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Pitt Spring Football Insider: Practice One

Aaron Donald and the Panthers opened spring drills.

Aaron Donald and the Panthers opened spring drills.

March 15, 2012

Spring Camp Insider

Pitt Spring Drills -- Day 1 Practice Notebook

Geared Up: Pitt opened its first set of spring drills under new coach Paul Chryst with an 8:45 a.m. practice on Thursday. Per NCAA guidelines, the Panthers donned helmets and shorts for the initial workout.

Under the Roof: With the threat of a morning lightning storm, the Panthers practiced indoors at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex.

Fantastic Finish: The final play of practice was a 70-yard bomb for a touchdown from senior quarterback Tino Sunseri to sophomore receiver Brendon Felder.

Active Duty: Brendon Felder is one of four players who enter active duty in 2012 after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. Felder originally signed with North Carolina. Other transfers who will be eligible this year are defensive backs Cullen Christian and Ray Vinopal (both Michigan transfers) and offensive tackle Tom Ricketts (Penn State).

"It felt good to finally be with the first team defense since I was on the scout team last year," said Christian, who was an all-state performer and U.S. Army Bowl All-American as a senior at Penn Hills High School in 2009. "I actually get a chance to compete now. You've got to have the mindset that you're going to get better and I used last season as a build-up year to learn the game and get ready for this season."


 

 

In the `House': Cullen Christian lauded his new secondary coach, Matt House, and his expectations. "It's been a really easy transition to our new coaches and I really like our secondary coach, Coach House. We're on the same page because he works hard and I work hard. He expects a lot from me."

Initial INT: The first defender to snare an interception during spring drills was K'Waun Williams. The junior cornerback is a potential All-Big East performer after collecting 64 tackles, six PBUs, three forced fumbles and a pick in 2011. 

QB Quotient: Pitt opened spring drills with six players at the quarterback position. In addition to Tino Sunseri, the Panthers other QBs include sophomores Mark Myers, Trey Anderson and Anthony Gonzalez, junior E.J. Banks and redshirt freshman Ron Vega.

"I'm excited to work with every one of them," quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger said. "One of the great things about coaching is seeing that light bulb go off in each of them at different times. Tino Sunseri is a guy who has been around football for a long time and has it in his blood. Each one of them is a joy to work with and it's just a matter of finding how to help make each one better. The better each one of them are the better the top guy is going to be and ultimately the better the team will be. I like our quarterback meeting room. We're going through this together."

Bullish on Bollinger: Brooks Bollinger joined Pitt as quarterbacks coach after spending eight years in professional football. Bollinger was a four-year starter at Wisconsin, leading the Badgers to three bowl victories. His new QB pupils appreciate his background.

"I couldn't tell you how happy I was when they announced him as the quarterbacks coach," Tino Sunseri said. "He's a guy that's actually played the position, stood back there, had people rush at him and be the guy to relay the message. Those kinds of guys understand what's going on and they understand what your mindset is."

Added Mark Myers, "I like that he's young and he can relate to us. I think that's going to help us out in the long run."

Chryst on the Quarterbacks: "It was typical of a lot of first days," Coach Paul Chryst said. "It's kind of like my golf game where you have one good shot and you think you're a golfer but there's enough things that you have to keep moving on. It looks like there was an understanding of what they're supposed to be doing. The quarterbacks are no different from anyone else. This is a general statement but there are enough good things to say let's build on that but a lot of little things that we have to clean up."

This is Familiar: Pitt is moving back to a pro-style system under Coach Paul Chryst. The familiarity has eased the players' transition. "The good thing about being in a system once is being able to relate back to what you did and be able to use the footwork and mechanics," Tino Sunseri said. "Obviously there are tweaks that you have to be able to make because there are different plays and different ways of being able to recognize things. Being able to talk to Coach Chryst and have that happy medium that you're able to execute is fun. You're out here and you're able to talk to him and he's behind you on every single rep making sure that he's going through the same mechanics you are of where your eyes are and where your feet are."

Visiting VIPs: Among the special guests at practice today were Woodland Hills coach George Novak, Carnegie Mellon University coach Rich Lackner and former Brashear coach Ron Wabby.

