Hard to believe the work up to football season is coming quickly. Conference media days in less than two weeks. School media days. The flurry of before the beginning of training camp articles. The insane parsing of the meaning of every padless practice. Good times coming soon.
At the ACC media days, Pitt will send Tyler Boyd and Ray Vinopal as the player reps. It’s been quite a while since Pitt sent a non-senior to media days.
The majority of the tabs for football are player focus pieces. Time to blow through them.
Chad Voytik Q&A hits on him spending his summer working mostly on footwork and building a rapport with his receivers.
Going back to when you first signed with Pitt: Why was it important to you to stick with Pitt after the guy who recruited you left? What stood out about Coach Chryst?
CV: The reason I stayed, I think honestly, is because I had already built relationships here. I was already committed for such a long time and I already felt locked in. Yeah, I could’ve de-committed, but to a certain degree, it wouldn’t have been productive for me. I liked everything about Pittsburgh and I liked the people. Coach Chryst being the man that he was, I could tell his honesty, how different he was from the past regime and stuff. So it was just the right thing to do, I felt. He laid out a nice plan, and you just knew from the time he walked in here that he wanted to change things. And it wasn’t the same pep talk that every coach comes in with, like ready to change the whole program. He was willing to change it from the inside out, he did it the right way and I think we all saw that.
Voytik is part of the whole crop of young players expected not simply to be the face of the team, but to be the leaders.
In each of his three seasons as Pitt head coach, Paul Chryst has assigned his players a summer book report to do in the months between spring practice and fall training camp.
This year, that book was the inspirational “Today Matters” by John C. Maxwell.
As part of the project, players are randomly asked to give their interpretation of that week’s assigned chapters.
Earlier this summer, the first group was four players — wide receiver Tyler Boyd, running back James Conner, quarterback Chad Voytik and safety Ray Vinopal — who figure to be prominent leaders of the 2014 Panthers.
“Being about it and not talking about it,” Conner said. “Every year we talk about winning games and doing big things, winning championships and stuff. Like I said, I think we have enough talent in the room at every position to do that and accomplish big things.”
Conner acknowledged that he and Boyd are ready to assume more of a leadership role this season, despite having only one year of collegiate experience apiece.
Boyd is tired of talk.
Boyd said talk has meant nothing at Pitt in recent years.
“That’s pretty much what Pitt has been about for the past two years: Everybody talking like we are going to do something,” he said. “Win this, win that, but you have to prove it.
“If you think you are going to win 10 games and win the ACC championship, let’s do it. Let’s not talk about it.”
Honestly, the talk the past two years has been about the chaos and the program in a holding pattern from coaching changes to conference shifting. But, he has the talking part down about the years before that.
Back to James Conner, the questions aren’t going away about whether he will play some at defensive end or even make a full position change. From the perspective of long-term goals of making the NFL and having a career of some length, there is no question that DE is the way to go with the way the NFL uses and still chews up running backs. The issue, though, is at Pitt. Which side of the ball does he help the team more?
Hell of a story on incoming freshman Patrick Amara. No excerpt. Just read the whole thing.
Finally the secondary. There is no question that was a surprising weak spot last year. Mainly because the style of play didn’t work to the strengths of the corners, especially Lafayette Pitts.
Pitts likes nothing more than abruptly throwing receivers off their designed paths. Subtle is not his style.
The new scheme involves cornerbacks getting into the face of the wide receivers as soon as they jump off the line of scrimmage.
“I like press,” Pitts said, “because the receiver knows he has to deal with you at the beginning of the play.”
There’s more to good secondary play, however, than trying to intimidate receivers. Pitts admits he’s more focused this year, watching more film and playing “with a chip on my shoulder because I didn’t have the season I wanted to last year, individually.”
Specifically, he played 13 games without an interception.
Pitts, a Woodland Hills graduate, also said he is “taking coaching better.” Douglas, hired this year as the first full-time coach on Paul Chryst’s staff to focus solely on defensive backs, emphasizes attacking the football to create turnovers. The Panthers intercepted only eight of 386 opponent pass attempts last season.
“I’ve got to get him to play with his eyes better,” Douglas said of Pitts. “He has so much talent. The young man can run.”
And don’t forget that attitude.
“He’s got some swagger to him, no doubt,” Douglas said. “You have to have that, and a short memory, too.”
Bringing in Douglas to coach the secondary was probably the best hire for Pitt this offseason. They need a coach who can push the aggressiveness. The passive approach sure wasn’t working.
The Panthers want their players to be more aggressive, something that was missing for much of 2013. Pitt had its moments, but its secondary seemed to play off receivers all too frequently. The result? Pitt allowed 7.4 yards per completion, tied for second-worst in the ACC. The Panthers also gave up 20 passing touchdowns, one of five ACC schools to give up 20 or more through the air.
But here is the stat that really stands out: Pitt had eight interceptions, worst in the ACC and tied for No. 98 in the country. The Panthers recorded an interception once in every 48 pass attempts.