Chryst's defense similar to one used by Wannstedt
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Once again, the Pitt football team is learning to play defense.
The Panthers are learning a new defense for the second year in a row as first-year coach Paul Chryst and his staff are installing a 4-3 defense.
That is a big difference from last year, when the Panthers lined up in 3-4, and it means this has been another spring about teaching.
"I think really the biggest thing is just trying to teach the basics and get the guys understand how we want to play," defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said. "It is important to use all 15 practices to teach the defense because there is so much to learn, but the learning doesn't stop at the end of spring. The thing I have liked is these guys have seemed to buy into things and they believe in what we are doing.
"Really, though, it usually starts up front and I have been very pleased with the way our guys have played. I don't know if we have a lot of depth [on the defensive line] yet, but I think we can develop some guys and they will be very good if we can stay healthy."
One reason the transition to the 4-3 is probably going a little smoother than the transition to the 3-4 last year is because it is similar to the defense the Panthers played under Dave Wannstedt two years ago.
Many of the key players on the defense were recruited by Wannstedt and played in his system for at least one season.
"It definitely helps that some of them have played in the 4-3 before because they understand the concepts of the defense and what we are looking for from each level," Huxtable said. "There are obviously little differences between what they did [under Wannstedt] and what we are doing, but the base 4-3 defense is what we play and it is what they have played in the past.
"The one thing we want to be is physical up front, and we also like guys who want to run to the ball. The thing I told these guys is that I love them, I love their attitude, I love the way they come to work and I love the fact that they want to learn and get better and that is all you can ask."
One key difference between the Panthers' current 4-3 and the way it was played under Wannstedt is that one or even both of the safeties will be asked to play more in run support, so there will be more pressure on the cornerbacks as there will be some plays in which they won't have help to cover receivers.
Huxtable said he likes to have an eight-man look and sometimes will even drop a ninth man into the box, but it will only work if the corners are able to cover on their own.
He knows he has one of those cover corners in K'Waun Williams, who could be one of the top players at his position in the Big East, and now he is looking for a second.
Redshirt freshman LaFayette Pitts has been running with the first team most often at camp.
"K'Waun is really an excellent player and he can even get better and he is serious about it," Huxtable said. "LaFayette is a guy who has a lot of potential, he is obviously very athletic, he plays hard and he is learning. So he will be much better at the end of spring than he is now and then with him he will only keep improving."
The Panthers' strength is again on the defensive line despite the graduation of Myles Caragein, Brandon Lindsey and Chas Alecxih. There is a younger group of talented players, led by Aaron Donald, ready to step in and contribute.
Huxtable said that group will play a big role in the defense because they will be asked to make plays in the backfield.
"No, no -- we don't want them just eating up blocks, we want to them to move, we want them to be active and we have guys who are capable of that," Huxtable said. "We want them to make plays and get off the ball. I think that is what is so exciting to me, we have some guys up there who have a lot of explosiveness and if they can attack, that gives us a chance to be very successful."
First Published March 26, 2012 12:00 am