

DEPARTMENTS

PSR FOCUS

Pitt and Penn State spring previews plus a look at the top local draft prospects.

2014 NFL Draft

4 PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • APRIL 2014

3

UP CLOSE WITH PSR

4

EDITOR’S DESK

USA Hockey’s Dave Ogrean Steelers winning the offseason

PHOTO CREDITS Justin Berl - 1, 6, 7a, 8a, 8b, 8c, 8d, 9d, 10a, 10b Charles LeClaire - 14, 21, 22 Aaron Doster - 12a Ronald Vezzani Jr - 19, 20, 23 USA Hockey - 3; Brett Davis/USA Today Sports - 4; Getty Images - 7b, 7c, 15; Bill Greenblatt/UPI - 9a; Bill Smith/Getty Images 9b; Streeter Lecka/Getty Images - 9c; Pittsburgh Pirates - 11a, 11b; Grant Halverson/Getty Images - 16; Sam Greenwood/Getty Images - 17

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Nothing Special BY JOEL PERETIC

The Penguins will not win the Stanley Cup this year. That is not opinion or overreaction. It is, according to the numbers, fact. Both the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks and 2012 Los Angeles Kings fared far better in the final stretch of the season than the Penguins are this year. Statistically, at least, Pittsburgh stands little chance to win their fourth championship. A recent trend of struggling against playoff contending squads is certainly troubling, but add in the Penguins increasingly consistent defensive woes, and the recipe is disaster. Worse yet, as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin found out last spring, offensive hockey is no cure-all in the postseason. “We are more focused on how we want to play in the games before the playoffs,” said Crosby. “We judge and evaluate ourselves on playing a playoff style of game going into the playoffs.” Two-time Cup champion Rob Scuderi echoed similar sentiments. “We have a lot of talent on this team, but it doesn’t mean we are going to win 4-1 or 5-2 every game. There are going to be times where you have to grind out a game,” the veteran defenseman said. “If you’re playing the percentages, it will most times be a 32 or 2-1 game in the playoffs. We have to learn how to play in those games and play the right way.” No period of the regular season is as

Injuries and less-than-stellar play have pushed the Penguins to the middle of the pack.

telling as the final 25 games. Teams need the first 70 percent of the season to gauge their playoff chances; they need the final 30 percent to calculate their Stanley Cup chances. Currently, the Penguins odds are slim. Pittsburgh kicked off the first 14 contests of their home stretch with a 6-5-3 record. That means the Penguins are winning just 43 percent of their games during this crucial period. It’s a small sample size, sure, but the ten matches against fellow postseason

teams isn’t, considering that a playoff series is only seven games long. Just twice in the last 14 games have the Penguins topped a team that will also be competing in May. With only seven games remaining against such squads entering the month of April, the best Pittsburgh can hope for is a 9-8 record. Of course, there is no indication that a sweep is on the horizon. Last year’s Blackhawks finished with a 10-2-2 record over the final 25

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percent of the shortened season. That included a not-so-spectacular 3-2-1 mark against playoff teams, but the .500 record will likely still be better than the Penguins work over their final 25 games of this season. What is more impressive about the Jonathan Toews led team is that they posted three of their six season shutouts in the final 14 games. Those blanks dropped the team’s regulation

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POST-CUP POSTSEASONS The Penguins won multiple postseason series last year for the first time since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Here’s a look at the team’s playoff struggles since putting together backto-back Finals appearances in 2008 and 2009. 2009-10

•Beat Ottawa Senators 4-2 in Conference Quarterfinals • Lost to Montreal Canadiens 3-4 in Conference Semifinals

PENGUINS, from PAGE 6 goals against average to an impressive 2.00, which was below their season average. The Penguins have allowed an average of 2.92 goals over the first 14 games of their final 25. That is nearly .5 more goals allowed than their season average. In six of the 14 games, Pittsburgh surrendered at least four goals. The 2011-12 Kings followed a similar path as the reigning NHL champs. Los Angeles sported a 12-85 mark leading into the postseason thanks in large part to their 11-4-4 record over the final 19 games of the

term. Jonathan Quick also allowed almost one entire goal less per game than the Penguins currently allow. Their 2.04 GAA mark was, like the Blackhawks, less than their season average. In fact, the Kings combined for five of their 11 season shutouts over those 25 games. A 7-5-3 record against playoff teams wasn’t sterling for the Kings during their run, but the eight total losses already match the Penguins number with a few weeks yet to go in the 2013-14 NHL regular season. Obviously neither of those teams dealt with injury blows to their top two defensemen. Los Angeles, however, did deal U.S. Olympian Jack Johnson at the trade deadline while

Chicago forged ahead with a platoon in net. Clearly, the Penguins have some work to do. As Dan Bylsma notes, though, maybe that’s not all that bad for his team. “For right now, I’m kind of glad I don’t have to hear that we are the favorite or a lock from the television shows,” Bylsma said. “We are working and striving to be a better team. The game against St. Louis (a 1-0 loss) was a great indicator. That’s a playoff game and we came up short. I think we can do better, so it is fine that we don’t have to hear we are a favorite.”

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2010-11

• Lost to Tampa Bay Lightning 3-4 in Conference Quarterfinals 2011-12

• Lost to Philadelphia Flyers 2-4 in Conference Quarterfinals 2012-13

• Beat New York Islanders 4-2 in Conference Quarterfinals • Beat Ottawa Senators 4-1 in Conference Semifinals • Lost to Boston Bruins 0-4 in Conference Finals

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The Big Four

Four Players Whose Efforts Are Crucial to the Pens Postseason Chances

BY NATE MARSH

The play of Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has a tremendous impact on every game the team plays. Whatever success the Penguins have in the Stanley Cup Playoffs will depend largely on the opposition’s ability to contain No. 87. But he is not doing it alone. Goaltenders: Fleury, Vokoun and/or Zatkoff— Everyone knows the last

few postseasons have been unkind to Marc-Andre Fleury. He has to have a good performance this spring, not only to quiet critics but to solidify his status as the Penguins’ franchise goalie. Fleury is in the midst of a career season and shows few signs of slowing down, but strong regular seasons have not equaled strong postseasons lately, as recent playoffs always seem to turn Fleury into Swiss cheese. If he falters yet again, the coaching staff has quite a predicament on their hands: Jeff Zatkoff, who has played well in his debut year but is ultimately inexperienced, or veteran Tomas Vokoun who has had great postseason success with the Pens, but hasn’t played a game all year? Whatever the decision, it could be the difference between winning a fourth Stanley Cup or coming up short yet again. Brandon Sutter— In their 2009

