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August 28, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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Can Pitt win 8 games? Well, actually, yes

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It’s  September (well, almost), and that’s a good thing.
School is back in session, the grass soon will stop growing and it’s football season. (I’ll take the last two anytime.)
Pitt coach Paul Chryst loves this time of year nearly as much as his family. Actually, he was raised in a football family, with two older brothers and a dad who was a coach.
Now, Chryst is the coach — the only head coach in his family; brother Geep coaches quarterbacks for the San Francisco 49ers — and he is once again given the daunting task of winning football games at Pitt.
Don’t laugh. It can be done. And not just six or seven of them.
Fans who will fill the parking lots surrounding Heinz Field on Saturday for the opener against Delaware demand more.
I’m here  to tell you, it can happen. Maybe as soon as five days before you carve this year’s Thanksgiving turkey.
Chryst has Pitt pointed in the right direction. He recruits players who love the game, and he doesn’t worry about how many stars recruiting services place next to their names. He demands accountability and respect for the game. He has no sympathy for those players who believe they can get by on talent and don’t work hard enough to nourish it.
Football is a heartless master. It can beat up the most physically gifted player, and it will rudely spit out anyone who doesn’t come prepared.
That’s why Chryst loves training camp. He loves the game prep, watching video with coaches and players and instructing (guiding is a better word) in a dark film room or in the bright sunshine of an August morning.
Chryst also loves coaching because of the bond he shares with his players.
Most of them genuinely like him. There was a player at Pitt not long ago complaining to me about a member of Chryst’s staff. The player found it necessary to add this: “Not Chryst,” he said. “Coach Chryst is the man.”
I found it interesting and instructive that the player spent only one season under Chryst, really didn’t know him all that well.
But Chryst has a way of reaching kids (again, most of them), and that’s coaching.
All of this is a long road to my original point: Pitt will win eight games this season.
There, I said it. Doesn’t sound like much, but Pitt has won that many games only six times in the past 24 years. On average, once every recruiting class. See what I mean?
I looked at the schedule and found a few almost certain victories (Delaware, Florida International, Akron and Virginia), a couple of maybes  (Georgia Tech, Duke and Syracuse) and one upset (Virginia Tech on a Thursday night at Heinz Field).
A reach? Maybe, but not an outrageous one.
I think the offensive line will play well. Other than a few camp experiments, the starting five players have taken a vast majority of the snaps. If they stay healthy, there’s plenty of potential there.
The defense will benefit from the senior influence of Ray Vinopal, Anthony Gonzalez, Todd Thomas and David Durham. Plus, I can’t wait to see how Shady Side Academy graduate Reggie Mitchell, a former safety,  plays at cornerback. He was the fourth option as recently as a month ago, but no one had a better camp. Chryst appreciates — and rewards — such players. Coaches like to call him “a football player.” If  you’re around coaches long enough, you realize they can offer no greater compliment.
On the other side, quarterback Chad Voytik will be smart enough to follow his progressions, remember what Chryst taught him and tuck it and run occasionally. If the line can protect him (and I think it can), Voytik will have an edge Tom Savage never had in a seven-victory season last year. He also will have a bigger, stronger James Conner at running back.
And, of course, there are a couple games Tyler Boyd will win by contorting his body to make a catch, running past slower corners and, perhaps, returning a punt or two for a touchdown.
Sorry, but it adds up to 8-4. If Pitt falls short, it will be perceived as a lack of progress, and that will be hard to argue.
Pitt knows how to be 6-6. Pitt knows how to be average.
I get the feeling that, finally, enough Pitt players would fight you if you called them average.

