Pitt benefits from Donald's example
Aaron Donald is gone — he's already a starter in the St. Louis Rams defense — but Pitt players and coaches can't stop talking about him.
“I mean, why wouldn't you, right?” defensive tackles coach Inoke Breckterfield said.
Donald's All-American season of 2013 created more than sacks, victories and good memories. His work ethic is a model for his former teammates.
“You want guys to learn from that,” Breckterfield said. “(What) it took for him to go from good to great.”
“You can't get tired of it,” said junior defensive tackle Darryl Render, who occupies Donald's former place on the line. “I remember what AD taught me.”
But after the cleanup from the awards shows and Donald's draft night party has been completed and everyone has gone home, Pitt is left with a formidable task:
Finding a way to replicate the considerable pressure Donald placed on the opponent. It was a big reason for Pitt's first winning season in four years.
“For us to be productive there, we are going to need numbers,” coach Paul Chryst said.
That's why some of the most important moments of training camp are tucked away in the corner of the practice fields where Breckterfield gathers his players around him.
He hopes to rotate as many as five players through the two defensive tackle positions, led by Render, the only returning player who logged significant playing time there.
Render (6-foot-2, 275 pounds) has four tackles for a loss, including a half-sack, in two seasons. The biggest play of his career was the recovery of a fumble forced by Donald in the Georgia Tech game. Breckterfield said Render has shown improvement since last season.
“He's striking a little better,” he said of Render's first punch at the snap. “He still has to clean up some stuff. I think he is playing at a high level.”
Next to Render at nose tackle is junior and Woodland Hills graduate K.K. Mosley-Smith (6-0, 310) who is back on the field after a year-long suspension for violating a team rule.
“Coach Chryst pushing me made me a better person and a better player, wiser, stronger,” he said.
The backups will come from a group that Breckterfield said faces “a big learning curve.” It includes massive Allderdice graduate Tyrique Jarrett (6-foot-3, 335 pounds), a sophomore who is the only returning tackle other than Render who played last season.
Four scholarship freshmen — redshirts Justin Moody and Jeremiah Taleni and first-year players Connor Dintino and Mike Herndon — will compete with senior LaQuentin Smith and Jarrett for playing time.
Breckterfield expects Jarrett to play “a lot” this season.
“From last year to this year, the light's turned on,” he said. “He learned how to strain his body, got rid of a couple of habits. He still has a lot of room to go, but to this point in camp he is really figuring it out.”