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Pitt displays football program for fans as spring practice closes

| Sunday, April 13, 2014, 10:18 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House leads the chalk-talk session Sunday, April 13, 2014, on the South Side.

Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House was leaving the team's South Side practice facility Sunday after he and several colleagues had explained their jobs to some of the 3,000 people attending Field Pass, the university's alternative to a spring game.

During his chalk talk, House described the proper techniques involved in forcing a fumble, returning an interception and pursuing a ball carrier. Many people made a point of shaking his hand and thanking him for taking the time to reveal some details of the complicated coaching business, including one fan who got right to the point:“Hey, coach, how can we get more sacks?”

Actually, that's one of the goals of this year's young Pitt defense. Pitt collected only 25 sacks last season, with 17 of them coming from players no longer on the team.

The most popular part of the day was the on-field clinic for young people who were taught by current players. But inside, House was joined by offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, strength coach Ross Kolodziej and recruiting coordinator Dann Kabala, who explained some of the hidden facets of running the program.

Rudolph had high praise for several of his players, including right tackle T.J. Clemmings, who, he said, has made significant strides a year after his first season as a starter.

Of quarterback Chad Voytik's competitiveness, Rudolph said, “If you had a contest to see who could hang from the rafters the longest, Chad would think he would win it.”Kabala explained the limitations involved in the year-round job of recruiting, including the NCAA banning him from returning calls to prospects when they call him. He said his wife Becky looks forward to the dead period in which all contact is prohibited. “A.K.A. vacation,” Kabala said.

“My wife takes my cell phone and puts it in a hotel safe and doesn't tell me the combination.”

Kolodziej prepares players for the rigors of training camp by — among other means — having them run the upper decks of Heinz Field. Players also run up Schenley Park's Flagstaff Hill, a 700-yard test in which they must chase a coach who continually backs up into the woods as they approach. This is done not long after a 6 a.m. wakeup call.

Prior to meeting the fans, coach Paul Chryst held the penultimate practice of the spring — he will conclude things Tuesday — but he wasn't pleased by everything he saw. Afterwards, he spent a few moments delivering firm reprimands to the team.

“It was really sluggish at the end,” he told reporters later, pointing out that officials called several procedure penalties. “Lots of errors, mental errors. If we have a chance to learn from it, it will be a good day. If you just take the approach, ‘Ah, it's practice. I'll be good (later),' then you are not going to be better and not be as good as you can be.”Chryst admitted that some players may be tired after 14 practices, but he wasn't accepting excuses.

“It's not the last day, but the end is near,” he said. “But I don't know if some guys are just getting through it.”

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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