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Physical toll mounts for Pitt football

| Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Pitt linebacker Todd Thomas watches during practice on the South Side Aug. 11, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Almost daily, another forlorn, pained or anxious player takes a seat on the trainer's table behind the sideline at Pitt football practice.

Some end up with an arm in a sling. Others show up the next day wearing a knee brace. Several spend as much time with the trainers as they do their position coaches.

One day, an unofficial count revealed 20 players missing either a few plays or the entire session. Third-string middle linebacker Dan Mason has been playing on the first team with projected starter Shane Gordon and backup Joe Trebitz out. Redshirt freshman Jason Frimpong has joined the first unit at outside linebacker while Todd Thomas and Eric Williams deal with injuries. Even freshman Deaysean Rippy had a brief venture as a starting linebacker.

Coach Paul Chryst, who will put the team through a fully padded scrimmage Saturday to end two weeks of drills, speaks about injuries reluctantly and only in vague terms.

Most players, with the exception of Thomas, who had knee surgery in January and whose absence doesn't figure to end soon, are “day-to-day,” Chryst said. That means they might return the next day — or they might not.

Senior safety Andrew Taglianetti isn't surprised by the heavy traffic in the trainer's room.

“Everyone should be hurting at this point in camp,” he said. “You just have to find it within yourself to determine if you can keep practicing or not. You just have to keep pushing through. Coach Chryst is going to go find those guys who want to do that.”

Chryst is not easy on his players, and he seems to be testing them to identify certain types of athletes. Players are given ample rest and water breaks, but sessions can last three hours, the duration of many games.

“This is probably, physically-wise, one of the toughest camps I've ever been through,” said Taglianetti, who has been through five. “Even through (coach Dave) Wannstedt. Compared to last year, physically, it is way more demanding. It's draining, but guys are starting to get a feel for it now. Would I (want) them to be shorter? Of course, but it's definitely going to pay off.”

The unavoidable downside to the injuries is lost practice time, a fact that becomes critical with the opener two weeks away. Quarterback Tino Sunseri spent most of this week without veteran receivers Mike Shanahan (hamstring) and Devin Street (knee), a situation that could slow development in the passing game.

If Chryst is worried, he doesn't show it.

“Truthfully, (trainer Rob Blanc) comes over and tells me, and you focus on the guys between the lines,” Chryst said. “It's not that you don't care about the guys who are injured, but you have to trust that they're going to do everything they can to get themselves back.”

He also won't force injured players back on the field.

“It doesn't do anybody any good if they are going before they are ready,” he said.

NOTES: Running back Ray Graham (knee) missed practice Friday for the third day in a row. “We are just trying to make sure we are not setting him back,” Chryst said. ... Men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon spoke to the players after practice and received two ovations.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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