Pitt strapped on the pads Sunday morning for the first time this spring, with mixed results.
Coach Paul Chyrst tried to set a tone by scheduling 11-on-11 drills within the first 15 minutes. At times, you could hear shoulder pads crack, but coaches, predictably, weren’t satisfied.
Early on, Chryst stopped practice to call the team together for a lecture, threatening to extend their time together, if necessary.
Later, when defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield was asked about the lack of energy, he didn’t try to wriggle out of an honest answer, indicating he wanted to see more intensity.
“If I got a chance to put the pads on today, shoot, I’d be jacked up,” said Breckterfield, a former Oregon State defensive end.
“But it is what it is. We’ll take from it. We’ll learn from it, and, hopefully, the next practice, the guys will come out to play.”
He didn’t sound concerned. After all, it was only the third practice of 15 this spring.
But Breckterfield appears to be the type of coach who will attempt to wring every ounce of effort from his players.
One of his most important projects is defensive end T.J. Clemmings, a big-time recruit coming out of Teaneck, N.J., in 2010. Clemmings, 6-foot-6, 295 pounds, mostly faded into the background in his first two seasons at Pitt, but he has a chance to establish himself as a starter this season.
“We have him over the tight end,” Breckterfield said. “That’s a coveted job. You’re a tight end killer. That should be your job. It’s about him getting nasty and knocking that guy back and owning that block.
“He is very athletic. I just have to get him nastier.”
Asked how he can accomplish that, Breckterfield said, “Coach him hard. I am going to coach them hard. They brought me to coach them hard and get these guys moving.”
It hasn’t taken Breckterfield long to realize that defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the best player on the line.
“Right now, he is the benchmark that the rest of the guys have to catch up to,” Breckterfield said. “I have told them that, flat-out. I said, `Aaron Donald is setting the pace and you have to catch up.’ I told Aaron Donald, you can’t slow down because they are trying to catch you. I am real excited about him.”
The rest of the line includes redshirt sophomore end Bryan Murphy, who had an outstanding spring last year before sitting out the season with academic difficulties, former linebacker LaQuentin Smith and defensive tackle K.K. Mosley-Smith of Woodland Hills.
Mosley-Smith, 6-foot, 295, is also attracting a lot of attention from coaches.
“He is playing hard,” Breckterfield said. “There are little things to clean up with him, but the effort is there. But he has to get in better shape. It shows on film. He knows that. It’s no secret.
“He’s got to get in shape because we are going to be a running defense. I expect my guys to fly and run to the ball.”
Also, don’t count out Steel Valley’s Tyrone Ezell, a 6-4, 295-pound junior who drew a lot of praise from former coach Todd Graham last spring, but played in only six games in the fall.
It was a good day for Penn Hills’ Cullen Christian, a sophomore transfer from Michigan looking to replace Antwuan Reed at cornerback. Christian intercepted a pass and broke up another on consecutive plays in 7-on-7 drills.
Several recruits visited practices Saturday and Sunday, the most important being Seton-La Salle tight end Scott Orndoff, who became Pitt’s first 2013 commitment. Others included Belle Vernon offensive lineman Dorian Johnson, quarterbacks Chavas Rawlins of Monessen, Jordan Brown of Seneca Valley and Chandler Kincade of Blackhawk (a 2014 commit) and Clairton wide receiver Tyler Boyd, who watched the proceedings with his high school teammate Trenton Coles, a 2012 Pitt commit at defensive back. Such a star-studded group of visitors is a good sign, and getting Orndoff is a big deal. Pitt didn’t get its first recruit last year until June.