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March 30, 2012

Pitt Blather began back in 2003. You know the one consistent thing on this blog in relation to the football team? The one thing that has carried over regardless of who was the coach?

Being worried about the O-line. Even in years where the O-line was pretty good, there were always major questions going into the season. Some things never change, no matter how much we wish otherwise.

The makeup of the offensive line remains constant — tackles Juantez Hollins and Matt Rotheram, guards Cory King and Ryan Schlieper and center Ryan Turnley — but progress is slow.

“It’s nowhere close to where we want to be,” coach Paul Chryst said. “At any of these practices, you can pick out clips and say we’re starting to get it and then others where you can say, ‘Boy, guys, this isn’t very good.’ That is kind of typical of this time of year.”

Chryst said sixth-year senior guard Chris Jacobson is progressing well in his rehabilitation from knee surgery and could return to practice this summer.

“Certainly we will be a better team with him,” Chryst said.

And when the QB position is this shaky, it just makes it hard to be sure any style of offense will be productive at the moment.

The beat writers didn’t have too much to say about the offense otherwise. Both focused their stories on defensive ends. DiPaola on T.J. Clemmings  finding his beast.

Pitt defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield is on a hunting trip, and the prey is what’s inside redshirt sophomore end T.J. Clemmings.

“I’m just trying to help him find that inner animal,” Breckterfield said.

Clemmings, the No. 2 prospect in New Jersey according to when he left high school in 2010, has vaulted onto Pitt’s first-team defense, forming half of a defensive end pair with Bryan Murphy, New Jersey’s No. 3 player that year.

Pitt is counting on Clemmings’ size and athleticism to counteract his friendly disposition and turn him into a impact player.

“He just has to realize he is a 6-foot-5, 285-pound dude,” said Breckterfield, whose goal this spring is to bring out the nastiness of his players. “I just have to get him to realize that and realize his potential and how strong he is, and it will translate (on the field).”

/picturing Apollo Creed training Rocky to find his “Eye of the Tiger“.

And Paul Zeise hits on the other side with Bryan Murphy trying to be healthy and keeping his academics in order.

“Last year gave me a lot of time to recover and a lot of time to think and mature,” said Murphy, who sat out the 2011 season because he was academically ineligible. “I was just craving to get back on the field so it feels really good to get back out there. I am always a football player and always will be a football player.

“I just focused on getting what I need to get done [when he was off] and I got it all done and didn’t wait for it to happen. It was also a chance for me to heal up all my old injuries. So it was good.”

Murphy used the time off to heal some injuries that he had from his freshman season in 2010 when he played in six games and lettered. Murphy missed the first six games of that season with a fractured foot and also had some other nagging injuries to clear up, but he entered this spring completely healthy and ready to go.

Although Murphy, who consistently has lined up with the first-team defense in spring drills, is back on the football field, the best part of the story has nothing to do with football.

“I made scholar-athlete last semester, so I’m back on track,” Murphy said with a smile.

Both are in line to be starters. But with this coaching staff, they are guaranteeing nothing right now.

The official coaching staff line is that every position is still open. That may not be true in reality for at least some spots, it does seem that most of the 2-deep is being written in pencil. For those that consider open competitions vital for team chemistry and getting more from players *cough* Reed *cough*, this is a very positive aspect about the Chryst regime.

Zeise’s blog post on practice is all on the defense. K’Wuan Williams is having “minor” knee surgery and will miss the rest of spring practices. He is expected to be ready for training camp, though, so the upside is letting other players get to play corner with the first team.

I think what I see when I look at Lafayette Pitts, Cullen Christian and Lloyd Carrington is three guys with a lot of athleticism and a lot of ability who all need a lot of work because they just don’t have much experience. Keep in mind the corners will be asked to do a lot more this year in terms of actual coverage because they will play a lot more man than in the past so it is going to be important for two, if not all three, of these guys to really get ready to play. Matt House, the secondary coach, said he likes all of the six corners in the group and he thinks they all have the ability to play. But he acknowledged that because of their inexperience they are still in the learning curve.

In general, the secondary is shaping up to be the deepest and strongest part of the team. Especially at safety.

Coach Chryst gets the puffer for being a “breath of fresh air” for the team and the way he runs things during spring practices.

The Paul Chryst era has barely begun at Pitt, but the biggest change is already easy to see and hear.

In practices last year under Todd Graham, it was the coaches doing the barking and whistle-blowing, like drill sergeants. All stressing to rush between plays. Sprint to the line of scrimmage. Shout and blow whistles. Call the next signal. Snap the ball. Get rid of it in a half-second. More shouting. More whistles. Sprint to the next drill station.

Instead, just look at what’s happening around Chryst.

On this day, it was the players most vocally engaged in full-contact scrimmages. They challenged, admonished, even shoved each other to make points. They tackled as if it were late November in Morgantown.

Last year it was how Graham was changing the culture. The discipline off the field. How the speed of the practice, while ragged would help them during the season with a no-huddle look. So, it all sounds and reads great, but at the same time remember this is the honeymoon period.

