Todd Graham stopped practice Wednesday to admonish his players for incessant use of profanity.
“If I hear the (F-word) one more time, you are going to go to the sideline and run for the rest of practice,” he said.
“That doesn’t do you any good. That doesn’t speak well of your character.”
After that, the harshest sound heard at practice was the occasional train rumbling through the South Side.
Graham has captured the attention of his players, insisting on complete focus and discipline. Even to the point of banning players from using their Twitter accounts during camp.
For the most part, players have responded well to Graham’s demands. In the end, the team will benefit in the win/loss columns.
One of my favorite Graham comments is this one: Kids will rise to whatever expectations you set for them.
I could not agree more.
MASON MAKES A PLAY
Sophomore linebacker Dan Mason continues to take small strides toward recovery from a horrific knee injury, although most observers believe he won’t play this season.
Mason showed some quickness, bursting through a hole in the backup offensive line to tackle freshman running back Corey Davis.
The play earned Mason a high-five from defensive coordinator Keith Patterson, who immediately sent him to the sideline to protect the knee from possible trauma.
“If anyone can come back from that injury, it’s Dan Mason,” Patterson told me the other day.
TY ON THE FLY
Nothing got the enthusiasm flowing more than nose tackle Tyrone Ezell’s interception of an errant Trey Anderson pass and return for a touchdown during 11-on-11 drills. Ezell was mobbed by his teammates like the play decided a national championship.
Ezell, a redshirt sophomore, won’t take senior Myles Caragein’s starting job, but coaches will find a way to get him on the field.
Ezell, K.K. Mosley Smith and Aaron Donald – products of Steel Valley, Woodland Hills and Penn Hills – can shuffle between nose tackle and end. All six players, including starters Caragein, Chas Alecxih and Justin Hargrove, will get plenty of playing time.
By the way, Graham is convinced that Ezell is a look-alike for George Foreman. Sorry, Todd. Tyrone looks meaner than the heavyweight champ.
ONE OF GEORGE’S GUYS
Another Woodland Hills product, freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts, returned an interception for a touchdown during a separate 11-on-11 drill. If he continues to progress, Pitts will be one of the first cornerbacks off the bench this season.
Pitts is one of three Woodland Hills products having outstanding camps, joining defensive lineman K.K. Mosley-Smith and outside linebacker Juan Price.
That’s not surprising. They learned at the knee of one of the greats, coach George Novak. No one in the WPIAL runs a better program than Novak.
OVERALL, NOT A GREAT DAY
Graham wasn’t especially happy about practice Wednesday, the first day the players wore shoulder pads.
“Naturally, with the pads on, it was a little sluggish, a little tentative today,” he said.
They will put on the big-boy pads Friday.
Graham’s intensity meter – a gauge in his head that he uses to grade how hard and how well the team works at practice — reached only 80 percent, something that doesn’t please him.
“That will get you about eight wins,” he said.
Isn’t that the number of wins that got Dave Wannstedt fired last season?
Graham grudgingly called Wednesday “an OK-to-good day.”
“We have to pick it up.”
If you ask me, one of the big changes from last season is Tino Sunseri’s arm strength.
Sunseri is the unquestioned leader of this team, often taking players aside for encouragement and teaching moments. But his best leadership emerged in the offseason weight room workouts where he showed teammates how to get better by working every day at getting stronger.
“His ball’s got a lot more velocity,” Graham said. “His timing throws are looking really good.”
Also, freshman walkon Trey Anderson gets daily praise from Graham.
“That walkon, that sucker, he has made some throws. He has done a really good job.”
Just think about this: Anderson was ready to go to a junior college before quarterbacks coach Todd Dodge lured him to Pittsburgh.
RUN GAME NEEDS WORK
Graham was not happy with the running game, but he said his offense can adapt.
“Some games, if (the opposing team) takes away the run, we are going to throw the ball 55 times.”
STREET GETS THE WORD
The challenge went out to wide receiver Devin Street, straight from the mouth of the head coach.
He needs to get better.
“I challenged Devin,” Graham said. “I think Devin is very inconsistent for his abilities. He can be one of the prolific (wide receivers) in the country, but you have to bring it every day. Our system is a timing system. If you don’t run full speed on every route, it throws the timing off.”
Graham did praise Street for his response to coaches’ critiques.
“He is faster, stronger and he expects more out of himself.”
Street caught 25 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns last season, even though he made only four starts.
Street and Mike Shanahan will start, with Cam Saddler probably joining them in three-wide packages. When Pitt goes to four or five wides, look for a couple of newcomers — freshman Darius Patton and JC transfer Josh Brinson — battling for playing time.
And don’t forget redshirt freshman Salath Williams.
NO SNAP DECISIONS
For one of the few times in the three days that opened camp, left guard Chris Jacobson got some snaps at center. Coaches are hoping redshirt junior Ryan Turnley – a great shotgun snapper – can run-block well enough to earn the job, but there is some question.
“We are hoping he will step up and be a heckuva center,” Graham said. “But you have to get more physical than what I have seen the first couple days.”
But in Turnley’s defense, coaches won’t truly evaluate him until the team practices in full pads.
Graham said his offense is based on power, not finesse, and that puts a lot of pressure on the blockers to show toughness.
“Power is our base gap scheme game,” he said. “You have to be able to be physical.”