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March 18, 2012

Spring Camp Insider (Interviews, Photo Galleries and More)

Pitt Spring Drills -- Day 3 Practice Notebook & Quote Sheet

Full Pads: Coach Paul Chryst held a Sunday morning workout at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex. The Panthers donned full gear for the two-hour, 15-minute practice. Pitt wore shorts and helmets the opening two practices.

Setting the Tone: Just 15 minutes into practice, Paul Chryst put the Panthers into 11-on-11 drills. It was offense vs. defense in a best-of-five competition based on first downs. Following each sequence, the losing team had to do 10 "up downs."

"Everything is about competition, whether it's competing with yourself or competing against someone else," Chryst said. "Each time there's a winner and a loser. If you won, what did you do well? And if they gave you a chance to win and you didn't then what can you do better to give yourself a chance?"

Playing and Coaching with Passion: One of the most energetic assistants this spring has been defensive line coach Inoke (pronounced ee-NO-kay) Breckterfield. The former Oregon State All-America defensive end approaches coaching like he used to play - passionate, tough and full of enthusiasm.  

Breckterfield has not been shy about high standards for his group. "I think collectively as a unit we just have to play with more fire," Breckterfield said. "It starts up front on defense. I'm trying to drive home the fact that it starts with us."

The D-Line's Pace Car: A spring standout on the defensive line has been junior tackle Aaron Donald, who was an All-Big East pick last year after collecting 11 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. He has continued that form into this spring and his new positional coach has noticed. 

"Right now he's the benchmark that the rest of the guys have to catch up to," Inoke Breckterfield said. "I've told them that flat-out. I said, `Aaron Donald is setting the pace, you need to catch up.' And I told Aaron Donald, `You can't slow down because they're trying to catch you.' He's the benchmark right now of the way we'll play up front."

More Breckterfield: As a defensive end at Oregon State, Inoke Breckterfield was voted the Pac-10's Defensive Lineman of the Year by a vote of the league's offensive linemen. In discussing sophomore T.J. Clemmings, who is coming off a redshirt, Breckterfield illustrated what he wants out of his ends.

"We've got him (Clemmings) over the tight end and that's a coveted job," Breckterfield said. "You're a tight end killer and that should be your job. It's about him getting nasty and knocking that guy back and owning that block. We're working with him on that but T.J.'s very athletic. I just have to get him nastier. I'm going to coach him hard."

Christian Making Plays: Working at cornerback, sophomore Cullen Christian made a pair of impressive back-to-back plays on Sunday. First, Christian perfectly positioned himself to make an interception during 7-on-7 drills. On the next snap, he went up high with receiver Salath Williams on a deep route to break up the pass. A Penn Hills product, Christian is in his first season of eligibility following a 2011 transfer from Michigan.

Hooray for Ray: Sophomore Ray Vinopal is another 2011 Michigan transfer looking to make an impact in the secondary this year. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, and an all-state performer at perennial power Cardinal Mooney High, Vinopal is working at safety this spring. "I saw a guy who loves football," secondary coach Matt House said. "That's one of the most important keys to have."

Vinopal was excited about the first day of contact drills. "It's always an awesome feeling going out and knocking some heads around for the first day," Vinopal said. "Last year I played on the scout team and didn't get to go full speed as much and it was awesome just to cut loose today for the first time in a while."

Seeking Punting Perfection: If the final half of the 2011 season is any indication, junior punter Matt Yoklic could be poised for an all-star year. After some early inconsistency, Yoklic finished his first year as Pitt's starting punter in strong fashion. He averaged 41.2 yards per punt, the second highest in the Big East.

Despite his success last season, the Pine-Richland product is laser-focused on improvement this spring. "Fundamentals and technique are incredibly important," Yoklic said. "You have to work on those every day. Also, we've changed our punt scheme this year where we'll be doing more directional punting. I've been working on my angle punting to the sidelines so our gunners can make plays."

Just for Kicks: Pitt also returns its starting placekicker, Kevin Harper. The senior led Pitt in scoring last year (95 points) and ranked 11th nationally in field goals made per game (1.62 avg.).

 "We don't do a lot of overall special teams work during the spring so it's more of a time for me to focus on technique," Harper said. "It's like working on your golf swing - you want to be the same every time and strike the ball squarely. Just like golf, the mental side is just as important as the physical."

Asked what kind of golfer he is, Harper replied, "Horrible. But once I'm done playing football I'll have more time to work on my game."

Visiting VIPs: Among the special guests at practice today were two incoming freshmen defensive backs, Deaysean Rippy (Sto-Rox) and Trenton Coles (Clairton), and former Pitt tailback Zach Brown, who played under Paul Chryst while at Wisconsin from 2007-10. The Panthers also welcomed five area high school head coaches to practice: Pat Monroe (South Allegheny), Tom Nola (Clairton), Andy Pacak (Monessen), Bob Palko (West Allegheny) and Joe Rossi (South Fayette).

Next Up: Pitt will hold its fourth spring practice on Tuesday, March 20.


Pitt Spring Football Media Quote Sheet 

Quoting Head Coach Paul Chryst

Observations on today's practice:

"Our first day in pads. There was some good and a lot of stuff we've got to clean up.  You try to take the first two days in helmets and things that you teach in individual techniques and see if you can carry them over to real situations."

On what needs to be improved after three practices:

"Everything.  We need to clean up everything and we've got to keep maximizing each opportunity."

On whether he loses patience over fumbled center-quarterback exchanges:

"No, but they were ugly though, weren't they? You've got no chance. You've got to prevent beating yourself first. It's hard enough to beat the opponent. If that was a game we would say you beat yourself and those are things that need cleaned up and we can't tolerate it. 

"As coaches, negative things happen. We're going on the assumption that no one wants to have a bad quarterback-center exchange, the receiver doesn't want to drop the ball, the defender doesn't want to lose contain. If they're in there and they want to do that then that's on us. You can't tolerate it but making a big stink doesn't necessarily fix it either."

On linebacker Dan Mason:

"It's important to him. I come over here today and he's one of the first guys I see. He's giving himself a chance. When it's important to someone who has talent then they're going to do things right more often than not."

On safety Ray Vinopal getting first-team repetitions:

"It's so early that everyone has an opportunity. You've got to have a starting point. We want to be able to call a group out and have guys line up on offense and defense. But he has done enough good things to give himself a chance to compete for the spot."

Quoting Receiver Devin Street

On spring practice up to this point:

"I think everyone's having a lot of fun right now and we're all excited just working and learning the offense. We're just taking it day-by-day and not getting too high or too low because we've been through a lot but we're just out here having fun and working hard."

On his improved strength:

"I can feel it out on the field. My bench press has gone up and my legs have gotten stronger. I think I'm just more comfortable and I feel a little more dominant out there. My bench press was at 215 and now I'm up to 255 since Coach (Todd) Rice got here."

On returning to a familiar offense:

"Me and (receiver) Mike Shanahan were talking about that, because that's what we came in as, a pro-style offense. There's a lot of familiarity with it and a lot of the same concepts, just different terminologies. The concepts are great and they get our guys open."



Spring Practice Insider: Day 3

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