Pitt football: Chryst expects growing pains
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Pitt football coach Paul Chryst has been an assistant coach his entire career, which is why this spring will be as much a learning experience for him as the Panthers.
The Panthers will take the field today for the first spring drills and will have 15 practices culminating with the annual Blue-Gold spring game April 14.
It is Chryst's first year as the Panthers' head coach and, given that his system is much different than that of former coach Todd Graham, there likely will be a lot of growing pains this spring.
But Chryst said the spring will be about learning what his players are capable of, teaching basics and installing the new offense and defense, while he grows comfortable with being a head coach.
"This is a chance for coaches to get to know players and players to get to know coaches," Chryst said. "There is a little anxiety just knowing guys. I want to know everyone's name and you learn that, but every year is important. But it is a chance for us to start something and for us to begin a relationship and begin the season.
"There is a feeling-out period. They need to know how we run things, so there is probably some anxiety of what to expect. It is important to try and make it look like football as soon as we can, and once they play, we can learn who they are."
Chryst said the first five days of spring practice will be about fundamentals and introducing the system; the second five will be about the players getting comfortable playing with less emphasis on the installation of new stuff.
The final five days will be used to work on the areas that need to improve, making personnel adjustments and getting ready for the spring game.
A number of players will switch positions but Chryst said all of them were at the player's request, not the coaching staff's.
He said he doesn't know the personnel well enough, so he wants to give every player the opportunity to prove himself before adjusting the lineup.
"There were guys who came to me and said they wanted to change positions and my approach on that was, I didn't know enough to tell them they should stay [in their old position]," Chryst said. "My personal opinion, if a guy wants to be somewhere else, he is not going to do as well at the spot he is playing, so to give themselves a chance they have to be all-in.
"Some will prove this was the right move and others will say 'at least I can say I tried it' and then they go back and go from there."
Tight end Anthony Gonzalez and defensive back EJ Banks have moved to quarterback; Devin Cook and LaQuentin Smith have moved from linebacker to defensive line; Justin Vrbitsky moved from tight end to offensive line; Brandon Ifill moved from defensive back to receiver; Adam Lazenga moved from linebacker to fullback; and Steve Williams moved from running back to defensive back.
Chryst expects more adjustments and changes as the spring goes on, in part because how some players fit in Graham's scheme won't be the same in his. Pitt ran a spread offense last year and played a 3-3 multiple defense; Chryst will install a pro-style system on both sides of the ball.
"We'll adjust what we have to adjust, but it's not like we are splitting the atom here," he said. "You hear coaches say 'we have 76 percent of the playbook in' but that is not real. We are going to teach the basics, see what they can handle, because we all grow getting out of our comfort zone, and then we will adjust."
NOTES -- Only two players -- linebacker Todd Thomas (knee) and tailback Ray Graham (knee) are out for the entire spring. Chryst said linebacker Dan Mason (knee) will practice but his status is "wait-and-see" in terms of being cleared to play in games. ... Athletic director Steve Pederson said he is very confident that the Panthers will play in the ACC in 2013-14, a year ahead of schedule. He said that the attitude of the Big East toward holding Pitt to the 27-month waiting period has softened now that the conference has rebuilt itself. "I'm confident we will be able to get things resolved," Pederson said. ... Pederson also said season-ticket sales for football are very good despite a less than inspiring home schedule.
First Published March 15, 2012 12:00 am