Scouting the Big East: Pittsburgh

The Panthers are a program on the rise with a coach on everybody's mind. Walt Harris has turned this program around and the quality of players recruited has been ever improving. As a result the roster is laden with NFL talent.

Offensively the headliner is sophomore receiver Larry Fitzgerald, the Big East Rookie of the Year in 2002. Fitzgerald is a natural receiver with a great feel for the game and his position. Timing all his receptions well, Fitzgerald gets up in a crowd and makes the seemingly impossible reception in contorted positions. He constantly comes away with the ball on third and long and is the "go-to guy" opponents cannot stop. Only in college two years yet at the same three years removed from high school, his draft eligibility has come under question. Last year the situation was quite similar for Vince Wilfork of Miami, and when we questioned an NFL executive as to what the league would say were Wilfork to declare for the draft the reply was, "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it." We expect a similar response to the Fitzgerald case, though the Panther receiver has stated his intentions to stay in school.

Tight end Kris Wilson could be one of the hidden gems as far as big play prospects are concerned. Wilson makes plays deep into the defensive secondary and displays a lot of top-notch pass catching skills. A solid athlete, Wilson runs well and makes receptions all over the field. He does not have blocking strength or the body-type to be effective in that fashion, but does give top effort. A big senior campaign, coupled with positive results at the combine, will move Wilson into the first day.

Brandon Miree is a solid interior runner that carries the ball with strength, tenacity, and intelligence. Miree works his runs and picks up a lot of yardage off initial contact, displaying a burst of speed and decent skill outside of tackle. Though solid, he is not an outstanding prospect that warrants a first day pick as of now.

Blocking for Miree is Lousaka Polite, a big lead fullback that does a solid job catching the ball or carrying it in short-yardage situations. Polite works hard but lacks the great explosion or athleticism to his game and is not effective outside of tackle.

Tackle Rob Petitti is a heady and strong tackle but a limited athlete who lacks the great blocking range. Petitti gets the job done but could be better off at guard.

Signal caller Rod Rutherford is a terrific athlete with a big arm and the ability to make plays with his legs but a passer with less than average accuracy and pass placement. Rutherford must improve every aspect of his game and right now, he's more of a project than a real quarterback prospect.

On defense, Claude Harriott is the type of prospect that could make a huge leap up draft boards next April. Harriot is an outstanding pass rusher and athlete who immediately alters his angle of attack and pursues, then catches ball handlers from the backside. He lacks the great bulk but plays bigger than his listed size and adequately stops the run. A big senior campaign coupled with 20 more pounds and a fast forty time before the draft could move him into the top 25.

Another who'd be helped by a big 2003 is corner Shawntae Spencer, a fluid cover man with an explosive break on the pass and head for the ball. Spencer has nice size as well as corner skills. Lewis Moore is a nice outside linebacker with possibilities on the strong side.

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