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March 29, 2012

Spring Camp Insider (Interviews, Photo Galleries and More)

Pitt Spring Drills -- Day 9 Practice Notebook & Quote Sheet

The Great Outdoors: With temperatures hovering under 50 degrees at the start of practice, Pitt took to the outdoor fields this morning for its ninth workout of the spring. The Panthers donned full gear for the chilly two-hour, 15-minute session.  

Grizzled Vet: A year ago, Ryan Schlieper was a wet-behind-the-ears guard who was looking to earn his first significant playing time as a collegian. Fast forward 12 months and the North Allegheny graduate is now a veteran building block on the offensive line.

His breakout game last year came against undefeated South Florida in a nationally televised ESPN game at Heinz Field. Starter Lucas Nix left the contest early due to a knee injury, thrusting the untested Schlieper into the lineup. Facing the Bulls' fast and athletic defensive front, Schlieper played a key role in helping the Panthers rack up 307 rushing yards in a 44-17 victory. Honored with a game ball that night, Schlieper would go on to start the final eight contests of the season.

"Last year, when I think about it, I really had no idea what I was getting into," Schlieper said. "I wasn't mentally ready when I first became a starter and it took me a few games. Now heading into my junior year I know physically and mentally what I need to be prepared to do."

Schlieper also understands his responsibility as one of the few experienced upperclassmen on this year's line.

"We don't have as many seniors on the offensive line as we usually do," he said. "There are younger guys who are going to need direction this year and I have to step up and be a leader."

Schlieper is a big fan of his new positional coach, Jim Hueber.

"Coach Hueber is a genius when it comes to the offensive line," Schlieper said. "He knows everything about playing the position the way it should be played."

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."

Donald Dominates: Junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald continues to impress this spring. During 11-on-11 work he displayed a combination of power and athleticism that would be the envy of any defensive coordinator - and strike fear into any opposing offense.

On one particular passing down, he bull-rushed the quarterback, striking the thrower's arm just as the ball was released. The ball popped up into the air and Donald snatched it for a rare interception by a defensive tackle.

As a sophomore last season, Donald ranked seventh nationally in sacks per game (0.85 avg., 11 total). He was an All-Big East pick by league coaches and a second team All-American by

Pick Six: Junior linebacker Carl Fleming snuffed out a pass in the right flat with a perfect read, intercepting the ball in stride and taking it in for a touchdown on Thursday. Fleming earned his first letter last season as a reserve outside linebacker. He did have one starting assignment, at Louisville, and had his first career interception in Pitt's 21-14 victory over the Cardinals.

Stellar Safety Play: Junior Jason Hendricks and sophomore Ray Vinopal both had interceptions on Thursday. When you include seniors Andrew Taglianetti and Jarred Holley in the mix, the play at the safety position this spring indicates this will be one of Pitt's deepest and most talented positions.

Fantastic Fade: Sophomore quarterback Mark Myers connected on a pretty 15-yard fade to junior receiver Ed Tinker for a touchdown during 11-on-11 work.

Visiting VIPs: High school head coaches at Thursday's practice included George Novak (Woodland Hills), Jim Render (Upper St. Clair), Jamie Eckles (Serra Catholic), Stacy Schmitt (North Star) and former Pitt quarterback Dave Havern (Shady Side Academy). In addition to Havern, other former Pitt players in attendance included Chris Feola and Shane Leichty.  

Next Up: Pitt will hold its 10th spring practice on Saturday, March 31, at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex.


Pitt Spring Football Media Quote Sheet 

Quoting Head Coach Paul Chryst

On today's practice:

"I thought offensively it was really sluggish in the competition periods. It's a broken record but it's true. There's some good teaching and some of the teaching is what you're doing during the playing. I think it's important how you're responding after the plays. If you learn from it, it's a good day. Today it was really sloppy at times. Defensively there was some good energy. There are some things where we need to keep going and grinding."

