Pitt's Chryst hopes leaders surface in summer

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Pitt coach Paul Chryst often speaks about the "four phases" a team goes through to prepare for the football season.

The first two, winter conditioning and spring football, are done.. Summer workouts will start next month, followed by training camp in August.

Chryst said the summer workout period -- which coaches aren't allowed to attend -- is often when leaders emerge for the upcoming season.

"Summer, as a coach, you're a little bit nervous not being able to be around the players," Chryst said on an Atlantic Coast Conference coaches conference call Thursday.

"But, really, if you're talking about the health of your team, for players, it does give them a great opportunity to take ownership. You're going to be as good as your seniors are. You need your seniors to play their best football."

It will be up to the players to organize team activities and practices.

They are allowed to work with Pitt's strength and conditioning coaches but not any members of the football coaching staff.

Chryst also said he feels more comfortable heading into this summer session than last year, when he had only 15 practices under his belt as head coach.

"I think we're working better as a team," Chryst said.

"So, I think that alone, leading into a period of time where you have a lot of opportunity and you need to take advantage of that opportunity to work, I think guys have a better -- I don't know if the word is mindset -- but they're better prepared to approach this summer."

Seminoles coach wary of Pitt

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said he's well aware of what kind of environment his team will walk into when the Seminoles come to Heinz Field for the season opener Sept. 2. Fisher, a Clarksburg, W.Va., native, knows the passion Pitt fans have and understands the excitement level for the Panthers' first ACC game.

He's not looking past the Pitt team on the field, either. Fisher specifically pointed to the number of returning starters on the Panthers defense as a reason the opener could be a close one.

"I think it's going to be a terrific, terrific football game," Fisher said.

"I'm going to tell you, boys, that's a starter right out of the gate. We better have a great camp and be ready to play. There is no doubt."

Sizing up the backs

Chryst admitted Thursday that Pitt's running back situation was "a little bit unsettled" coming out of spring practices.

After presumed starter Rushel Shell's decision to transfer, junior Isaac Bennett took on the role of No. 1 running back. Redshirt sophomore Malcolm Crockett got plenty of work this spring, and Chryst also cited incoming freshman James Conner as a player who could help the team this season.

"We've got a chance if they can keep working and growing," Chryst said.

Another first

Thursday was Chryst's first appearance on the ACC coaches teleconference, one of a series of firsts as the Panthers prepare for the inaugural season in their new conference.

Chryst said the move to the ACC doesn't change much from a coach's perspective.

"I think there certainly is excitement," Chryst said. "Guys understand, we'd better be getting to work. We've got to be better if we want to have a chance to compete."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @SWernerPG.


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