Spring football started at Pitt on Thursday, only a little more than two months after the last game of the 2011 season and less than 15 weeks after Todd Graham coached his last game for the Panthers.
I guess the thing that struck me more than anything is the great number of coaches – not just head coaches – who have rolled in and out of this program since December, 2010, and how difficult it must be for the players to keep their messages straight.
But collegiate athletes are more resilient than some older adults, and the transition(s) eventually should work out OK.
There are coaches on Paul Chryst’s staff that carry and express themselves in such a way that they will command respect from their players just by their very presence.
Offensive line coach Jim Hueber, 63, who coached with the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin on the Minnesota Vikings, is one of them. Another is defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, 55, a veteran of 30 seasons and 11 college programs.
Both were vocal, but instructive, during the 2 ½-hour practice.
Secondary coach Matt House, 33, sprints faster toward a player he wants to admonish than some defensive players run to the football. I don’t think he ever will have a problem getting a player’s attention.
Chryst walks from station to station – he did spend a lot of time with the quarterbacks – stopping to watch, occasionally correcting and offering an extra set of eyes. The best word I can use to describe him after one day: Patient.
At Pitt, that’s a good trait for a coach to have.
A couple more observations:
Defensive end T.J. Clemmings, who was the No. 1-rated player in New Jersey coming out of Paterson High School in 2010, looks at home in Huxtable’s 4-3 defense at 6-foot-6, 295 pounds. He was redshirted last season.
Cullen Christian, a Penn Hills graduate and Michigan transfer, looks the part of a cornerback at 6-foot, 190 pounds. And there’s a starting job open after Antwuan Reed exhausted his eligibility.
Running back Ray Graham, who is a long way from practicing after knee surgery last season, wore his helmet to practice, even though he did little more than watch and offer verbal help to teammates. “I noticed Ray a couple times really trying to be involved,” Chyrst said.
Chryst also liked what he saw of safety Jarred Holley (knee) and wide receiver Mike Shanahan (back), who are limited, but still doing on-field work.
No promises, but linebacker Dan Mason — still fighting his way back from a knee injury suffered early in the ’10 season –actually looked mobile. “It’s good to see him moving around,” Chryst said. “It’s early, but I have a lot of respect and appreciation for what he’s doing. We have to be careful of getting outside of something we aren’t experts on, too.”
Woodland Hills graduate Ejuan Price has moved to inside linebacker at 6-foot, 235 pounds. The previous coaching staff saw him as Pitt’s next great edge pass rusher, but the move inside may make him a more complete player.
Speaking of Woodland Hills, it was good to say hello to coach George Novak, who watched practice, along with former Brashear coach Ron Wabby. Both men were greeted warmly by Chryst.
Also seen at practice: Wide receiver Cam Saddler’s dad Champ, who has been a regular at most spring and summer practices since 2008. And he was on time, even though he was out late the night before, watching Gateway lose to Shaler in the state basketball playoffs.
Finally, you’ll never hear quarterback Tino Sunseri say an ill word about the previous staff, even though he was miscast in a spread and Graham often tried to place many of Pitt’s problems at his feet. In fact, Sunseri has said he would be happy to work in any offense because the variety eventually would make him a better quarterback. But he did add, “I am not worried about last year. I am just focused on this year.” The son of a coach, Sunseri knows what it takes to get better. “Tino is a guy who has been around football for a long time,” quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger said. “He has it in his blood.”