Pitt spring drills are nearly at an end.
The Panthers went through their 13th of 15 practices Tuesday, and all that remains are a lighter workout Thursday at the South Side complex and the spring game 7 p.m. Friday at Bethel Park High School. The annual intra-squad scrimmage will be shown live on your computer on ESPN3.
Defensive coordinator Matt House was asked what he knows about his unit now that he didn’t know before the first practice in early March.
When he said, “I think we know that a lot of kids like football,” I didn’t think much of it.
But coach Paul Chryst repeated the same theme a few minutes later — after not hearing House’s response.
“They seem to be enjoying it more,” Chryst said after a hard-hitting, nearly three-hour practice on the outdoor fields.
I get the feeling players are turning the last pages of a sad novel. Finally, they are putting the Wannstedt, Haywood and Graham fiascos behind them and starting a new chapter of Pitt football.
No more easy excuses about a coach bailing on them.
No more complaints about learning a new system every year.
No more turnover in the coaching staff.
All those things were real and factors in the 6-7 records of 2011 and 2012 that included poor efforts in season-ending bowl games. But they no longer matter.
Pitt’s players seem to be enjoying themselves at practice. Whether it translates into victories is another story.
The record might be the same this season, considering the degree of difficulty in the schedule (Florida State, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Miami) and the inexperience on offense.
But if this team goes down, it will go down with a good attitude and hope for better days.
– Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph agreed that they would like to continue practicing, with the players finally starting to understand their assignments.
When told that Rudolph said he wanted 15 more practices, Chryst said, “Joe is kind of optimistic. I could go for 30 more.”
“That’s the tough thing about spring. When you feel like you are getting close, you have to stop.” Chryst knows there’s a lot of work ahead before practices resume in August.
“We have a long summer,” Chryst said. “We have to really make a lot of hay in the summer time.” Of course, those drills are players-only, but everyone connected with college football insists that the time between spring and summer practices are when teams start to bond.
– Perhaps the hardest hit of the spring was delivered Tuesday by cornerback K’Waun Williams on wide receiver Ronald Jones, who didn’t see the defender coming toward him as he tried to make a catch across the middle. Jones was on the ground for several minutes and looked groggy while slowly getting to his feet.
It was a legal hit — Williams used his shoulder — but the senior cornerback apologized later.
“It’s my teammate. It’s my boy. I didn’t mean to do that,” Williams told reporters. “It won’t happen again.”
Williams admitted it’s difficult to tone down the intensity in practice, but he still said he was wrong.
“I know coach preaches protecting our players,” he said. “It was a bone-headed mistake by me.”
Chryst acknowledged that practices need to be physical, but with limits.
“Guys need to understand we need everyone,” he said. “(That was) a great example: We’re not there yet. We are not understanding those things. You don’t like seeing that.”
– Tom Savage has been wearing a tiny camera on his helmet to give the quarterbacks and coaches a unique look at pass routes and the defense.
“It’s pretty cool,” Savage said. “You get to see where your eyes are. You can’t lie to the coach anymore about where your eyes were.”
It also can reveal information some players may want to keep to themselves.
“One thing they saw is I was out of shape,” Savage said. “They heard me breathing real heavy out there.”
– House had high praise for backup outside linebacker Ejuan Price, who played extensively two years ago as a freshman and took a medical redshirt last season.
“He’s a guy who likes to run, he likes to play, he likes to tackle, so we can find a place for him,” House said.
Price will get plenty of action in long-yardage, specialty defenses.
– Backup linebacker Deaysean Rippy was excused from practice to work on academics, Chryst said.
– Backup center Artie Rowell had his right foot in a boot, and the coach he didn’t know if Rowell would play Friday.
– Backup quarterback Tra Chapman had a high fever and did not practice.