Injured but Able: Coach Paul Chryst said he appreciated how players who are limited due to injuries this spring are still looking to be active contributors. "Everyone wants to learn and I noticed with Ray Graham a couple times that he was really trying to be involved with practice. That's what you want with everyone in and trying to do all that they can to get better. It was also good to see Jarred Holley moving around a little bit and Mike Shanahan jumping in to help. That says something, too. They know there are opportunities and they want to do what they can to help and get ahead."

Next Up: Pitt will hold its second spring practice on Saturday, March 17.

 

Pitt Spring Football Media Quote Sheet 

Quoting Head Coach Paul Chryst

On the First Day:

“It was fun getting out here and working on football. I appreciate the guys and there was a lot of good energy. You could tell the guys had been working and we had a few plays that looked like football. It’s a starting point and you’re also glad you don’t have a game. I thought it was a good first day and a good start.”

On if expectations were met after the first spring ball practice:

“Really what I told the guys is that there’s enough to start with that we need to clean up and we just need to move forward from it. On the first day there should be energy and there was. Maybe some of it was nervous energy but it was day one of fifteen and I don’t think we wasted the day.”

On the message to the players after day one:

“That’s for the team only but really it was the same message as I said before and it was good stuff.” 

On the quarterbacks:
"It was typical of a lot of first days. It’s kind of like my golf game where you have one good shot and you think you're a golfer but there's enough things that you have to keep moving on. It looks like there was an understanding of what they're supposed to be doing. The quarterbacks are no different from anyone else. This is a general statement but there are enough good things to say let's build on that but a lot of little things that we have to clean up."

On the advantage of having limited injuries:

"Everyone wants to learn and I noticed with Ray Graham a couple times that he was really trying to be involved with practice. That's what you want with everyone in and trying to do all that they can to get better. It was also good to see Jarred Holley moving around a little bit and Mike Shanahan jumping in to help. That says something, too. They know there are opportunities and they want to do what they can to help and get ahead."

On Dan Mason attempting to return from a knee injury:

“I watched him a little bit. It’s good to see him move around and it’s early, but there’s a lot of respect and appreciation for what he’s doing. We have to be careful of getting outside of something we really aren’t experts on. (Head Trainer) Rob Blanc and Dan will do a good job of communicating. We have to trust that and then when he’s out there we’ll coach the heck out of him and let him go.”

Quoting Quarterbacks Coach Brooks Bollinger

On Today’s first spring ball practice:

“Today was really exciting after the time we’ve had talking about it and putting stuff in to get out here to be able to work, run around and throw the ball. The spring is about building a foundation and it is for each one of these guys so in each rep were learning.  They did a great job today and they have been like sponges and communicating great. It’s been a lot of fun and obviously I haven’t been here very long so in some ways we’re going through it together.”

On adjusting to the mechanics and fundamentals of Coach Chryst’s system:

“Not only is it the first day of spring but also it’s the first day of spring in a brand new offense for each and every one of these guys. Each one is a learning thing and the important thing is not that we missed a thing here and there but the important thing is that it doesn’t happen again. We learn from it. Sometimes it’s the route, sometimes it’s the quarterback’s drop, sometimes it’s just a bad throw and sometimes the defense makes a good play but the important thing is we eliminate as many of those things we can control at the quarterback position.  They did a great job today and they came out here and did exactly what I asked of them. The biggest thing is we’re willing to learn and be coachable and communicate about what they saw and what we need to do better.”

On working individually with the quarterbacks:

“I’m excited to work with every one of them. One of the great things about coaching is seeing that light bulb go off in each of them at different times. Tino Sunseri is a guy who has been around football for a long time and has it in his blood. Each one of them is a joy to work with and it’s just a matter of finding how to help make each one better. The better each one of them are the better the top guy is going to be and ultimately the better the team will be.”

On Tino Sunseri:

“He’s been a quarterback, he is a quarterback and he has done it his whole life. I can’t really speak too much of it right now because it’s been such a short period of time. I’ve had plenty to learn but I like the room right now with the quarterbacks and that’s about the only place I’m at right now.”

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