Pitt Notebook: Panthers defense hopes to emulate Steelers
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Pitt's new standard defense is a 3-4, but the Panthers will show different looks, presnap movement and use zone blitzes to try to create sacks and turnovers.
It is a defense similar to the one used by the Steelers.
Pitt defensive coordinator Keith Patterson had several opportunities in the offseason to sit down with Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and learn more about the intricacies of the defense.
LeBeau, of course, is considered the guru of the zone blitz, and Patterson said after talking to him he realized how much LeBeau knows and how much he had to learn.
"I'd have been crazy not to sit down with him, and he has been very gracious with his time," Patterson said.
- Game: Pitt vs. Buffalo in the 2011 season opener for both schools.
- When: 6 p.m. Saturday.
- Where: Heinz Field
- The skinny: Pitt has a record of 78-41-2 in season openers, including 8-3 since 2000.
"To have the opportunity to sit with him and ask him questions, was really special. And some of the things he said reaffirmed what we were doing and some showed me we were missing the boat.
"But the little attention to details of it was amazing. Anyone can run a certain blitz or pressure, but he spoke of the intricacies, the details, some techniques or an alignment, and that is where he really helped us. So I am going to continue to rely on him as a resource, and he's the best guy in the business at what he does, so that's huge for us."
Patterson said he has an entire notebook of notes from his visits with LeBeau, and he checks them often.
He said that the thing that impressed him the most about LeBeau's zone pressures is that his defense can pull them off while being one of the best in the NFL at stopping the run.
"They are unbelievable in their pressures, but, more importantly, is what they've done against the run," Patterson said. "Coach LeBeau showed me a stat that was something like in the last 10 years, they've been no worse than three or four in rush defense ... and that is where we want to be.
"So he talked to me about stopping the run from the goal line out to the middle of the field, so there is no doubt it was a tremendous asset, even just to see how we want to structure things, and I think we are definitely on the right track."
Todd Graham has spent the past six months hyping Pitt's "high-octane" brand of football and obviously has the fans fired up.
He is hopeful the Panthers get out of the gates fast Saturday against Buffalo and pleases the crowd, but he knows there is no guarantee that will happen.
His first game at Tulsa showed him how fast things can go wrong.
"The first snap of the game, we snapped the ball over the quarterback's head, and they picked it up and ran it back 65 yards for a touchdown," Graham said, with a laugh. "A guy stood up in the stands and said 'High octane my ... ,'
"But I'm telling you there is a method to everything we are doing."
Some coaches do not like to have too much contact at practices once the season starts because they do not want to risk injuries and would like players to recover from the previous game.
Graham, however, does not believe a team can be ready to play unless they have at least a couple of periods each week where they are hitting and playing at full speed.
"It is very important that 15 minutes Tuesdays and 10 minutes Wednesdays, we line up with two tight ends, two backs in the backfield and go [isolation], power [running drills], split zone," Graham said.
"Sometimes, people worry about getting banged up, but you have to be physical.
"And what we do offensively really attacks what defenses are teaching and also attacks our defense. So that is something we really try and focus on. Tuesday and Wednesday are our physical days."
Graham said the Panthers will have non-contact practices Thursdays.
Graham said this is the best team that he has inherited. "There are good players here," Graham said. "They did a good job of bringing good players in here." ... Graham said wide receivers Devin Street and Cam Saddler (Gateway High School), who have been slowed by injuries, are progressing well and should be ready to go Saturday against Buffalo. ... Patterson said freshman Lafayette Pitts (Woodland Hills) has found a home at safety. "He is playing faster [than when he was at corner], he is feeling it a lot more," Patterson said. "Some people are more comfortable on the inside and some on the outside, he seems to feel better inside, so it is a good move for him."
First Published August 31, 2011 12:00 am