Grading The 2004 Pittsburgh Panthers Special Teams

In the third and final segment of a three part series, I'll be grading the 2004 Pittsburgh Panthers special teams. Stay tuned for a complete Panther overview. Heading into the 2004 season....

(Place Kicker) Grade = C+

Skinny: Mediocrity in your placekicking just won't cut it. The 2003 Panthers (David Abdul and J.B. Gibboney) connected on only 50% of their attempts. Walt Harris doesn't seem to be taking any chances this year. He added, former Oregon walk-on and JUCO standout Joshua Cummings. He also persuaded Upper St. Clair High School/Fork Union PK Connor Lee to enroll at Pitt in January as a preferred walk-on.

Outlook: It was a long 2003 season for David Abdul. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse they did. Abdul was in a car accident in February. He broke his right tibia in two places and needed to have a steel rod inserted into the leg. Doctors told him it would heal within six months and be stronger than ever. If the injuries are healed and he shows consistency in camp he will resume his kicking duties. If Abdul is not the answer look for JUCO All-American kicker Josh Cummings. Cummings set a school record with 15 field goals in 2003. Cummings will most likely take over the kickoff duties for Adam Graessle.

Projected depth chart: 1.) David Abdul 2.) Josh Cummings 3.) J.B. Gibboney

In the mix: Conner Lee, Nate Royer, Steve Bowers

16 David Abdul 5-10/185, Jr. 2003: (FG) 9-18 / 50% / long = 47yds.

Prep Notes: Honors include, AP All-State First Team junior and senior years. Two-time All-County and All-Northeast Inland District. Goss Special Teams Player of the Year (2000 and 2001). All-Akron Beacon Journal and All-Independent. All- Northeast Ohio. All-Midwest Region, "Dream Team", and rated No. 2 specialist in country by PrepStar. Rated the nation's No. 4 kicker by Student Sports. Midwest Region's top 100 prospects by SuperPrep. Selected to play in the prestigious Big 33 Football Classic and the Ohio North-South All-Star Game. Finished his Massillon Washington High School career as the single season (105) and all-time leading scorer (273) in Ohio high school history (placekicking).

Made 15-of-23 field goals (.652) as a senior, including a long of 54 yards, connected on 61-of-62 extra points (.984). Was 5 of 7 from 40-49 yards and 4 of 9 in attempts over 50 yards. The top kicker in the state of Ohio and one of the country's best. Very strong leg, kicked a career long 56-yard field goal his junior season. Of his 84 kickoffs during his senior season, 54 were touchbacks (64 percent). Helped team to a 12-2 record, the regional championship and berth in the state semifinals as a senior. Earned four letters in football. Also lettered once in track and field. A blue chip recruit, Abdul chose the Panthers over the likes of Michigan and Miami.

Pitt Notes: In 2002, David Abdul made 13-of-20 of field goal attempts and 28-29 for PAT's, scoring 67 points for the Panthers (second to Larry Fitzgerald).

(#n/a) Joshua Cummings 5-11/185 Jr. 2003: N/A

Prep Notes: First team All-CIF Southern Section. All-Foothill League. Named All-San Fernando Valley by the Los Angeles Times and San Fernando Valley Daily News.

At Hart High School in Newhall, California, Cummings set a single-season record as a senior with 11 field goals. Helped team to the CIF Division 3 championship with a 12-2 record his senior year

JUCO Notes: Honors include, J.C. Gridwire All-American.

Josh Cummings was a J.C. Gridwire All-America place-kicker who set a school record at College of the Canyons with 15 field goals. As a sophomore he was 15 of 21 for a .714 average and made 47 of 51 extra points. His longest field goal was 50 yards. Helped College of the Canyons to an 11-1 record, the Western State Conference Bowl championship and the semifinals of the Southern California playoffs. Josh is Pittsburgh's first junior-college specialist recruit since All-Big East punter Greg DeBolt in 1998.

28 J.B. Gibboney 5-9/175, Sr. 2003: FG - 1-2 / long = 28yds.

Prep Notes: Honors include, first team All-Conference honoree at receiver, defensive back, kicker and kick returner. Altoona Mirror All- Region selection. Pennsylvania Football News Honorable Mention All-State. Played in the Lezzer Lumber Football Classic. Class vice president.