Stanley Cup season, the Pens had the best third line in hockey, centered by fan-favorite Jordan Staal. Even though Sutter has been slightly more

Fleury, Sutter, Maatta and Stempniak (left to right)

productive offensively than his predecessor since the trade with the Carolina Hurricanes, the third line as a unit is nowhere near as productive as it was four years ago. The third line must get involved offensively if the team is to make a deep playoff run. Sutter’s play on the penalty kill unit will also be a huge factor in the postseason. Though they’ve consistently had the best PK in the regular season, the playoffs are a different monster. Olli Maatta— Maatta has had an outstanding rookie season and has solidified himself as one of the best defensemen on the team. It is vital to note that it is his rookie season, how-

ever. No situation has been too big for the physically imposing teenager this year, but he has yet to see an NHL postseason. The stability of the defense will depend on how well the 19year-old Finn handles the pressure of the Stanley Cup playoffs. With injuries plaguing the defensive pairings, Maatta has taken on extra minutes— and time on the power play unit—and capitalized with both. If he carries this momentum through the playoffs, and Paul Martin and/or Kris Letang return to the lineup, the Penguins blue line will be an imposing one. Lee Stempniak— In his first eight

games with the Penguins, Stempniak

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made quite an impact playing alongside Crosby on the top line. With 10 points in his first 18 games, he has wasted no time with getting comfortable with Crosby. The chemistry has to continue into the playoffs for a successful run. With plenty of time to work together before the postseason, that chemistry should only build, creating a scarier first line than expected since Pascal Dupuis sustained his ACL injury. Stempniak gets into the corners to fight for the puck and keeps his head up for unexpected passes from Crosby – pretty much the job description for a winger on the Crosby line.

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Playoff Favorites

In the midst of this excitement surrounding the dawn of a new baseball season, a champion must be crowned in the sport of hockey. Sixteen teams are lacing up their skates and preparing for the upcoming hunt for the Stanley Cup. Here are the four favorites. BY CARLEY THIERET

St. Louis Blues

The Blues entered the month of April leading the Western Division. With one of the most talented goaltenders in the league in the form of Ryan Miller—recently obtained from the Buffalo Sabres—the Blues look to continue their hot streak approaching the playoffs. The Blues have shown a high quality of play all season long, but their track record in the playoffs could pose some questions in the minds of fans. They blew a 2-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. While their regular season has been impressive, trheir relative lack of playoff experience will be something to keep in mind. The strength and aggression of their top lines will make it difficult for opponents to match once the postseason starts.

Chicago Blackhawks

Boston Bruins

The defending champion Blackhawks sit a close second behind the Blues in the race for the West title. The Blackhawks return almost the entire roster from the team that captured the franchise’s second Stanley Cup in the past four years. The ‘Hawks possess arguably the most depth in the NHL as well as experience on the big stage in playoff games. They acquired defenseman David Rundblad from the Phoenix Coyotes to make the Cup run. the last few weeks of the season have been rough on the defending champs, however, as injuries have taken their toll on the top line as well as taken a bite out of their once-considerable depth. The Penguins, who know all about injury problems, are shedding no tears.

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Pittsburgh Penguins

Sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings are last year’s conference champs, the Boston Bruins. The Bruins will be no strangers to in the annual quest for the cup and have steadily seemed to improve as the season has worn on. They put together a double-digit winning streak, the team’s longest in three years, last month and coach Claude Julien has said that he feels the team is playing far from its best hockey as the playoffs approach. Boston’s strength comes from consistency and seeing contributions up and down all four lines. No team in the NHL is playing better as the postseason nears. Top players to watch during the playoffs will be David Krejci and Jarome Iginla.

The Penguins will chase the Bruins for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but they enter April with a comfortable lead in the Metropolitan division standings. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are playing well heading into the season’s final games, and the addition of Lee Stumpniak to the top line seems to be working. The blue line has taken major hits with Kris Letang’s stroke and Paul Martin’s broken hand, but perhaps the biggest weakness for the Penguins is their goaltending. The question seems to hold true every year: how will Mark-Andre Fleury play in the postseason? Fleury’s play—or the Penguins ability to replace him should he struggle—are the keys to a successful playoff run for the Penguins.

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In the Dugout CHARLIE MORTON Pirates’ righthander Charlie Morton put an exclamation point on his recovery from Tommy John surgery in 2012 with the best major league season of his career, posting 7-4 record with a 3.26 ERA. He added a strong performance against the Cardinals in the

NLDS, pitching into the sixth inning and allowing just three hits and two runs in the Pirates’ Game 4 loss. Morton signed a threeyear deal with the Pirates this off-season. He talked about his upcoming season.

“Since 2009 I’ve been with the organization and I feel like I’m a Pirate. I feel like I came up with this organization.”

