Pitt defense seeks urgency heading into first season in ACC

PItt defensive coordinator Matt House talks with the line during practice, Tuesday, August 6, 2013, on the South Side.
PItt defensive coordinator Matt House talks with the line during practice, Tuesday, August 6, 2013, on the South Side.
Photo by Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, 10:45 p.m.

Pitt defensive line coach John Palermo wears a white, wide-brimmed hat to practice every day. You might think he's going to the beach — until he starts hollering.

After a particularly satisfying session Thursday, when the defense recorded a safety and linebacker Bam Bradley picked up a fumble and carried it into the end zone, Palermo walked over to the sideline where the players had congregated and ceremoniously tipped his hat for a job well done.

Not long after, when someone went the wrong way, Palermo grabbed the hat off his head and angrily threw it to the ground.

Some good, some bad. That's practice, even for a defense that returns eight starters and five seniors.

Told that practice appeared to be especially chippy — wide receiver Chris Wuestner and cornerback Trenton Coles had a brief after-the-whistle skirmish — defensive coordinator Matt House responded: “I'd like it to be more consistently chippy.”

Not that House is encouraging fighting, but he realizes the season starts in 18 days, and the defense needs to be ready for Florida State.

“They have done a good job so far,” House said, “but there does have to be a sense of urgency. Shoot, it's close now.”

Coach Paul Chryst knows about his players' resumes, but he is not easily impressed.

“That's the great thing about sports: You have to go prove everything every time,” he said.

House wants his players to put their experience to good use.

“Those (seniors) need to step up and really educate the other guys,” he said. “If they are giving great effort, if they are doing the right thing, then the young guys have no choice but to come along.”

House has found depth on the four-man front that includes senior tackles Aaron Donald and Ty Ezell, who could become one of the top pairs in the ACC. But young tackles Tyrique Jarrett and Darryl Render and ends Shakir Soto, Devin Cook, LaQuentin Smith and Ejuan Price are pushing for playing time.

Price, a sophomore from Woodland Hills, has caught Palermo's eye.

“He has bought in to what we are trying to do,” Palermo said.

“He started out as a second-and-long, third-down guy at defensive end. He has worked himself up to possibly playing on first down. I am getting to the point of where I trust him.”

David Durham and Bryan Murphy are the starting ends, with one exception, Palermo said.

“That exception is Ejuan. Ejuan could very well be a starter against Florida State if he scrimmages well. I'll be honest with you. If any of them don't scrimmage well, they will wake up the next day as part of the second team.”

House has found more than three linebackers, but Shane Gordon in the middle is the only sure starter, he said.

Bradley, a redshirt freshman, is working with the first team at outside linebacker, but junior Todd Thomas practiced more extensively Thursday after returning from a self-imposed exile Wednesday.

“There are going to be a bunch of different roles,” House said. “If we are going to be good, it's going to take more than 11 guys.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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