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March 15, 2012Paul Chryst's first spring camp as head coach of the Pitt football team starts today, and if there's one word to sum up the goals of the next four weeks, it's this:
Acclimation, for the players to the systems, the coaches to the players, and the players to the coaches.
"You don't want to make more of it, but it is obviously a chance for us to start something, to begin the relationships and begin the season," Chryst said Wednesday. "Spring ball is not about me, it's about us and I get to be a part of it."
That acclimation process will operate on a three-part schedule spread over the course of spring camp, which opens today and lasts until the spring game on April 14.
"If you were to look at spring practice the way we're approaching it is if there are 15 practices, the first third is really teaching and implementing our systems. Also, you're developing skills and techniques and getting to know players.
"The second five days are just letting them play and keep growing. It allows us to find out who guys are and what their strengths and weaknesses are that we can help them improve upon. The last five you keep them open to see if we can keep going and what direction we need to be going in.
"I am looking forward to it and I think this group wants to be good. I'm excited because I believe there's talent and it will be a chance to get to know each other. Most importantly, we want to start and go forward in our first practice of the 2012 season."
Chryst and his staff will have some priorities this spring. Finding some definition in the offensive line will be key, as Pitt has 13 offensive linemen on scholarship, but only one - redshirt senior Ryan Turnley - has a full season of starting experience. Redshirt senior Chris Jacobson will be back for his sixth season, but he will be limited this spring while he rehabs from a knee injury suffered last season.
The coaches will also have work to do on the defensive line. Pitt spent last year in a three-man line after adding a total of two defensive tackles in the last two classes combined - one more will join this year - leaving the team with a shortage of numbers on the line.
And then there is quarterback. In his second year as a starter, Tino Sunseri struggled last season, completing 64.2% of his passes for 2,616 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. Part of those struggles may be tied to the spread offense Todd Graham forced on the Panthers despite some personnel inadequacies, but the result was the same:
Sunseri did not play well in 2011, and his struggles were a big source of Pitt's ineffectiveness on offense. Redshirt sophomore Mark Myers will provide Sunseri's chief competition this spring, and Chryst has said that Myers will have the opportunity to unseat the incumbent.
In fact, Chryst wants to see players compete at every position.
"Eleven on offense and 11 of defense," Chryst said when asked what positions would be open. "The great thing about sports and in football is that in every game you have to prove yourself and every year you have to prove yourself. We can all make a pretty good bet on some spots and who should start; the great thing is they still have to go out and do it.
"There is nothing more important than this team and Pitt football and I talked to the group about that. If you're true to that then your best 11 players shouldn't sit out. Your best linemen will play, your best skill guys will play and your best defensive backs will play so I think they really are all open."