Q: Why was your three-year deal the

Q: What can this team take away

Q: You were once a young up-and-

Q: Was there a certain point last

right move for you? A: Just my experience here with the Pirates. Since 2009 I’ve been with the organization and I feel like I’m a Pirate. I feel like I came up with this organization even though I was with the Braves for seven years. I’ve gone through a lot with this organization and there’s been nothing but support, so this is where my wife and I wanted to be.

from the postseason last year as you move forward into 2014? A: The same thing can be said about success, no matter when you have it, to that degree. You built confidence on 2011 and 2012, and just carried through in 2013. So it’s all about just building and moving forward.

coming pitcher in this organization, not unlike Gerrit Cole and Jamison Taillon now. What make you excited to be part of a roation that will include Gerrit and potentially Jamison at some point? A: It might be different because they are younger, but they are professionals. You see it with Jeff Locke, you see it with Brandon Cumpton, and Gerrit. It’s exciting to see young guys come up and have success. It’s exciting to see young guys come up and contribute and be ready, and be professional, and be mature and take the reins. That’s something that I struggled with for a long time, so it’s nice to see the organization build those guys and see the success that the organization has had in producing that kind of talent.

year after the surgery, during the season, where you really felt like you were back to where you wanted to be? A: The first game I pitched down here in extended (spring training), I was excited just because I felt good and there was no pain. The velocity was great, the stuff was great, there was movement. But it was a process and it still is. There is still maintenance work that I have to do and all that, but there was never really a "moment." There was never really a moment where I said, "I’m back" because it really was a long process. So, I think I learned a lot just going through the rehab and learning how to take better care of my shoulder and my arm. Even though I felt good, I did do a pretty good job of that. You learn what you have to do.

10 10 PITTSBURGH PITTSBURGH SPORTS SPORTS REPORT REPORT •• APRIL APRIL 2014 2014

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Pirates Prospect Watch BY CARLEY THIERET

Before

the

country

celebrates its 238th birthday this coming July, the Pirates could very well be celebrating the arrival of the next two stars to come through PNC Park.

GREGORY POLANCO

Outfielder Gregory Polanco will start his season with Triple-A Indianapolis, but if all goes according to plan, he could be in Pittsburgh by mid-season. Polanco, considered the Pirates top prospect, looks to man an outfield accompanied by veteran National League MVP Andrew McCutchen and rising star Starling Marte, a combination that could prove to be lethal for opposing teams. Polanco’s strength stems from his 64, 220-pound frame. The massive lefty has been described by teammates as able to get to first base in four strides. His agility, athleticism and outfield play stood out in the major league camp this spring, reinforcing the notion that he will make the jump to the majors soon.

His time in Indianapolis will be spent smoothing out the rough edges, most at the plate. "The biggest maturation he will have to go through is learning how pitchers attack him,” said Pirates hitting coach Jeff Branson. “And how to lay off that pitch inside.” Branson added that Polanco must make small adjustments like shortening his arms and maintaining patience when in the batters’ box. Polanco was often paired with McCutchen and Marte during cage work this spring, a potential sign of things to come. McCutchen noted that the ball jumps off of Polanco’s bat, and that he is ready. It’s only a matter of time before he makes his arrival.

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JAMESON TAILLON

Taillon is also close to making his major league debut, perhaps following the same path that current Pirates starter Gerrit Cole did last season. Taillon totes a nasty curveball in the low 80’s that compliments a mid 90’s fastball, but he’ll work on refining the curve and strengthening his changeup in Triple-A. Adding stronger offspeed stuff to his repertoire will amplify the velocity on his fastball. Controlling the opposition’s running game, however, is probably the biggest area of concern and improvement for Taillon before he makes the transition to the majors. “He’s a very astute young man, he listens well, he practices sharp,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle about

the 22 year old prospect. Hurdle believes that Taillon has taken big strides in the past year, not only with his game but personally as well. Solidifying his consistency within his game, especially through pitch selection and controlling the runners, is the final obstacle for Taillon on the way to the majors. “I am already extremely, extremely motivated to get up there, and that’s been my goal since I’ve been little,” said Taillon. EDITOR’S NOTE: Taillon suffered an injury to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in spring training. He will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the 2014 season.

PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • APRIL 2014 11


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NOTES

ON

NEIL

Neil Walker enters his fifth fullseason in the majors this spring. The 28-year-old is a lifetime .273 hitter who hit a career high 16 homeruns last season, but batted a career-low .251. Walker also strruggled in his first postseason appearance, going 0-19 in the Pirates NLDS loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. The 28-yearold Walker hit a career high .296 in 2010 when he finished fifth in National League Rookie of the Year voting. The switch-hitter from Pine-Richland High School posted career highs in doubles (36), runs scored (76), RBI (83), hits (163), total bases (243) and fielding percentage (.992) in the 2011 season - also the only time in his career Walker played a full slate of games, appearing in 159 games with 596 at bats. Walker ended last season ranked 13th among Major League Baseball second basemen by the Elias Sports Bureau. He was ranked 14th by CBSSports.com, 18th by Inside Edge and 19th by ESPN.

Why Not Walker? Pirates have yet to reach a deal with local second baseman BY KURT HACKIMER

There was a time when Neil Walker appeared to be the next Pirate on the list for a contract extension. However, given the team’s recent $31 million deal with budding superstar Starling Marte, Walker, 28, seems to have lost his place in line. That begs the question: Why has Walker, a hometown hero who was drafted in the first round after a stellar career at Pine Richland High School, never signed a long-term contract with the Pirates? The answer may lay in the Pittsburgh public’s perception of Neil Walker. In this year’s Baseball Prospectus, an annual book that previews the upcoming baseball season, Walker is described as “The rare player who is underrated nationally and overrated locally.” Sports Illustrated columnist and former Baseball Prospectus contributor Joe Sheehan agrees with this assertion. “[Walker] has no national profile whatsoever,” Sheehan said. “He’s a good balanced player but, if you’re a Pirates fan and he’s a hometown guy who was drafted number one, you tend to pay more attention to him.” “If you’re not in Pittsburgh, and you don’t watch him play every day, he’s someone who gets lost in the mix,” Pat Lackey, owner of the Where Have You

