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Pittsburgh Steelers select local favorite James Conner in 3rd Round of NFL Draft

Well, things just got interesting.

Pitt players continued falling down the NFL Draft board and no Panthers were taken in the top 100 picks despite some lofty expectations. But with the No. 105 pick (3rd Round), the local pro team Pittsburgh Steelers took a chance on Pitt running back James Conner. Suffice to say, there will be a lot of happy people in Pittsburgh.

Conner, of course, is one of the feel good stories from last year's college football season. After returning from an MCL injury and cancer, he had a big season with 1,092 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns.

One thing Conner spoke of that he wanted to do in his last season was catch more passes. That happened as Conner was used in the passing game much more than ever before. He had a total of 21 catches after hauling in only nine in the three combined years before that. Those went for 302 yards and while Conner didn't have the monster season he did in 2014, he was arguably a bit more complete as a back.

Congrats to Conner as his story now comes full circle. Growing up in Erie, he will now have played high school, college, and pro ball all within his home state of Pennsylvania. Pretty great story.

My guess is that the NFL better make sure they're well stocked on Conner Steelers jerseys. Just a hunch.

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.

Breaking down the impact of the Jeremiah Taleni loss for Pitt

So after an offseason of basketball losses, the football team is getting a little trimmer. News broke Friday that defensive lineman Jeremiah Taleni was being removed from the program for disciplinary reasons.

The official statement was brief and to the point - nothing to see here, people.

PITTSBURGH—Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi announced today that senior defensive tackle Jeremiah Taleni has been dismissed from the program for disciplinary reasons. Taleni played in 21 career games, including four starting assignments, during his three active seasons with the Panthers.

As is standard practice, it isn't said what he was dismissed for so I'm not going to play a guessing game. That's not fair to anybody, really. But looking at the impact with him gone is fair game.

I know Taleni was likely to start next season but I'm not sure this is the massive hit a lot of people feel like it is. Defensive tackle play was already going to be down a little from what Pitt got last year from Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto. Trust me, I'm not saying Taleni's loss is a non-factor. But Pitt at least has some quality young guys ready and waiting for an opportunity.

For starters, there's Amir Watts and Rashad Wheeler - both of whom had a gaggle of offers, including Penn State, and chose Pitt. Watts was a presumed starter in Jim's 2017 early defensive depth chart and played in seven games last season with a start against Clemson. Then there's Keyshon Camp, who picked Pitt despite offers from just about everyone, including Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, Michigan, Texas, and USC. Those are three quality guys but then you add juniors Shane Roy and Mike Herndon to the mix.

Not enough? There's Kam Carter, who was a JUCO addition and former Penn State player until he was dismissed from their team. He was already expected to make an impact this year as it was but now, you have to wonder if he could potentially start in part because he has a decent amount of experience. And if you still wanted a little more depth, there's always true freshman Jalen Twyman, who was coveted by Florida, Michigan State, and Tennessee. The plan should be to redshirt him unless they simply can't keep him off the field, but you get my point. Pitt is very, very deep at tackle and has a lot of options.

Sure, many of those options are relatively inexperienced. But these also weren't questionable two-star guys that Pitt took flyers on. These are almost entirely guys that were highly coveted by major programs and three to four-star kids. If Pitt can't get two players out of that group, they have bigger problems than just defensive tackle.

The idea, too, that Taleni was some superhuman player isn't accurate. He had a good game against Clemson last year when Pitt was missing guys in the middle and had somewhat of a breakout year with 24 tackles and three sacks in the middle. But he also had a grand total of 30 tackles and four career starts in his four years (one redshirt) here. In other words, this isn't like losing a three-year starter. It's losing a projected starter that people hoped would work out.

I know that Narduzzi previously called him the leader of the defensive line, but even if that's true, I'm not sure how much of that matters this much. He said that during spring practices. We're not even in to summer workouts or fall training camp yet, let alone playing any games. There's all kinds of time for someone else to emerge as the leader, whether it be one of the tackles or even defensive end Dewayne Hendrix.

I don't like the Taleni loss so let me be clear about that. At the very least, you lose depth when guys are dismissed from teams at this stage. And it'd be great to have him so the younger guys could ease their way in a little more. I'm certainly disappointed that we won't get to see what he could do with more playing time but in terms of the defensive tackle spot as a whole, I think they're going to be more than fine.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitt NFL Draft Projections: Scott Orndoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitt NFL Draft Projections: Ejuan Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Ferry hired to Pitt Basketball coaching staff

Pitt hires Sam Ferry to be an assistant coach.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pitt Basketball Recruiting: Peace Ilegomah officially signs with Panthers

It's been a rough offseason for Pitt head coach Kevin Stallings but at least he has one less roster spot to worry about with the official signing of Nigerian center Peace Ilegomah.

Ilegomah, 6'11", committed to the Panthers earlier this year but had not yet signed. As Jim noted at the time, he was pursued by Saint Louis, DePaul, and a few others.

The lone unsigned player from the committed recruiting class is Shamiel Stevenson. The Post-Gazette notes he is expected to sign this weekend.

Not earth-shattering, but at this point, keeping players is better than losing them. Given all that's gone on these past few weeks, it feels good to have a guy stick with the program.

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

Pitt NFL Draft Projections: Adam Bisnowaty

Yet another Pitt football player with aspirations of being selected in the upcoming draft is offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty. Like Dorian Johnson, who was profiled earlier, Bisnowaty helped pave the way for big rushing seasons for James Conner and Qadree Ollison.

Bisnowaty also brings plenty of experience to the table. Biz was a four-year starter at Pitt and made the All-ACC First Team in his last two seasons. He started 43 of his 45 career games and leaves a big hole at tackle this season.

Once seen as a potential high-round pick, Bisnowaty's stock seems to have slid a bit this year. He still looks like a guy that will definitely be taken but he's mostly seen as a later-middle round guy. NFL.com has him as a fifth rounder. SBNation, FWIW, thinks he's one of the best seniors available. In a senior-only draft, in fact, they say he would go seventh overall.

Where do you think will Bisnowaty be taken in the draft?

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

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