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Tuesday's practice offers encouragement for Brian O'Neill, Pitt

Jerry DiPaola
| Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, 7:21 p.m.
Pitt offensive lineman Brian O'Neill says “there’s definitely a fire lit in all of us.'
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt offensive lineman Brian O'Neill says “there’s definitely a fire lit in all of us.'
Pitt's Brian O'Neill goes through drills during practice Friday, March 17, 2017, at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Brian O'Neill goes through drills during practice Friday, March 17, 2017, at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

If players aren't careful, football practices can turn grueling and tiresome, leading to lousy efforts on Saturday that become, for example, the three-game losing streak Pitt is experiencing.

But the good players who aspire to greatness and a career beyond college can look past the sweat and fatigue and use practices as the conduits to improvement and find success.

You can put Brian O'Neill in that category.

It wasn't enough Tuesday morning that O'Neill, a 22-year-old junior offensive tackle, went through practice. When he stepped into the locker room and started taking off his gear, he reached for his phone to watch video of what just occurred.

He liked it, and the perfectionist part of his personality doesn't always allow for that.

“I haven't seen the GPS numbers of the monitors (that measure players' activity levels), but we were going in practice,” he said. “There's definitely a fire lit in all of us.

“It's unfortunate it took a couple games to figure that out, but I think we're heading in the right direction, had a fresh start, clean slate (Tuesday) and really got after it.”

Junior running back Qadree Ollison called it “the best practice we had all year. We felt like it was Week 2 of camp. That's how we have to practice every day.”

The aftermath of Tuesday's practice only tells part of O'Neill's quest to turn Pitt in the right direction.

Sunday night, the day after the loss to Georgia Tech, he took video study a step further.

He watched practice from a year ago to see how Pitt practiced before the 37-34 victory against Georgia Tech. He noticed a contrast.

“We had a little bit more of an attitude then, a nasty streak,” he said. “We were a little hungrier.

“Just something that jumps out on tape. Obviously, X's and O's are a little different, but you want to play with a little edge.

“Not that we lost it, but we focused on it a little more. Who cares if we had success before? You have to take it right now.”

The season could be reaching a crossroads as Pitt prepares for its final nonconference game Saturday against Rice, a 20 12-point underdog, at Heinz Field.

Lose, and perhaps players start questioning themselves. Win, and Pitt has a launching pad for the seven remaining ACC games. Room for error is reduced, but hope remains.

“I'm not worried about one loss,” coach Pat Narduzzi said of the Georgia Tech game. “I'm worried about one win each week. We're just focused on the next game to get to 2-3 and then head into the ACC again.

“I think our guys know (the) Coastal champion could have two losses.”

ACC standings don't matter now. But it is time to fix problems during the week so they don't negatively impact standings on the weekend.

To that end, O'Neill said he and junior offensive lineman Alex Bookser put their leadership game to work.

“I definitely kind of stepped up a little more vocally,” O'Neill said, “and tried to get things going a little bit more, jump-start a little and so did Alex Bookser. We tagged team that.”

He declined to reveal details of the pep talk, but he said, “There definitely were some things said. Hopefully, it makes change, and it starts with me.”

He said he hasn't recently met his own personal standard. Much of what he said was directed inward.

Pitt's offensive line lost two good leaders when Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson went to the NFL. O'Neill and Bookser are headed in that direction, too, but there's a lot of work to be done.

“Guys who have been here before understood (the) preparation (that) went into when we had success,” O'Neill said. “You can't just show up on Saturdays and get it done.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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