12 12 PITTSBURGH PITTSBURGH SPORTS SPORTS REPORT REPORT •• APRIL APRIL 2014 2014

Gone Andy Van Slyke? blog, said. “I don’t know that there would be a push to extend him if he didn’t play in his hometown.” Of course, this does not mean that Walker is a bad player. Walker is an above average offensive second baseman and his glove is almost as good as his bat. In 2013, he posted the best wins above replacement total (WAR) of his career despite only hitting for a .251 batting average, down from .280 in 2012. His 2.7 WAR, buoyed by improved defense and power numbers, ranked fourth among National League second basemen. MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo suggests that Walker’s importance may even extend beyond the numbers. “I think he’s the glue of the team,” Mayo said. “As much as Andrew McCutchen is the leader because he’s the best player, Neil Walker is because he’s the local kid. There is something very solidifying behind him that makes me think he’s more valuable than the numbers he puts up.” Walker’s clubhouse leadership makes him a valuable asset to the Pirates even when he is not in the

lineup, which, unfortunately, has frequently been the case. In 2012, Walker missed 27 of the last 35 games with a back injury. His 2013 season included two separate trips to the DL, one for an injured finger and another for a strained oblique. Injuries may prevent the Pirates from investing heavily in Walker, who will be 31 when his contract expires in 2017. Especially since the Pirates paid Walker $5.75 million this past offseason to avoid arbitration. “[Walker] is in that weird spot right now where it’s very hard to sign a player,” Joe Sheehan said. “If I’m Neal Huntington, I’m not sure that I’m looking to sign away Walker’s first couple years of free agency. I’d be more comfortable going year to year.”

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DRAFT THOUGHTS Playoff Stats Rob Rang, NFL Draft Analysis for CBSSports.com among others, commented on the Steelers approach to the upcoming NFL Draft. DEFENSE

“Ideal schematic matches include Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor and Notre Dame nose guard Louis Nix III. “Other options available in the middle rounds in the secondary with the blend of size, athleticism and physicality the Steelers have generally preferred include cornerbacks Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Nebraska), Chris Davis (Auburn) and Walt Aikens (Liberty). Among safeties, Washington State’s Deone Bucannon, Stanford’s Ed Nelson and LSU’s Craig Loston are potential fits. “Finally, nose guards include Penn State’s DaQuan Jones, Tennessee’s Daniel McCullers, Cal’s DeAndre Coleman and Delaware’s Zack Kerr.” WIDE RECEIVER

“The Steelers could be looking at reinforcements at receiver as early as the first round. I anticipate that Texas A&M’s Mike Evans will be long off the board by the time the Steelers pick – and I don’t believe he is necessarily worthy of the bounty of picks it likely would take to move up to get him. However, I anticipate that the Steelers will add at least one receiver in the draft and possibly more. Receivers with size may be viewed as especially important.”

Shopping List BY RYAN BERTONASCHI

The Steelers had a relatively quiet offseason, but the Rooneys and general manager Kevin Colbert have maintained a worry-free mentality. The team will likely approach the draft focused on two severe areas of need: cornerback and defensive line, according to Rob Rang, NFL Draft analysis at CBSSports.com. “Adding youth to an aging defense would be priority No. 1, in my opinion,” said Rang. “This is especially true in the secondary and along the defensive line.” Sideline reporter and former Pittsburgh guard Craig Wolfley said it’s likely to be cornerback in round one. “They’ve got to look at a cornerback to take over for Ike [Taylor] in the coming years, and a lot of people are talking about [Michigan State’s] Darqueze Dennard,” Wolfley said. Taylor turns 34 in May, and the Steelers may select Taylor’s future replacement in the first round. Dennard, the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award-winner and two-time AllAmerican, collected 10 interceptions and broke up 20 passes in his fouryear career as a Spartan, and the 6-0, 202-pounder ran a 4.42 40-yard dash in last month’s combine. Health appears to be the main concern with Dennard, who underwent two sports hernia surgeries and a shoulder surgery at Michigan State. Defensive line is also a priority. “[Free-agency] losses of Ziggy [Hood] and Al Woods are huge, and

Steelers’ focus on d-line, corner, receiver you want to secure your nose tackle,” Wolfley said. “Steve McLendon wasn’t disappointing last year, but he didn’t rise to the level I anticipated.” Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III was projected as a 2014 first-round sureshot heading into his final season with the Irish, but he underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in November. Despite the injury, he is down to 331 pounds, 20 pounds lighter than he weighed at Notre Dame. If Colbert sees too much risk in Nix, he may hold off until the second round, where Penn State’s DaQuan Jones or Tennessee’s Daniel McCullers could be waiting. Wide receiver is another area of interest after Emmanual Sanders left for the Broncos and Jericho Cotchery for the Panthers in free agency. While a big-body like Texas A&M’s Mike Evans would be an ideal addi-

tion to Ben Roethlisberger’s arsenal, the Steelers did add former Saints receiver Lance Moore in free agency. Wolfley likes an in-house option to fill the final receiver spot – former Rochester High School and Penn State star Derek Moye. “There are two ways a receiver can create mismatches,” Wolfley said. “One is with speed, and other is with size. Derek Moye is a big guy, and he’s got some player capabilities.” The potential emergence of the 65, 210-pound Moye could allow the Steelers to spend third and fourthround picks on running back, linebacker or offensive line depth. “The nice thing, from the Steelers perspective, is that the receiver group is the strength of this year’s draft class,” said Rang, adding that “future starters are likely to be available in the middle rounds.”

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NFL Draft Big Board even view him as the best quarterback in the class. 8. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA: Barr is a tremendous linebacker, whose hyper-athleticism helped him reach All-American status in college. He’ll need to hone his instincts in the NFL, but if he does so can be great. 9. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State:

Jadeveon Clowney BY DAN SOSTEK 1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina:

Clowney is one of the best draft prospects in recent memory. While he has his detractors, if Bill O’Brien and the Houston Texans determine none of the quarterback prospects are worthy of the first selection, Clowney is the best option. 2. Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo: The linebacker from Buffalo didn’t get a ton of recognition during his brilliant career in the MAC, in which he set an NCAA record for career forced fumbles, but is finally getting his fair share in the scouting process. 3. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: The best player on the national champion runners-up Auburn Tigers, Robinson has shined in the pre-draft process and appears to be the best offensive lineman available. 4. Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida: In the see-sawing debate of “best QB in

the draft,” Bortles gets the edge over others because of his play’s uncanny resemblance to that of Ben Roethlisberger. His skills appear to be very translatable. 5. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: While comparisons to the taller Calvin Johnson or AJ Green may not be entirely accurate, Watkins is a tremendous WR prospect who would likely immediately step into a WR1 or WR2 role. 6. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M: While Mike Evans and Johnny Manziel were the ones scoring the touchdowns for the Aggies, Matthews was the one providing time to make those plays happen. He could be second straight A&M tackle (Luke Joeckel) to go top 5. 7. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: For a while, Bridgewater was considered a lock for the first overall selection. However, after a push by Bortles and a disappointing pro-day, some don’t

