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Another fresh start at Pitt

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pitt coach Paul Chryst knows his players from sitting with them in comfortable chairs in his office and engaging in friendly conversation.

Today, he gets the shoulder pads and helmets out of storage and begins finding out what really matters -- how well they play football.

For the third time in three years, Pitt will have a new coaching staff barking instructions when spring practice opens at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex. Drills begin at 8:45 a.m. and continue for 14 sessions, culminating April 14 with the spring game at Heinz Field.

Players may be unsure what to expect after experiencing distinctively different styles under former coaches Dave Wannstedt and Todd Graham, and Chryst is equally eager to answer some questions of his own.

"There is that feeling-out period," he said. "We need to know what this group can do and what its strengths and weaknesses are."

Since he was hired Dec. 22, Chryst has made a point of saying that he watched little video of the ill-fated 2011 season, which ended with Graham's sudden departure for Arizona State and a 6-7 record.

"I didn't spend a lot of time watching or caring what the scheme was last year," he said.

His point: Even if Pitt had won the Big East, the returning players still would have to show their new coach what they can do.

"The great thing about sports is every game you have to prove yourself," he said. "Every year, you have to prove yourself."

Positions will be handled differently than they were under Graham and new faces will emerge, but Chryst is aware that having 13 returning regulars is a logical starting point.

"We can all make a pretty good bet on some (starting) spots," he said, "but the great thing is they all have to go out and do it."

Pitt has eight returning starters on offense, including quarterback Tino Sunseri, who has made 26 career starts with inconsistent results. But Chryst only knows Sunseri, a senior-to-be, as the most experienced quarterback among six on the roster.

"What I learned about him, what I know about him, I like," Chryst said. "I'm glad he's here. I'm really glad. I am looking forward to working with him. I know (quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger) is. I know (offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph) is. We are fired up about that."

The offense Sunseri leads today will look different from how it eventually shapes up. Running back Ray Graham, who had surgery after suffering a serious knee injury Oct. 26, won't participate this spring; wide receiver Mike Shanahan (back) and guard Chris Jacobson (knee) will be limited.

Old faces, new places
Position changes that Pitt coach Paul Chryst will implement for the start of spring drills today:
Player 2012 position 2011 position
E.J. Banks Quarterback Defensive back
Devin Cook Defensive line Linebacker
Jason Frimpong Linebacker Defensive back
Anthony Gonzalez Quarterback H-back
Brandon Ifill Wide receiver Defensive back
Adam Lazenga Fullback Linebacker
LaQuentin Smith Defensive line Linebacker
Justin Virbitsky Offensive line Tight end
Steve Williams Defensive back Running back

On defense, five starters return, but linebacker Todd Thomas (knee) is out and safety Jarred Holley (knee) will be limited. The others are defensive tackle Aaron Donald and safeties Andrew Taglianetti and Jason Hendricks.

Note: Athletic director Steve Pederson said he believes the good faith Pitt showed by remaining in the Big East for 2012 while planning to join the ACC will lead to an early departure, possibly as soon as the 2013-14 school year. "They will have 12 football teams (in 2013), so it does seem to make sense on both ends that we will be able to get there," he said. "(Big East commissioner John Marinatto) indicated he was ready to have those discussions."




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