Two- way standout for Huntingdon Area High School. Lettered three times in football a while also earning three letters in baseball and three in basketball. Baseball team won the state championship Gibboney's senior year.

Pitt Notes: In 2002 Gibboney saw the first game action of his collegiate career and earned his first letter as he began the year handling extra points and short-range field goals. On the season he made 7-of-10 PAT's and 3-of-4 field goals. Joined team as a walk-on in 2000. Did not play in any games in 2001.

(Punter Grade) = B

Skinny: We all know how hard it will be to replace Larry Fitzgerald. How hard will it be to replace two-time Big-East Special Teams Player of the Year Andy Lee and his 44.1-yard average? With Adam Graessle and Josh Cummings on the roster a high average shouldn't be too difficult to attain. Graessle proved to have one of the strongest kicking legs in the conference, showing his impressive leg power on kickoffs last season with nearly 30 touchbacks.

Outlook: There's more to punting than just kicking the ball as far as you can. Aiming the ball is as important if not more important due to field position. Andy Lee was the consummate "placement" punter, nailing the opponent inside their 20-yard line 23 times with only seven touchbacks. If Graessle can come close to matching those numbers the Panther's punt game will be in good shape.

Projected depth chart: 1.) Adam Graessle 2.) Josh Cummings

In the mix: Steve Bowers

18 Adam Graessle 6-4/205, So.

Prep Notes: Honors include, Three-time first team All-Ohio Capital Conference. Three time All-District. Second team All-Ohio. SuperPrep All-Midwest Team. PrepStar All-Midwest Region. Merit Roll student as a junior and senior.

Was considered the top-kicking prospect in Ohio by many recruiting services. My youngest son attends and plays football at Dublin Coffman High School. I had the opportunity to see Adam first hand on several occasions. Adam was a three-year starter as both a punter and place-kicker. He averaged 43.9 yards per punt as a senior and 40.3 as a junior. As a senior, 49 of 62 kickoffs were touchbacks (79%). During his final two years at Dublin, he converted 17-of-32 field goals (.531) with a long of 47 yards. He also established Dublin Coffman records for longest punt (77 yards), field goals in a game (four, twice), career field goals (29) and kickoff touchbacks in a season (49). Helped lead his team to a 17-7 mark (.708) his final two seasons, including two state playoff berths and the 2001 regional championship. Earned three letters in football.

(Return Teams) Grade = B-

Skinny: The Panthers return game in 2003 was mediocre to say the least. Worse, the graduation of William Ferguson leaves the Panthers with a major void. At the present time there are no (college) experienced punt returners on the roster. Several players have returned punts during their highschool careers. Mike Phillips will get along look at the position. Sophomore Terrell Allen handled most of the kickoff return duties in 2003. Jawan Walker will also be in the mix.

Outlook: Terrell Allen was more than adequate in 2003 finishing seventh in the Big East with a 23.6-yard average. At the time of this publication Allen is said to have a wrist injury, which could keep him sidelined for an extended period of time. According to Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a member of the coaching staff told him that Terrell had surgery on his wrist and is expected to be out for the season, they are hoping that he will recover sooner than expected. No need to fret? There's reason for excitement with the incoming freshmen. One of several has a big opportunity to earn ample playing time as well as the starting job. Should the Panthers find a return gem in their 2004 recruiting class the special teams will be good to go.

Projected Depth Chart:

Kick Returner: 1.) Marcus Furman 2.) Jawan Walker

Punt Returner: 1.) Mike Phillips 2.) Marcus Furman

In The Mix: Darrelle Revis, Kelvin Chandler, Steffan Brinson, and Andre Broussard

80 Terrell Allen 6-0, 185, So. 2003: Returned 25 kicks for 591 (23.1 avg.)

Prep Notes: Honors include, first team All-South Carolina selection. One of only three players ever to start for 4 years at his school. Was selected to play in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, an all-star game featuring players from North Carolina and South Carolina. Student Sports and SuperPrep All-American. PrepStar All-Atlantic Region.