Gilbert gets the nod over Michigan State corner Dennard because of his rare combination of size (6-0, 232) and speed (4.37 40-yard dash). He led the Big 12 with 7 interceptions in 2013. 10. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: Johnny Manziel’s top target for the Aggies, Evans was a man among boys in college. With his large frame and great athleticism, he reminds many of the Bucs’ Vincent Jackson. 11. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State:

The cousin of New England Patriots’ CB Alfonzo Dennard, Darqueze is considered more talented than his relative. He’s not as fast as Gilbert but the Thorpe Award winner may be just as good. 12. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: Everyone who has seen Ebron play know the comparison: the next Jimmy Graham. Some think that the fast, athletic tight end could be even better. 13. Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt: After an accolades-filled offseason in which he won four national awards, Donald raised eyebrows with his athleticism at the combine, and is now considered the top DT in the class. 14. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama: Captaining a Nick Saban defense says a lot. He’s

not the biggest linebacker but has enough speed to defend the pass, while instincts that will make him serviceable versus the run. 15. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M:

Manziel is one of the most intriguing draft prospects in recent memory. Unlike a prospect like Tim Tebow, Manziel’s mechanics aren’t an issue, but size and durability concerns are for the 5-11 former Heisman winner. 16. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State:

While he might not have the explosiveness that Aaron Donald does, Jernigan’s size could allow him to be a better fit in a wider array of defensive schemes, and could potentially be the first defensive tackle taken. 17. Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame: Martin shined in the Senior Bowl, and saw his draft stock soar. He made 52 career starts at Notre Dame and should be ready to step in and start immediately. 18. Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville: Pryor is one of the big risers of the draft process, as the athletic safety has jumped Hasean Clinton-Dix as the top safety in the draft in many scouts’ eyes. 19. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State:

The 6-5 receiver is the epitome of a boom-or-bust pick. The former Seminole has all of the measurables, but lacks top-flight speed, and struggled with drops at times in college. 20. Marqise Lee, WR, Southern Cal: Lee, who would be the number one WR almost any other year SEE 21-40 on PAGE 20

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Hall of Famers On the Way Three Potential Superstars in the 2014 Draft Class BY GEOFF PFEIL

The 2014 NFL Draft is shaping up to be one of the deepest in recent memory. Here are four prospects whose future paths may eventually lead to Canton. South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney

Clowney is no stranger to the bright lights. He was the consensus number one high school recruit in 2011 when he opted to stay in his home state of South Carolina. He was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2011 and the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. Clowney gained additional attention when, in a postseason matchup with Michigan, he destroyed Wolverine running back Vincent Smith eight yards behind the line of scrimmage— knocking Smith’s helmet into orbit in the process—and forced and recovered a fumble that led to an eventual South Carolina win. That’s what Clowney is: a gamechanging defensive presence. His mixture of size, speed and pure athleticism makes him a rare, once-in-a-generation talent. If he seems like an obvious name to make this list, it’s because he is. His detractors—and there are many—claim that he has a poor work ethic which will derail his career. Or he’ll fold under the immense pressure that will follow him wherever he’s drafted. And like any defensive lineman with a long frame (6-5, 266), he’ll be vulnerable to cut blocks – although

no team in NFL history has ever passed on a healthy player for fear that he might get hurt someday L.C. Greenwood and Julius Peppers are just two of many long ends who somehow survived. Don’t listen to the critics. Clowney is the real deal. Auburn OT Greg Robinson

Six-feet, five-inches tall. 332 pounds. 32 reps on the bench. Vertical of 28.5 inches. Now imagine all of that traversing 40 yards in under five seconds. Impressed? You should be. Robinson displayed off-the-charts athleticism at the NFL combine, a big reason why he is now considered the top offensive line prospect in the draft, jumping ahead of his majorly talented peers Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan. That isn’t to say, however, that Robinson’s game doesn’t speak for itself. He was an instrumental component in Auburn’s top-ranked rushing attack, which averaged an absurd 328.3 yards per game. His lack of experience is the only real knock against him – Robinson only played two years at Auburn and has only been playing football since his junior year of high school. Additionally, the Tigers offense was so run-heavy that he was rarely tasked with keeping his quarterback upright, which has reasonably called into question his ability to effectively pass block in the NFL. He will be raw as a rookie, but he will soon become an elite NFL left tackle.

Eric Ebron North Carolina TE Eric Ebron

Ebron is the next iteration of the freak athlete tight end. At 6-4 and 245 pounds, Ebron creates major mismatches with DBs and LBs alike. He rewrote the record books for the tight end position at UNC, taking the lead in career receptions (112) and receiving yards (1,805), as well as claiming the 2013 single season records in the same categories (62 and 973, respectively). Did I mention that he ran a 4.6 40-yard dash and may have the best hands in the draft? He’s not the greatest blocker, but he’s no slouch either, and he should continue to improve in that area as his body responds to the weight training regiments of the NFL.

Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief

Moncrief is the only player on this list projected to be drafted outside of the first round. This is mostly due to the insane amount of wide receiver talent represented in this draft, and also partially due to a perceived lack of production by Moncrief Ole Miss. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins is the consensus top wideout in this year’s draft. Moncrief edges Watkins physically and in most combine drills. This is no knock on Watkins, who is obviously a great talent – but the gap between the two is a thin one, and if Moncrief really does fall late into the second round, or even the third, some lucky team is going to have an absolute steal on their hands.

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Potential Targets Sorting Out The Steelers First-Round Options BY DAN SOSTEK

The Steelers’ offseason additions and subtractions have given a peek into what may be going on in the team’s South Side War Room as the team prepares for one of the deepest drafts in years. With the 15th overall pick, the Steelers still have a huge opportunity to bolster the roster. And as the team’s needs become clearer, a group of several players has emerged as potential targets for the Black and Gold in 2014.

