Pitt football notebook: Chryst will continue fine-tuning defense
Pitt doesn't need to rebuild its defense for next season, but coach Paul Chryst won't let it stagnate, either.
With the departure of defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable, who resigned to take the same job at ACC rival North Carolina State, the defense will mix more zone coverage with man-to-man and press concepts when it plays Ole Miss on Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
“They changed things up a little bit,” redshirt freshman cornerback Lafayette Pitts said. “We are running a lot of zone coverages.
“We still run the same stuff when Coach Hux was there, but we changed it up so we can be more versatile. But (cornerbacks) still get to go up and press.”
Chryst, who has said he won't hire Huxtable's replacement until after the bowl game, has the potential to develop a strong defense next season, with only four seniors among the top 22 players. Overall, nine starters are expected to return. Only end Shayne Hale and strong safety Jarred Holley will be gone.
Returnees include first-team All-Big East defensive tackle Aaron Donald — if he doesn't opt for the NFL Draft — and free safety Jason Hendricks, a second-team all-conference selection.
This season, Pitt's defense ranks in the top 25 nationally in five statistical categories, including 16th in yards allowed per game (325.8).
Defense to offense
T.J. Clemmings' move from defensive end to offensive tackle continues to go well. Senior center Ryan Turnley said Clemmings has made a surprisingly smooth transition.
“Defensive end to tackle, some people might say he has the body for it, but it's a completely different animal, the footwork, everything is just so much different,” Turnley said. “He seems really comfortable, which is odd.
“Once he gets the small technical things down, he is going to be a pretty good player.”
Quarterback Tino Sunseri said he will play in the Raycom College Football All-Star Classic on Jan. 19 in Montgomery, Ala. … Turnley is playing in the East-West Shrine Game on the same day in St. Petersburg, Fla. … Wide receiver Cam Saddler, who was suspended for the South Florida game Dec. 1, has been practicing and will travel with the team to the Compass Bowl.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7797 or firstname.lastname@example.org.