GREENSBORO, N.C. — For the past two years since Paul Chryst took over the Pitt program, he has been selling fans and recruits alike on a vision for the future of Panthers football.
That vision involves a tough, physical football team that, obviously, wins games.
The trick now, though, as Chryst enters his third year, will be turning that vision into a reality.
That process will be buoyed by young players such as receiver Tyler Boyd, running back James Conner and quarterback Chad Voytik, all of whom came to Pitt because of Chryst’s idea of what the program could become.
“When we recruited [Tyler], you’re recruiting him on a lot of uncertainty,” Chryst said Monday at ACC media days. “You’re recruiting them on a vision more than a reality. You appreciate the kids who brought into the vision and want to make it their reality.”
For every facet of Pitt’s team, the 2014 season is about turning those goals and ideals into on-field results.
Boyd, for instance, will face some unique challenges this year as teams have had an entire offseason to scout and prepare for him after a breakout freshman season.
“We’ve got to do a good job of what we do schematically for Tyler, but also guys have to step up and others have to take the pressure,” Chryst said.
One player that could help in that regard is fellow sophomore Conner, who Chryst confirmed will play both ways this year. Conner played defensive end in high school and came in for a few snaps in Pitt’s 30-27 bowl win to close out the 2013 season.
Chryst said the staff had to be realistic about Conner’s potential workload on defense, but said they wouldn’t put any sort of “pitch count” on his defensive snaps. He played eight snaps in the bowl game, all in pass-rushing situations.
“We’re not trying to do it to be a gimmick,” Chryst said. “I think that he can truly help us on both sides of the ball.”
The players blocking for Conner on offense, too, will go a long way in determining how realistic Chryst’s vision for a successful 2014 season is. The Panthers gave up 43 sacks in 2013, fifth-worst in Division I-A.
When asked why he thinks the offensive line will be better in 2014, Chryst just said, “because they better be.”
Specifically, he highlighted senior right tackle T.J. Clemmings, a converted defensive end, who Chryst said really improved this spring.
“We’re trying to take that potential and make it reality,” Chryst said.
Chryst didn’t shy away from admitting that the goal is ultimately to build Pitt’s offensive line (and offense in general) into what he had during his run as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator when the Badgers bruised their way to three consecutive Rose Bowl games from 2010-12.
He also noted, though, that those Badgers lines were modeled after those from Pitt in the 1980s. At one point in his interview session, Chryst rattled off the names of more than a dozen former Pitt greats that helped build the program.
“Tyler Boyd knows about Larry Fitzgerald, and Larry knows about Tyler Boyd,” Chryst said. “That’s what’s pretty cool.”
Of course, the final piece of the puzzle in getting Pitt back to that elite level is Chryst himself. On Sunday, Panthers safety Ray Vinopal spoke highly of Chryst’s approachability and his open-door policy with players.
For the plainspoken Chryst — who had to answer not one but two dreaded introspective questions Monday — that approach to coaching players is only natural.
“If you’re a coach with no players it’s not really a great job,” he joked.
“I think you’re a better coach if you know your players better. I don’t think I’ve arrived or any of our coaches have arrived at that. We need to do a better job of getting to know our players and them getting to know us, to me that’s part of the fun.”
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG First Published July 21, 2014 12:00 AM