Some believe that Nix was the beneficiary of playing alongside another potential All-Pro in Stefon Tuitt in South Bend, and while his NFL Combine performance didn’t help, his mammoth size and collegiate film still have scouts enamored. Any rushed comparisons to Vince Wilfork—or even Casey Hampton, for the matter—are not fair to Nix, but he would be a welcome addition in the middle of a defensive line that struggled for good parts of 2013. C.J. MOSLEY, LB, ALABAMA

KELVIN BENJAMIN, WR, FLORIDA STATE

jamin was last seen catching the game-winning touchdown pass in this year’s BCS Championship game for Florida State, before deciding to leave school early to enter the draft. With one of the best size-talent combos in the draft, the 6-5, 240-pound Benjamin certainly looks the part of an elite-level receiver. He might not have the speed that some teams want from a numberone receiver (4.61 40-yard dash), but he would provide a much-needed vertical threat in the passing game. LOUIS NIX, DT, NOTRE DAME

Nix is a large human being, to put it mildly, and he utilized his size to put together a terrific college career that was a large part of Brian Kelly’s revitalization of the Fighting Irish. The 6-2, 340pound defensive tackle isn’t much of a threat in the area of pass rush, but more than holds his own against the run.

The Steelers need to find a replacement for Larry Foote at the buck linebacker spot, after cutting the veteran loose cut this offseason. While Vince Williams was solid as a rookie, and Sean Spence continues his comeback from a devastating knee injury, Mosley would be able to step in immediately and has a higher ceiling than either. The twotime first team All-American, despite being somewhat undersized at 6-2, 234, has one of the highest football IQs in the draft, and would have no issues learning Dick LeBeau’s defense. MIKE EVANS, WR, TEXAS A&M

Like Benjamin, Evans would fill a much needed hole for the Steelers as a vertical deep threat. At 6-5, 231, Evans often out-muscled and out-jumped defenders in college. While, like Benjamin, he lacks elite-level speed, he has better hands than Benjamin and is a better blocker. Also, his experience

Kelvin Benjamin

playing with Johnny Manziel would translate to the improvisational style of Ben Roethlisberger, as Evans showed a knack for helping out in broken plays. Evans probably won’t last until the 15th pick, however. DARQUEZE DENNARD, CB, MICHIGAN ST

Dennard, the cousin of New England Patriots’ CB Alfonzo Dennard, would serve as the heir apparent to the aging Ike Taylor if the Steelers were to select him at 15. While he had some injury issues in college–including a double hernia surgery– he has solid size (5’ 11”, 199 lbs) and speed (4.51 40-yard dash). Dennard was the Jim Thorpe Award winner for best defensive back in the nation, and with his excelling in press

coverage would definitely be able to sniff playing time right away. Others to keep an eye on: CB Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State) and Jason Verrett (TCU), DE Ra’Shede Hageman (Minnesota) and Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame). Not This Year: Notre Dame’s Zack Martin and Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio are two first-round offensive tackles and both will likely be available when Pittsburgh picks at 15. But the emergence of Kelvin Beacham and the Marcus Gilbert’s solid second half last year no longer make the position a priority, and the addition of Mike Munchak as offnsive line coach could be all the upgrade the unit needs.

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2015 NFL Draft Prospects The 2014 draft won’t take place until May, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start talking about next year’s class. Half a dozen prospects stand out above the rest as top 10 draft picks next spring, and half are quarterbacks. UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota were both eligible for this year’s draft, and both were projected to be first round picks. Hundley has the protoypical size at 63, 225, while the 6-2, 215-pound Mariota offers a more intriguing blend of skills. Florida State’s Jameis Winston, however, might be the best prospect of the three should he decide to come out. Winston blends ideal size (6-3, 230) with great athleticism and uncanny pocket presence. Cedric Ogbuehi, an offensive tackle from Texas A&M, returned to College Station for his senior year and could be a top-five pick next year. Ogbuehi, however, might not even be the first offensive tackle to go next season as Stanford’s Andrus Peat will begin the year as a top prospect. The other consensus elite prospect is Southern Cal defensive lineman Leonard Williams. At 6-4, 290, Williams is athletic enough and strong enough to play end in a 3-4 or tackle in a 4-3. Scouts are already salivating at the prospect of using him the way the Minnesota Vikings used John Randle in his prime. There are a couple of first-round talents at receiver, starting with Alabama standout Amari Cooper and Missouri’s 6-6 Dorial Green-Beckham. Maryland’s Stefon Diggs is a

Jameis Winston winston Jameis

first-round prospect as well. Drafting a running back in the first round is becoming less commen, but there are three bruisers who could prove to be exceptions next year in Todd Gurley of Georgia, Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and T.J. Yeldon of Alabama. Pass rushers like Clemson’s Vic Beasley, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Florida State’s Mario Edwards and Florida’s Dante Fowler are definite first-round prospects, and Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun, Georgia’s Jordan Jenkins and Utah State’s

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Kyler Fackrell aren’t far behind. There is a second-grouping of offensive tackles—Cameron Erving of Flordia State, Iowa’s Brandon Scherff and La’el Collins of LSU—who will project as first-rounders with strong 2014 seasons, while Florida State’s Tre Jackson is probably the top guard at this early stage, Tight ends Devin Funchess (Michigan) and Luke Kaumatule of Stanford are elite talents and potential first-rounders. The cornerbacks are led by Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Trae

Waynes (Michigan State) and Jalen Collins (LSU), while Alabama strong safety Landon Collins could also see the first round. OTHERS: QB Bryce Petty (Baylor),

WR Nelson Agholor (USC), DT Ellis McCarthy (UCLA), CB Ronald Darby (Florida State), OT D.J. Humphries (Florida), CB Marcus Peters (Washington), DT Malcom Brown (Texas), RB Duke Johnson (Miami)

PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • APRIL 2014 19


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21. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix, S