It is worth noting how much happier the beat writers and media in general are this spring. It doesn’t have as much to do with the BS of FraudGraham as you might think. It has to do with access. Graham closed practices last year. It made their jobs harder and provided a lot less content. Here’s what I wrote last year about it.

This despite the lockdown of information — beyond what the coaches are willing to release. I disagree with the philosophy — and not just because it starves the media and this site a bit. It creates a situation that puts all the pressure on the team to win.

When you win, fans don’t care about the closed practices. The lack of information and/or controls on what is happening. It’s the Bill Parcells/Bill Belicheck/Nick Saban style.

But when the team loses, the fans start clamoring to know what’s going on. The media, already facing constant criticism from one side because they don’t have any real info to share because of the control, start releasing some of the simmering annoyances and frustrations with the controls of information.

Generally those are long-term problems, but considering the stumbles of the team last year, you could see a fair amount of annoyance from the media towards FraudGraham quickly occurring.

Chryst is not the most media friendly guy. He doesn’t have good sound bites. He can be very dry. He can look completely constipated when talking on camera. But he is smart enough to understand that by giving the media more access to what is happening in the practice. By loosening the restraints, he creates a lot more goodwill.

Remember, this is not the NFL. There are not league rules dictating access, interviews and all the other media stuff. Each school. Each coach can set his own rules for access and information. The program has a lot more control.

I can’t wait for the 10 year anniversary post!

Well, actually, I can.

Comment by Lee in Altoona 03.30.12 @ 11:58 am

“Competition, we don’t need no stinking competition!”

Comment by Reed 03.30.12 @ 12:44 pm

Did you notice that coach seemed to be wearing the old Pitt colors? (Or is my computer screen going bad?)

Comment by Palm Beach Panther 03.30.12 @ 1:52 pm

How is myers looking.

Comment by Frankcan 03.30.12 @ 4:05 pm

Frankcan – here is a link to a Blather article I posted back on Wednesday morning. I talk about the QBs and then in the comments we discuss Myers some more.

link to

Bottom line: He’s not setting the world on fire by any means. IMO Sunseri will have the starting job going into training camp.

Comment by Reed 03.30.12 @ 5:36 pm

Saying, at least the defense looks good,………… is like saying that you’re the better looking, of Cinderella’s two ugly step sisters.

Comment by Justinian 03.30.12 @ 5:48 pm

Based on the blog posts on all the sites, this could be a really dismal year. This ain’t the ’70’s when you could win with a good defense and a decent running game. Let me see . . no QB, WRs that can’t catch and an OL that can’t pass block. That sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Comment by Taxing Matters 03.30.12 @ 6:30 pm

Reed, very disheartening to hear you say Tino likely the starter again this year. Myers was clearly then over hyped by college scouts in his senior year, ala Pat Bostick, or he isn’t catching on to Pitt’s deal…constantly changing though it is.

Given your view, I would shift serious attention to Voytik or Ronald Jones, because no reasonable person would willingly go through what we all have gone thru these past two seasons again with Tino…I’m not an alarmist but in extreme cases, change for the sake of change really is a good thing…one can only tolerate so much pain.

Comment by Matt N. 03.30.12 @ 7:08 pm

The problem with Tino is what you see (in training camps, practices, comprehension, etc.) is not what you get (in the game). I can easily see the coaching staff picking him as the starter – it’s almost a no brainer. Oh well.

Comment by 66Goat 03.30.12 @ 8:12 pm

Ronald Jones may be gone. Can’t remember why exactly or where I saw it, but it was a little snippet in either the PG or Trib.

Comment by Digdug 03.30.12 @ 11:46 pm

Matt – I’ll post another article today discussing the two principal QB.

DigDug, unless that happened in the last two days Jones is still on the team and still getting offensive reps as a receiver. He made some nice plays on Tuesday. Here is a quote posted up on Wednesday bu the PITT SID about Jones:

“Ronald’s Passing Fancy: If Ronald Jones hung up his shoulder pads today, he would finish with a Pitt career passer rating higher than Dan Marino, Alex Van Pelt, Rod Rutherford and Tyler Palko.

A wide receiver by day, Jones moonlighted as a quarterback in gadget play situations last year. He was 3-for-3 passing with touchdown strikes of 30 and 14 yards, giving him an astronomical pass efficiency rating of 462.80.

Jones came to Pitt in 2011 with a QB background. At Florida’s Fort Meade High, he was 21-3 as a starting signal caller and earned all-state accolades. The 5-foot-8 dynamo also was a standout in basketball and track.

He transferred that athleticism to receiver last year, catching 17 passes for 143 yards. He additionally was the Panthers’ top punt returner, averaging 6.6 yards per return, and rushed 14 times for 67 yards.

“My experience as a quarterback in high school definitely helps me as a receiver,” Jones said. “It helps me identify coverages faster and have an understanding of what everyone on the field is doing.”

Entering his sophomore year, Jones is focused on refining his skills as a pass catcher and route runner. His new positional coach, Bobby Engram, has been a big asset in that regard.

“He’s a great guy and a great coach,” Jones said. “I’ve really liked working with him.”

Comment by Reed 03.31.12 @ 6:03 am

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