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August 21, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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How T.J. Clemmings became a co-captain at Pitt

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Here’s what I mean about Paul Chryst building a relationship with his players:
It was two  years ago and Chryst was coming off the field at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., after the Panthers had defeated South Florida in the final regular-season game of 2012.
Chryst ran into — or perhaps made a point of running into — defensive end (at the time) T.J. Clemmings, who hadn’t played in the game.
It was then that Chryst first suggested Clemmings consider a move to offensive tackle.
“His uniform wasn’t dirty,” Chryst said Wednesday, recalling the conversation. “I said, `You should think about it.’ ”
He said, `Coach, I’ll do whatever I can for this team.’ ”
Almost immediately, Clemmings started  working on offense during practices prior to the bowl game, and by the spring he had ascended to a starting position. Clemmings struggled with the transition last season, but he started every game. And guess what?
“He’s one of our better players right now,” Chryst said.
Recently, graduate assistant Hank Poteat addressed the team during training camp, he talked about some of the lessons he had learned while playing at Pitt and in the NFL.
“One of the things he talked about was being selfless,” Chryst said, “And you couldn’t have a better example than T.J.”
Which brings Chryst and his team to the brink of the 2014 season when players voted Tuesday night on their co-captains. Clemmings, safety Ray Vinopal and linebacker and special teams whiz Nicholas Grigsby were overwhelming choices, Chryst said.
“They’ve earned it,” Chryst said. “It’s the way they work, day in and day out, how they handle their business on and off the field. I thought the team made a great choice, and if they wouldn’t have, (I) would have made sure it was a great choice.
“It was all them. It was authentic as  it could be and that’s what made it pretty neat.”
Grigsby’s story is another one of growth, starting from his days as a redshirt freshman when he didn’t have the body to play linebacker, but was determined to develop one. Clemmings and Vinopal are seniors, but Grigsby earned his teammates’ respect as a junior who doesn’t start on the base defense.
“You got your best special teams player being one of your best, if not your best, workers,” Chryst said. “He’s that standard that we want everyone to get to.”
Meanwhile, Chryst must deal with the crisis at cornerback after Trenton Coles decided to leave the team this week. Coles is the third young cornerback who will be unavailable this season after Jahmahl Pardner departed in the spring and Titus Howard, who remains with the team, was suspended for the season.
Coles  had appeared to lose his starting job — although in August no positions are locked in stone for the entire season — and he made his decision after practice Tuesday.
Pitt fans may be sorry to see him go, because Coles has great potential — he might have been the fastest player on the team — and the Panthers need the experience at cornerback.
Coles, a junior, played cornerback last season as a reserve, and now Pitt is faced with only one cornerback — Lafayette Pitts — with game experience. Reggie Mitchell and Avonte Maddox have had great camps, but they have not played cornerback in a collegiate game.
Look for Mitchell to start. Eventually, he might be a better cornerback for the Panthers for these reasons:
He’s a great athlete, and everyone who is been around him, including  his coaches at Shady Side Academy and Pitt, believe he has the right mindset and work ethic to succeed.

 

 

 

 

ed and oen fo the
thigns he alkerd baout was bein sellfles and one ofd the great exameles was
“The
he ahd somes growing pains he kind of kept o wrking at it
he;s one of
ouir better playes rihgt now

 
“His uniform wasn’t dirty,” Chr

 

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August 16, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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There was more than football going on Saturday at Pitt’s scrimmage