31. Brandin Cooks, WR

Alabama 6-1, 208

Oregon State 5-10, 189

22. Kony Ealy, DE

32. Derek Carr, QB

Missouri 6-4, 273

Fresno State 6-2, 214

23. Stephon Tuitt, DL

33. Carlos Hyde, RB

Notre Dame 6-5, 304

Ohio State 6-0, 230

24. Ryan Shazier, LB

34. Kyle Fuller, CB

Ohio State 6-1, 237

Virginia Tech 6-0, 190

25. Louis Nix, DT

35. Jeremiah Attaochu, LB

Notre Dame 6-2, 331

Georgia Tech 6-3, 252

26. Dee Ford, LB

36. Bradley Roby, CB

Auburn 6-2, 244

Ohio State 5-11, 194

27. Taylor Lewan, OT

37. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT

Michigan 6-7, 309

Alabama 6-7, 322

28. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT

38. Kyle Van Noy, LB

Minnesota 6-6, 310

BYU 6-3, 243

29. Odell Beckham, WR,

39. Jordan Matthews, WR

LSU 5-11, 198

Vanderbilt 6-3, 212

30. Jason Verrett, CB

40. Allen Robinson, WR

TCU 5-9, 189

Penn State 6-2, 220

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NEW FACES The 2014 Panthers will have several new starters in the line-up when they take the field against Delaware Aug. 30 to open the season. Here’s a look at who’s out and who’s in. • WR: RONALD JONES, KEVIN WEATHERSPOON or MANASSEH GARNER replace

Devin Street (graduation) • OG: DORIAN JOHNSON

replaces Matt Rotheram (graduation) TB: JAMES CONNER replaces Isaac Bennett (depth chart change) QB: CHAD VOYTIK replaces Tom Savage (graduation) • DE: SHAKIR SOTO, EJUAN PRICE or DEVIN COOK

replace BRYAN MURPHY (grades) • DT: DARRYL RENDER replaces Aaron Donald (graduation) •NT: KHAYNIN MOSLEY-SMITH

replaces Tyrone Ezell (graduation) • MLB: MATT GALAMBOS re-

places Shane Gordon (graduation) • SS: TERRISH WEBB replaces Jason Hendricks (graduation) • CB: TRENTON COLES, TITUS HOWARD or JAAHMAHL PARDNER replace K’Waun

Williams (graduation) • P: RYAN WINSLOW replaces Matt Yoclic (graduation)

Youth Movement Pitt football turns the reins over to young talent BY RYAN BERTONACSHI

When a college football team loses its All-American defensive lineman, starting quarterback and top receiver to graduation and the NFL, fans generally won’t get a meaningful gauge for how the next season might pan out until the season has already begun. Despite a youth-inflated roster, Pitt may be an exception to this notion in 2014, according to defensive coordinator Matt House. “There is a difference between a freshman that’s going to be a sophomore that’s never played before, compared to a freshman that’s been on the field,” House said, using sophomore-to-be cornerback Titus Howard as an example. “Titus Howard has lined up against Florida State—the national champions—so he can take that one way or another,” House said. “The first time he walks on the grass in a game situation this fall, it won’t be the first time he’s been on a field with the lights on. That means something.” The biggest question for House and his defense is how it will respond to the loss of defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who won four national awards and led the nation in tackles for loss (2.2 per game). The Panthers don’t seem too befuddled by the challenge. Rather than calling on a single replacement for Donald’s production, they’ve adopted the idea that they’ll get it done collectively. “We’re not going to have that one guy that can just make every play, so everybody’s got to give a lending hand,” Darryl Render, a junior defen-

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sive lineman, said. “It’s just going to have to be one big unit.” Render and junior Khaynin Mosley Smith hope to assume the roles of Donald and Tyrone Ezell, while senior David Durham, newly healthy juniors Ejuan Price and Devin Cook and sophomore Shakir Soto will compete for the defensive end jobs. On the other side of the ball, Pitt is down several offensive linemen. Cory King, Ryan Schlieper and Juantez Hollins all played significant snaps in 2013 and all have graduated. “We’ve got five guys going through their first spring so how they progress, how we progress, will tell that story,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. “Our last game we had no depth, so it’s hard to say if we’ve arrived, but we certainly have more numbers right now.” Dorian Johnson, a former five-star recruit, will play an increased role in 2014. Depending on injury, redshirt freshman Jaryd Jones-Smith and true freshmen Mike Grimm and Alex Bookser could get time, too. The linemen will work to protect quarterback Chad Voytik.

The redshirt sophomore has slimmed down to 207 pounds. He’s also seized every opportunity possible to study film, something he said that Chryst’s offense requires. “This is a pro-style offense,” Voytik said. “It takes a while to get a handle.“ The loss of receiver Devin Street will hurt the Panthers, but they have a handful of players competing for a few spots alongside sure-shot starter Tyler Boyd. Kevin Weatherspoon, Chris Wuestner, Dontez Ford, Ronald Jones and converted tight end Manasseh Garner will battle for starting positions. Jones, a senior who was suspended for the 2013 season, is a perfect fit for the slot. “They all have different characteristics that are good in their own sense,” said newly-appointed wide receivers coach Greg Lewis. ”Ronald Jones has stepped into a role with the opportunity to come in and do some good things. Manesseh has come in and picked up exactly where he left off.”

PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • APRIL 2014 21


NFL DRAFT: Local Players MIDDLE ROUNDERS Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia

The Houston transfer excelled for the Mountaineers in his only Big 12 season, and continued to impress at the Senior Bowl. At 6-0, 214, Sims has a great frame and top-end speed. He’s drawn comparisons to Matt Forte and is perhaps the strongest of all the running back prospects in the passing game. Considered a 3rd to 5th rounder. Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia

A Taylor Allderdice grad, the 6-8, 275-pound Clarke has great length, excellent strength and above-average athleticism. His consistency was a problem, however, which has left him short on technique and lacking in polish. His size and flashes of dominance, however, will get him a job on Sundays. Late 3rd to 5th round. Devin Street, WR, Pitt

TOP LOCAL PROSPECT Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt

Donald was the most decorated defensive player in the nation in 2013, collecting every major award for which he was eligible. The 6-1, 285-pounder dominated the ACC as a senior, blew away opposition at the Senior Bowl and was a combine star. Considered one of the "safest" prospects of the first round, Donald is consisently ranked as a top 15-20 pick.