10 Mike Phillips 5-11, 180, So. 2003: N/A

Prep Notes: Honors include, first team All-Ohio (large schools). First team All-Steel Valley. First team Northeast Inland All-District. First team All-Trumbull County. Also rated by rivals as the nation's No. 29 cornerback prospect. Selected to play in the Ohio All-Star Classic. All-Midwest Team and rated as one of the top 60 prospects in the Midwest region by SuperPrep. PrepStar All-Midwest Region. Mike received team's annual "Raider of the Year" honor and the Milton J. Mollenkopf All-Around Player Award. Trumbull African-American Achievers inductee. Mike was also voted All-County, All-League, and All-District in basketball.

2 Marcus Furman 5-8, 190, Sr. 2003: N/A

Prep Notes: Marcus was a two-time all-state player at Connellsville High School. A member of the Pittsburgh Press' Fabulous 22 and the Tribune-Review Terrific 25. Won the WPIAL 100 meters championship in 2000. He was also selected for the Big 33 game in Hershey.

Pitt Notes: Returned two kicks for 74 yards in 2002.

34 Jawan Walker 5-10, 215, Jr. 2003: N/A

Prep Notes: Honors include First Team Associated Press Big School All-State. All-Erie Metro. Allegheny Football Conference MVP. Erie Metro League MVP. Selected to the Big 33 Football Classic. Ranked 26th by SuperPrep and named All-Eastern Region by PrepStar.

(Final 2003 Special Teams Statistics)


FGM - FGA / Pct. / 01-19 / 20-29 / 30-39 / 40-49 / 50+ / Long / Blk / PATs / Pts.

David Abdul, 9-18 / 50.0 / 0-0 / 3-4 / 3-6 / 3-7 / 0-1 / 47 / 0 / 49-51 / 76

J.B. Gibboney, 1-2 / 50.0 / 0-0 / 1-1 / 0-1 / 0-0 / 0-0 / 28 / 0 / 0 / 3

Opponents, 1-1 / 3-3 / 6-10 / 2-3 / 0-1 / 44 / 1


No. / Yds / Avg / Long / TB / FC / I20 / Blkd

Andy Lee, 77 / 3399 / 44.1 / 62 / 7 / 7 / 23 / 0

Opponents, 79 / 2977 / 37.7 / 58 / 4 / 15 / 20 / 3


No. / Yds / Avg / TD / Long

Terrell Allen, 25 / 591 / 23.6 / 0 / 63

W. Ferguson, 16 / 250 / 15.6 / 0 / 45

Sam Bryant, 2 / 22 / 11.0 / 0 / 15

Jawan Walker, 2 / 26 / 13.0 / 0 / 13

Yogi Roth, 1 / 9 / 9.0/ 0 / 9

Total.......... 46 / 898 / 19.5 / 0 / 63

Opponents... 43 / 1115 / 25.9 / 0 / 68


No. / Yds / Avg / TD / Long

W. Ferguson, 32 / 327 / 10.2 / 0 / 71

Yogi Roth, 1 / -2 / -2.0 / 0 / 0

H.B. Blades, 1 / 9 / 9.0 / 0 / 0

Total.......... 34 / 334 / 9.8 / 0 / 71

Opponents... 46 / 507 / 11.0 / 0 / 72

Panther Special Teams: The Panthers are in a transition mode. After losing several key members of the special teams, do they have the talent to reload? Skill isn't the issue. The Panthers have loads of athletic ability. The coaches need to put the proper components in all the right places.

After a terrible 2003 season can David Abdul find the consistency needed to become an All Big East kicker? Will Walt Harris opt to red shirt Abdul who is still recovering from a broken leg? Perhaps the writing is on the wall. Josh Cummings will have only two years of eligibility remaining. To red shirt Abdul would seem to make sense. Don't count out J.B. Gibboney having a breakout camp and securing the starting job.

Losing a player such as All Big East punter Andy Lee to graduation will hurt, though Adam Graessle is an all-star kicker who will become the next punter.

The return men are exiting. Walt Harris and company have added a lot of skill players. With the injury to Terrell Allen finding the right combination will be one of the hardest tasks for Harris and his staff.

Special Teams Final Grade = B-

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