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A few leftover notes from Pitt’s tackle-to-the-ground scrimmage Saturday.
* I guess I watch practice differently than a lot of reporters in that the two things that stuck with me more than anything were Pitt coach Paul Chryst’s interactions with his players.
Here are two:
He chastised a player for failing to retrieve an incomplete pass that had bounced out of everyone’s reach. Chryst wanted the player to get the ball himself, instead of assuming a coach or manager would pick it up.
Later, he had what appeared to be a pleasant conversation with sophomore cornerback Titus Howard. I couldn’t hear what was said, of course, but both men seemed to be enjoying each other’s company. Howard is suspended for the season, but is permitted to practice.
Insignificant matters? I don’t think so. They show Chryst to be a coach who demands that his players be accountable while building a personal relationship with them.
To me, that is the essence of coaching.
Here is some football stuff:
* Kicker Chris Blewitt missed on four of eight field-goal attempts, but he was true from 52 yards after a miss from 47 was wiped out by a false start penalty. Blewitt is among the least of Pitt’s concerns. He was 14 of 18 last season as a freshman.
* Redshirt freshman wide receiver Jester Weah, one of the best-looking athletes on the team, made a nice catch with outstretched hands for an 18-yard gain on a slant route. I mention it only because Weah’s hands had been inconsistent early, but appear to be getting better.
* Chryst jokingly said, “I forgot we had him,” when he was asked why Tyler Boyd did not participate in the tackling portion of the scrimmage. Chryst is not the first coach to attempt to keep his best player healthy by giving him periodic rest days. Dave Wannstedt did the same with running backs Shady McCoy and Dion Lewis.
* Junior Ronald Jones scored on a 20-yard run on a jet sweep.
* Rachid Ibrahim continued to be a weapon out of the backfield in the passing game, but he also scored on a 6-yard run where he had to pick his way through traffic and use some of his physicality. He said he has gained 10 pounds. He is listed at 185.
* Freshman safety Patrick Amara stepped up late in the scrimmage to return an interception for a touchdown.
* Among those in attendance were Chancellor Patrick Gallagher — his second consecutive Saturday appearance — and Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley, the former Pitt safety (1990-1993) who is in town for a preseason game against the Steelers at Heinz Field.
* Pitt has full days of practice through Thursday next week before taking a break for Fan Fest from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday. Classes start Aug. 25.

 

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August 15, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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NCAA student-athletes, including those at Pitt, enjoy their smorgasbords

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The night he led Connecticut to the national basketball championship, guard Shabazz Napier said he sometimes went to sleep hungry because NCAA restrictions limited how much food his school could provide him.
Not long after that, the NCAA said to its student-athletes: Eat as much as you want. There now are no limits on how much food schools can serve.
As part of the ruling, the NCAA said schools no longer need to trim the cost of so-called training-table meals from monthly scholarship checks.
But Dan Bartholomae, who is Pitt’s executive associate athletic director for compliance and administration, said all but two ACC schools will continue to take back the cost of the meals.
Pitt is one of the generous ones, he said.
At Pitt, it means a nutrition center has been set up in the weight room of the football team’s practice facility where players can get protein shakes and granola bars. “Quick fuel for a workout,” Bartholomae said.
Plus, breakfast foods are available in the players’ second-floor cafeteria, complete with a waffle iron.  Lunch and dinner also are served.
It amounts to what Bartholomae said is a “24/7 fueling station, all day long, every day.” It’s the same for athletes of all sports, including walk-ons, who still must buy a food plan, but are fed when they are with the team.
Is it too late for Paul Chryst to offer me a scholarship?

One more note from Friday:
Chryst gave his players a break at the end of practice when he organized a water balloon fight.
It was a welcome respite from the 13 consecutive days (so far) of camp.
“Camp is long and you are here all day,” senior safety Ray Vinopal said. “To be able to go out there and throw
some water balloons at someone who might have (ticked) you off earlier in practice is pretty fun.”
Long after practice, some water from a stray balloon accidentally splashed on a TV photographer and his camera. No harm was done, but Chryst found the player responsible and demanded he apologize to the photographer.
Just another example of how Chryst runs his program, making everyone accountable for every action.