TOP HALF OF THE DRAFT Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

One of the most productive receivers

in the nation the last two seasons, Robinson probably leads the second group of receivers in a deep draft at the position. He lacks top-end speed and isn’t as polished as the top five or six receivers in the top group, but his leaping ability and big frame (6-2, 220) make him a solid second-rounder. DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State

Jones has perfect size at 6-4, 322, and very good quickness. His workout numbers at the combine were good, and his film shows a solid NFL tackle prospect with the ability to play early and improve with experience. His productivity didn’t match his skill, but he still seems a safe bet for the second day.

22 PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • APRIL 2014

Street was productive enough over his four years at Pitt to become the school’s all-time leading pass catcher. He brings good size at 6-3, 190, and solid speed, but a deep receiver draft will likely push him toward the middle to late rounds.

LATE ROUNDERS Glenn Carson, LB, Penn State

The 6-3 244-pound Carson projects as a solid run-stuffing inside linebacker and stands a good chance to hear his name called on the draft’s final day. Matt Feiler, OT, Bloomsburg

Feiler, 6-6, 330, played both guard and tackle at Bloom, and although he has tackle size he’s likely best-suited for guard at the next level. Kaleb Ramsey, DT, Boston College

A good run-stopper with great strength and good quickness, the Laurel Highlands graduate battled injury issues his entire career.

Tom Savage, QB, Pitt

Savage is late-riser after strong Combine and Pro Day showings. His armstrength is ideal, as is his toughness, but his lack of mobility makes him a late selection. John Urschel, G, Penn State

Extremely intelligent with great awareness and intangibles, Urschel is undersized but scrappy and may have to play both guard and center in the NFL. Larry Webster, TE/DE, Bloomsburg

A former basketball star, the 6-6, 252pounder was a pass rusher who also got some red zone time as a tight end. His athleticism may get him drafted.

FREE AGENT HOPEFULS Terrill Barnes, WR, IUP (Gettysburg) Dorian Bell, OLB, Duquesne

(Monroeville) Greg Blair, ILB, Cincinnati

(Pittsburgh) Kyle Bryant OT, Youngstown State Brian Clarke, G, Bloomsburg Darwin Cook, SS, West Virginia Brock DeCicco, TE, Wisconsin

(Jefferson Hills) Chris Elkins, C, Youngstown State (Beaver Falls) Carl Fleming, OLB, IUP Adam Gress, OT, Penn State (West Mifflin) Jordan Hall, RB, Ohio State (Jeanette) Jason Hendricks, SS, Pitt Matt Lehman, TE, Penn State Dewey McDonald, SS, California-PA Jake Metz, DE, Shippensburg (Souderton) Dayonne Nunley, DB, Miami OH (Monroeville) Shaq Rowell, DT, West Virginia Colby Way, Buffalo, DE (State College) Matt Yoklic, P, Pitt (Gibsonia)

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Springing Ahead BY NATE MARSH

The first spring drills in the James Franklin Era began March 17 for the Penn State Nittany Lions, and his arrival brought a new attitude and a revamped mentality to Happy Valley. “We are a process oriented organization, not a goals oriented organization,” Franklin said before the start of spring practice. “What I’m worried about is them waking up every single morning and being the best they can possibly can be, academically, athletically, socially and spiritually.” Steve Jones, Penn State’s play-byplay announcer, said the biggest difference between Franklin and his predecessor Bill O’Brien are their management styles. “James Franklin oversees every phase on the practice field,” Jones said, “while Bill was offensive coordinator so a good portion of his practice field focus was there.” His fresh outlook on Penn State football what the team needs after a tumultuous couple of years with NCAA sanctions, transfers and endless speculation about former head coach Bill O’Brien leaving for an NFL job. “I just want to get the most we possibly can out of every single day,” Franklin added. Getting the most out of his new team will start with the play of rising sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who will be throwing to a new pair of starting receivers. With All-American Allen Robinson and fellow starter Brandon Felder gone, sophomore Eugene Lewis is the leading returning wide receiver after catching 18 passes for 234 yards and 3 touchdowns last year.

Penn State Ushers in Franklin Era With Spring Drills Sophomore Richy Anderson (13 receptions for 111 yards) is expected to take over in the slot, and the coaching staff is expecting big things from DaeSean Hamilton, who was sidelined his freshman season due to wrist injury sustained in high school. “Where our issues come is depth,” Franklin admitted. “Our issues in the secondary, if you’re going to play some young guys, that is the position to do it. Wideout, corner, things like that, you can get away with it.” The Nittany Lions plan to make up for the lack of depth at receiver with three excellent tight ends. Adam Breneman, Kyle Carter and Jesse James combined for 58 catches, 741 yards and 7 touchdowns last year.

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Those numbers could go up now that all will play bigger roles. Veterans Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton will get competition from Akeel Lynch at running back, but there is not a lot of experience on the offensive line outside of guard Miles Dieffenbach and tackle Donovan Smith. Jones weighed in on the team’s depth issues. “I think some people think because they received extra scholarships that all was well again,” he said. "The sanctions did damage to the depth of this team in certain spots. Two years ago Bill O’Brien could only bring in 10 players... That affected the depth especially at linebacker and offensive line.”

Defensively, sophomore Brandon Bell will replace Glenn Carson at middle linebacker, where he’ll be flanked by returning starters Nyeem Wartman and Mike Hull. Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan return on the edge, while Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel will play bigger roles inside. The secondary will be led by senior safety Adrian Amos and talented junior corner Jordan Lucas. “You’ve heard me say before we’re going to sell out every single game next year,” Franklin said. “I truly believe once we get everybody pulling the rope in the same direction that we can build something really special here.”

PITTSBURGH SPORTS REPORT • APRIL 2014 23


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Pittsburgh Sports Report April 2014