Pitt football: Players' progress pleases coaches

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Pitt spring football has only five practices remaining, and while coach Paul Chryst and his staff would love to have another month to work with the players before the offseason, the coaches are pleased with the team's progress.

That is mostly because this spring has been more about teaching fundamentals and basics, and evaluating team strengths rather than installing a system. As a result, the players are learning and progressing.

"I think the best thing about this spring is the coaches have high expectations for us and are pushing us, but they also are breaking it down so we can understand things and improve our skills," Pitt senior guard Chris Jacobson said.

"There is really an emphasis on getting us better and working on our footwork, on our fundamentals. We are indeed learning the new offense, but it has been in bits and pieces."

Chryst has said throughout the spring that he has seen plenty of evidence the players are learning and improving, but he also has seen some setbacks.

Offensively, the Panthers have been a bit sluggish at times and the quarterbacks have yet to distinguish themselves, but Chryst noted that they are learning a new system and it takes time for an offense to come together. That's why he has been adamant that the focus of his staff remain on teaching, not installing.

Ultimately, however, the players have to put into practice what has been taught.

"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," Chryst said. "I think it's important how you're responding after the plays. If you learn from it, it's a good day. There are some things where we need to keep going and grinding."

Chryst, who was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, said the four quarterbacks on the roster are all improving. But he added it wouldn't be fair to start evaluating them until the fall because they have so much to learn.

"I think the most you can hope for is that each [quarterback] is getting better," Chryst said, "as well as 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."

The biggest area of concern coming into spring was the offensive line. Jacobson said the unit has benefited greatly from line coach Jim Hueber, who has coached for nearly 40 years, most recently with the Vikings in the NFL.

Hueber has been hard on the unit and it appears to be improving, especially as run blockers. Jacobson said the biggest help to the group has been the shift from the spread offense of a year ago to the pro-style offense because it enables the players to "play real football" again and come off the ball.

Jacobson, who is sitting out the spring while recovering from a knee injury, will likely be a starting guard. Other than center Ryan Turnley, he is probably the only offensive lineman who will clearly be among the starting five.

The other three spots -- the two tackle positions and the guard opposite Jacobson -- will not likely be settled until midway through training camp.

Chryst said he has been happy with the overall progress of the line but, like the rest of the team, that unit needs to keep learning and improving.

"It's nowhere close to where we want to be," he said. "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."


Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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