 

 

 

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August 15, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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Chryst’s experimentation makes sense, but it must end soon

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A mystery on the Pitt offensive line surfaced this week when offensive left tackle Adam Bisnowaty started taking snaps at left guard and redshirt freshman Jaryd Jones-Smith was inserted at left tackle.
Offensive line coach Jim Hueber said he was just getting players ready in the event something went wrong in the future. The next day, coach Paul Chryst said change was not out of the question.
I say none of it is a good sign.
Any offensive line coach — Hueber, too — will tell you that continuity among the five starters is important to consistent success. Find five guys and work them every day until they are so familiar with each other’s moves and thoughts that they are operating like one, efficient machine. You can’t do that by shaking up the depth chart.
Pitt still has time to keep its five together and have them build a strong rapport before the opener Aug.  30. There is another full week of training camp remaining before preparations for Delaware need to begin.
But, to me, it’s just another sign that Pitt is nowhere near where it needs to be — at a lot of positions (the secondary comes to  mind).
Is that normal in August? Actually, yes.
But Chryst and Hueber don’t want to be experimenting in October. If you see that happen, then Pitt fans can start to panic.
A similar situation has developed at quarterback where Chryst has yet to name a starter.  Everyone believes Chad Voytik will get the nod over Trey Anderson, but here’s my theory on why Chryst has kept silent:
Chryst comes from the old school of coaches where nothing is handed to a player until he earns it. Hard work throughout training camp — not someone’s perceived notion — is the currency that buys a starting job.
To name Voytik the starter on the first day of camp after he played only one half of football last season would send a wrong message. That would be contrary to how Chryst was raised by his father, a football coach, and what he now expects from the Pitt players.
That being said, no one works harder than Voytik. By all accounts, he all but lives in the video room with his coach. Over the spring and summer, he prepared diligently in daily throwing sessions with his teammates to play the game’s most demanding position.
Let me say this: If Chryst named Voytik the starter Friday or Saturday, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s been nearly two weeks since the start of camp, and putting matters in place on the eve of the final week would fit perfectly with Chryst’s sense of order.
At some point very soon, it will be time to stop experimenting and begin getting ready for the season.

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August 12, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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Chryst says Thomas’ injury isn’t serious

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It’s probably not ideal when the first sight at Pitt practice is this:
One of the starting outside linebackers pedaling on the exercise bike with strength coach Ross Kolodziej.
That, of course, is senior Todd Thomas, who came out of heavy traffic Monday with what appears to be a leg injury and, then, missed practice Tuesday.
Coach Paul Chryst said it is not serious.
“He’ll be back,” Chryst said. “I don’t know if it will be tomorrow or the next day, but it’s sooner rather than later.”
The outside linebacker position was further depleted by the absence of Bam Bradley, who was inserted into the lineup Monday after Thomas was injured. Chryst said Bradley was excused to attend to a family matter. That gave Nicholas Grigsby more snaps than usual.
Meanwhile, freshman middle linebacker Quintin Wirginis should circle Tuesday in red on his calendar. He made several plays on the ball, drawing unsolicited praise from Chryst when the coach met with reporters.
“I noticed him,” Chryst said of Wirginis.
I don’t claim to know the man better than anyone else, but one aspect of Chryst’s coaching style that is beyond question is that he saves his compliments for when they are truly deserved.
One more note: Not sure which of these two feats were more impressive: Freshman Qadree Ollison bursting through the middle for a 45-yard gain, or freshman cornerback Avonte Maddox running him down.
By the way, freshman wide receiver Adonis Jennings (groin) returned to practice and was hanging around the punt returners, including Tyler Boyd.

 

Todd he’ll be back I don’t know if it will be tomorrow or the next day but it’s sooner than later

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August 8, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt defensive end Devin Cook’s big moment of 2013

