First day of camp all about comfort for Pitt


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When running back Isaac Bennett took his spot in the backfield at Pitt's first practice of training camp, he looked across the line and gave linebackers Mike Caprara and Shane Gordon a wink and a smile.

Bennett was just happy that, for the first time in months, he had actual, live defenders across the ball from him.

Pitt opened its training camp for the 2013 season Tuesday and, while the first few practices are just in helmets and jerseys, it at least began the process of preparing for the Sept. 2 opener against Florida State.

"I thought, overall, it was a good first day in terms of getting stuff in," coach Paul Chryst said. "We've got a lot of stuff we can teach and learn from."

Bennett said the goal for the first few practices was just to get reacquainted with the style, system and playbook they have spent all summer working on. Since the spring game April 12, players have been able to work out on their own but coaches were not allowed to be present.

The real fun starts Saturday, when they put on full pads for the first time. Until then, it's all about getting comfortable.

"I guess [the goal is] to get back in the groove," Bennett said. "It's been a few months since we've played a football game. Everybody's trying to get out here and get back in the groove before Florida State."

Chryst even went so far as to say he doesn't have a depth chart at this point. While that's a slight exaggeration -- there's a preseason depth chart printed in the Pitt media guide -- the Panthers rotated through plenty of players at most positions in practice Tuesday.

"I think right now, everyone's got to prove that they can provide a role that you can rely on and play with," Chryst said. "Then, you find out how many of those guys you can use."

Some of those guys Pitt calls on this year might be players who were experiencing their first college practice.

Twenty-six of Pitt's 27-member freshman class reported to practice, with the sole exception being quarterback Tra'von Chapman, who remains on indefinite suspension while his status is evaluated after an April arrest. For those who were there, Tuesday offered a loud wake-up call for what they can expect from Division I football.

"At Clairton [High School], I didn't even feel sore like this after the first two practices," freshman wide receiver Tyler Boyd said. "The first practice here, it was a huge difference. I'm sore already. I'm cramped up, I don't usually get cramped up early in camp."

Boyd is one of the freshmen who appears slated to play this year -- and could even earn a starting job -- but he said he plans to take training camp one day at a time and appreciated the help he received from older wide receivers such as redshirt junior, and former Clairton teammate, Kevin Weatherspoon.

"I'm used to the pressure," Boyd said. "I came from a school that won 63 games in a row, so pressure was all on us, especially me. As long as my team has my back and they ride with me, and I've got them, I think I'll be cool."

Boyd won't win that starting wide receiver position easily, though. If there's one theme Chryst has implemented throughout training camp this year, it's competition at each position -- and even beyond that.

"It's a competition with yourself, it's a competition with another guy at the position, it's a competition with someone across the ball, it's a competition with those teams that we're playing," Chryst said. "There's a lot of factors that you're competing against."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published August 7, 2013 4:00 AM


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