On the players learning and responding to what the coaches are teaching:

"There is a willingness to, but you also have to do it. Today was the first day (practicing) in the red zone. There are going to be some coaching points or some things that are a little different. There are some other things that are going to be day one, day two and day three. You have certain guys that are going to have to make improvements and show the jump that they are. Every guy is in a little bit different stage and you keep going forward."

On junior linebacker Shane Gordon:

"He has approached it in a great manner. He is studying and really wanting to be coached. He then gives himself a chance to go out and play. He certainly has talent. Today he did show up on some things and he just needs to keep growing."

On sophomore safety Ray Vinopal seemingly always being around the ball:

"Yeah he does. (Vinopal) is another guy that it's important to him. It's kind of a common theme. You are going to get out of something what you put into it. Football is no different than anything else. Those guys that are doing that and can do it over a long haul will be rewarded. They get better. Once you do something well and then do it consistently then you've got a chance."

On finding a combination on the offensive line:

"You have to find a home for everyone. You have to be able to practice and run plays. It's a combination of guys that can do things, and then find where they go, and other guys who are not holding their own. You have to find five to go at that time. It's always a combination of guys who are putting themselves in position to try to get on the field. You want to be able to play your best guys in the offensive line so you have some versatility. There is still a long ways to go but we are making strides to get there. The guys have to keep working."

On whether the offensive line is coming off the ball the way the coaches want them to:

"At times they are and you can see at times they're thinking. It's nowhere close to where we want to be. 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."

On senior offensive lineman Chris Jacobson's progress since last year's knee surgery:

"He is making progress and he should be making progress. We are not doing the `everyday update' as much and that's where we're going with it. He's doing a little bit more in the weight room so that's been positive. Those are long haul injuries in rehab. He has to keep progressing and everybody is so different. From talking to him and everyone else it seems that he is making progress."

On if Chris Jacobson will be ready to play in August:

"Yeah, I sure hope so. Everything seems to be pointing that way and there is still a lot of time. I think certainly we would be a better team with him so hopefully that's the case."

On what he hopes to see from the quarterbacks:

"I think the most you can hope for is that each guy is getting better and gaining an understanding of the offense and also improving in their own little world of techniques. There's so much to quarterback play. You hope that there's an understanding and foundation that's being laid so that at fall camp you can build on that and get yourself ready for the season."


Quoting senior offensive lineman Chris Jacobson

On his rehabilitation from a knee injury:

"It's pretty neat to have another opportunity to come back out here. I do miss all the guys that came in with my class, I do miss a bunch of them. But to get another chance and get a new experience with another coach is great. We're excited."

On his thoughts after his injury and getting a sixth year from the NCAA:

"You kind of think that was it. Then when they talk about you getting a sixth year, that didn't come out until like February, but it was so cut and dry that they pretty much knew I would get it. Now you've got to work harder than you've ever worked before and I feel like that's how it will be all summer. I feel like I'll be somebody who won't leave this place and I'm here all day getting treatment and getting work done with my knee because this is it, this is the last go-around for me."


Quoting sophomore defensive end Bryan Murphy

On his style of play in the new defense:

"This is exactly how I like to play. It's a run game in college and I think we should mainly focus on stopping the run first which is what we're doing and we're going to be real successful at it."


Quoting junior linebacker Shane Gordon

On the depth at linebacker this spring:

"We've got a lot of guys fighting for a spot and I'm glad to see my man Mase (Dan Mason) back off that injury. It's good to be out there with him."

On Dan Mason's resilient return from a knee injury:

"That's Mase. He's just a beast and I wouldn't doubt him on it. A lot of people wouldn't come back from that injury but it wouldn't hold him back."

On the new defense:

"We've got the guys for it. They've got me at the Will (weakside linebacker). Me and Mase interchange at middle linebacker. It works."

On the defense's increased physical play:

"Our offense runs a pro (formation) and last year we ran the spread so now we've got a lot of run coming at us and you've got to be more physical."


Spring Football Insider: Day 9

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