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Every morning, not long after 10, Pitt defensive end coach John Palermo dons a stylish Panama hat to protect  himself from the sun and gathers his players around him at a corner of the Beano Cook fields closest to the South Side railroad tracks.
Pass-rush class is in session.
Every sack recorded by the Panthers’ ends this season will originate on that patch of grass through the teachings of Palermo, 62. It’s not like Pitt’s ends have many sacks on their resumes: Sophomore Shakir Soto and junior Devin Cook  have one each. Palermo, who has instructed defensive players on 14 teams for the past 40 years, is showing them the way to the quarterback.
Palermo interrupted his lesson Thursday to remind his players of a play within a play last season that went largely unnoticed, but was one of the biggest in Pitt’s 58-55 victory against eventual ACC Coastal Division champion Duke.
“Cook doesn’t know it, but he is the one who won the Duke game for us,” Palermo said.
When he heard Palermo’s statement, James Conner gave Cook, a junior from Beaver Falls, a congratulatory fist bump. Actually, Cook remembers the game and the play well.
It was midway through the fourth quarter while the Pitt defense was trying to hold off a potent Duke offense. Pitt led, 51-41, but Duke had scored the game’s past 13 points. On third-and-4 from the Duke 35-yard line, Cook pressured quarterback Brandon Connette, forcing him to flick the ball away sooner than he wanted. Two yards beyond the line of scrimmage, Pitt linebacker Anthony Gonzalez was there for the interception and a 37-yard touchdown that ensured the victory.
Cook said he had changed pass-rush tactics on the Duke tackle, opting for a speed rush instead of the bull (power) rush he had been using previously that afternoon.
“I hit him with a nice chop rip and turned the corner real tight and got to the quarterback and made him throw to his check-down and Gonzo was right there,” Cook said.  ”(The tackle) was sitting inside and I went right around  him with speed.”
(Cook used plenty of football jargon that simply means he went around the tackle instead of trying to go through him and hurried the quarterback into doing something he didn’t want to do.)
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t  have a completely happy ending for Cook, who tore an MCL and ACL in his knee later in the game and was lost for the season after having surgery.
That was less than a year ago.
Diligent work in the trainer’s room — Cook credits trainers Rob Blanc and Tim Dunlavey — allowed him to return to the field this summer. He discarded the knee brace three months ago because he didn’t want it to hinder is pass-rush ability.
Knee surgery patients usually take  a year or more to return to normal. Former Pitt running back Ray Graham was wearing his brace more than a year after his surgery. Cook’s was gone in eight months.
If Cook is completely healed, he will give Pitt a needed boost at the defensive end position that lost Ejuan Price for the season with a pec injury.
I’m betting when Cook gets his first sack this season, he’ll go straight to Palermo, Blanc and Dunlavey and say, ”Thank you.”

– The fourth day of training camp was unusual for the fact that coach Paul Chryst gave wide receiver Tyler Boyd the day off for what former Penguins coach Dan Bylsma might have termed a maintenance day.
“We wanted to give him some stuff (work) inside (probably in the weight room),” Chryst said. “We have to be smart and balance that workload and take care of the guy.”
Chryst said he may do the same for other key players this summer. Boyd did come out to the field near the end of the practice, but did not participate. Chryst said his star wide receiver will return Friday.

– Running back James Conner continues to have a busy and productive camp, playing on both sides of the ball. He had one of the biggest hits of a physical practice — players wore shoulder pads for the second consecutive day — when he got a running start and lowered  his shoulder into freshman safety Patrick Amara.

– Offensive line coach Jim Hueber liked the hitting today.
“We practiced a little bit the first day like we still had underwear on,” he said. “We made great strides at the end of practice. We showed some mental toughness.”
Players will wear full gear Friday.

– Speaking of the offensive line, sophomore left guard Dorian Johnson said he has gained 20 pounds to 310 since his freshman season and wants to be at 315 for the season.

– Freshman to watch: Defensive end Rori Blair of Upper St. Clair. At 6-4, 230 pounds, he looks the part (actually, that’s true of many players on the team this season), but he is also learning his lessons well after enrolling in January and taking part in spring drills.
“He has done a nice job of picking stuff up,” Chryst said. “There are times when he is playing fast and times where it’s still new to him a little bit.”
 

 

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August 6, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt training camp Day 2: The emergence of Chris James

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Pitt freshman running back Chris James has looked good over the first two days of training camp — or, as well as any player can look when no one is wearing pads.
But when senior linebackers Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas ran him down on a running play, James said, “That’s definitely when I realized you’re here now, and you’re not the fastest on the field anymore.”
Running backs coach John Settle said James is living up to the hype that buzzed around him when he was a star at Notre Dame (Ill.) College Prep last year.
But Settle said there is more to the young running back than breakaway speed.
“The biggest thing I like about him so far is he hasn’t shown any fear when it comes to pass protection,” Settle said. “He stepped up in blitz periods and took guys on, and he’s not with the young guys. He’s going against the vets.”
That’s promising and a testament to James’ toughness because he wasn’t asked to do much pass-blocking in high school.
“Our team was very run-first,” he said. “I told myself I’m going to have to start blocking (at Pitt). You definitely have to set your feet and sometimes take the hit.”
James said the next step is to learn the plays, so he can display his play-making ability.
“I can turn a 5-yard run into an 80-yard run,” he said.
While senior Isaac Bennett is practicing, but limited, due to shoulder surgery, James is the immediate backup to starter James Conner.

– Quick Conner story: The sophomore running back was waiting his turn during a pass-catching drill when a pass caromed off the intended receiver. Conner could have let it fall. He was only watching off to the side. But he dived for the ball, kept it off the ground and ran it into the end zone.

– Defensive coordinator Matt House praised both contestants in the battle for the starting position at strong safety.
Reggie Mitchell moved onto the first team Tuesday ahead of Terrish Webb, who was there Monday. Mitchell didn’t play last year after transferring from Wisconsin, but he is catching up to Webb, a big contributor last season as a freshman.
“Terrish is really, really bright,” House said. “Reggie is too. Reggie loves to compete. Reggie’s got great quickness. It’s a good battle going on back there.”
Actually, both will play extensively. One will start at strong safety, next to free safety Ray Vinopal. The other will be the nickel back in a five-DB alignment House will use frequently this season.
Pitt coaches expect to run into several sophisticated passing games in the ACC.
“Those three guys are sponges. They are fun to coach,” House said. “You go in the meeting room, they ask questions and they want to be coached.”

– Middle linebacker Matt Galambos got an earful from assistant strength and conditioning coach Kenechi Udeze when he made a nice move to step in front of a pass intended for tight end Scott Orndoff, but couldn’t hold onto the ball.
Udeze, by the way, won a national championship at USC in 2003 and was a first-round NFL draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings in 2004.

– Coach Paul Chryst is eager to advance training camp to the next stage Wednesday – shoulder pads.
“When we get the pads on, we’ll be able to do a little more work in the run game,” he said. “It’s a little bit safer.”

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August 5, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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Sights and sounds of Day 1: Pitt training camp

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Too bad there are no homes close to the Beano Cook Fields adjacent to Pitt’s training complex on the South Side. Anyone who overslept would have been awakened by the sounds of the first day of the Panthers’ training camp.
And I’m not talking about the regular click-clack and rumble of the trains that roll by the fields.
The first outburst was from sophomore cornerback Trenton Coles, suddenly thrust into one of the most pivotal positions on the field with the suspension of his former Clairton teammate Titus Howard.
Coles ran onto the field like he was chasing someone or being chased, clapping his hands and shouting, “All right, everyone’s here.”
Later, Coles sounded almost defiant when he told reporters that he can handle the important and difficult responsibilities at cornerback.
“I have to stay confident,” he said. “If you’re not confident, you aren’t playing right. I believe in myself. I believe in what I can do. I’m going to do it.”
The secondary will be an interesting topic of conversation all season, with so little depth behind starters Coles, Lafayette Pitts and safeties Ray Vinopal and Terrish Webb. But don’t forget about Shady Side Academy graduate Reggie Mitchell. (That’s four out of five from the WPIAL, by the way).
Coaches love Mitchell’s athleticism and versatility – he can play safety, corner and nickel – and he has made the transition from Wisconsin with little apparent trouble.
Speaking of noise, secondary coach Troy Douglas made a little when he implored his defensive backs to “Play the ball, please.”
Yeah, he said, `Please,’ but he wasn’t being polite.
Douglas has emphasized an all-out attack on the football – whether it’s in the air or in the arms of a running back.
“If we chase the ball, we have a chance on defense,” he said.
Coles agrees. “The ball is the issue,” he said. “That’s money floating around.”
One other exchange between player and coach caught my eye. That was when wide receivers coach Greg Lewis insisted that freshman Adonis Jennings pick up the football and run it into the end zone after a pass intended for him fell incomplete.
Lewis, who played eight seasons in the NFL, repeated the command three times to Jennings before the young man got the idea, found the ball that had bounded far out of his reach and, indeed, ran it across the goal line.
Trivial events? Maybe.
But Douglas and Lewis are teaching their players accountability and a refusal to look for shortcuts.
By the way, I’m no scout, but Jennings looks like a promising wide receiver in the swift, crisp manner he runs his routes and with his mere physical presence (6-3, 195). He’s going to contribute, perhaps, before any of the other freshmen.

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July 29, 2014
by Jerry DiPaola


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Some Pitt thoughts on the brink of training camp

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Random thoughts, with Pitt training camp opening Aug. 4:
* The Panthers look solid in terms of experience on the offensive line, but the player to watch is big tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith. Yes, he is glaringly inexperienced, but he is 6-foot-7, 335 pounds, with an incredible reach that must make weightlifting an adventure for him. Line coach Jim Hueber trusted Jones-Smith enough in the spring to give him most of the reps with the first team while Adam Bisnowaty recovered from a back injury. By all accounts, Bisnowaty is OK, but Jones-Smith, a redshirt freshman, gives Hueber a nice alternative in the event of injury or ineffective play (one of which will surface somewhere on the line at some time in camp).
* But, among the starters, the player to watch on the line is senior right tackle T.J. Clemmings. He struggled last season in his debut effort on offense after playing defense for his first three years at Pitt. But coaches are raving about him, he has become a leader among his teammates and coach Paul Chryst has great respect for the hard work he has put into his position switch. Clemmings was named one of three winners of the Ed Conway Award for the most improved offensive player in the spring. Keep an eye on Clemmings’ development.
* The other Ed Conway winners were two other seniors, defensive end David Durham and linebacker Todd Thomas (special teams). Both are keys to the defense this season. Durham plays a position where the Panthers are thin — that was the case even before Ejuan Price was lost for the season with a pec injury — and Thomas is eager to make an impact on the team in his final year of eligibility.
* The initial depth chart, released last week when Pitt passed out its media guides at the ACC meetings in Greensboro, N.C., shows only seven  seniors among the 25 first-team players. They are Clemmings, Durham, Thomas, wide receiver Manasseh Garner (who is developing into a respected presence in the locker room), right guard Matt Rotheram, outside linebacker Anthony Gonzalez and free safety Ray Vinopal. Of course, depth charts in July are rarely worth the paper they are printed on  (it is some nice, glossy stuff, though), but there are only four other seniors on the entire roster.  They are: running back Isaac Bennett (recovering from shoulder surgery), wide receiver Kevin Weatherspoon (one of Chryst’s favorites), fullback Adam Lazenga and defensive lineman LaQuentin Smith.
* Of the 11 seniors, nine are the last personnel remaining from the Dave Wannstedt era. The exceptions are Bennett and Smith, who were signed by Todd Graham in 2011.
* Actually, there are other key players — recruited and signed by Graham that year — who will be of immense help this season. They include three starters — center Artie Rowell, defensive tackle K.K. Mosley Smith and cornerback Lafayette Pitts. The others are listed backups Nicholas Grigsby at linebacker and Ronald Jones at wide receiver, plus defensive end Devin Cook and safety Jevonte Pitts.

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