Pittsburgh starts spring practices today with its first ACC schedule in hand, as the Panthers will officially join the conference on July 1. Coach Paul Chryst enters his second season looking for improvement in every area after a 6-7 finish in 2012. Pitt will have a new starting quarterback for the first time in three years, but with three starters back on the defensive line and three more starters in the secondary, the defense should be a strength. I spoke with Chryst on Monday to get his take on starting spring ball in the ACC.
Here are the highlights of our conversation:
Have you noticed a change in your players or any more excitement in the air knowing you guys will be lining up against different opponents this year and some tougher teams?
Paul Chryst: I think it probably does do something, but you would also hope that each kid, no matter what, you’re getting ready for one of four competitive seasons. I can’t say I’ve noticed, ‘Oh, it’s so different,’ but I do think they know.
What are your biggest areas of concern or your top priorities heading into spring ball? What are the most important things you guys need to get done?
PC: Well, concern is everything. First and foremost, each player has to improve. Spring is a great time for that. I don’t care if it’s your first spring, or our best player’s last spring. Each player has to get better individually. From a coaching perspective, you have to truly teach and emphasize a drill and fundamental techniques you have to be good at. If there’s ever a time you can do it, spring is the time to be less on scheme and more about the how-to of something. I think that’s the big emphasis. The spring provides an opportunity for players to establish themselves or put themselves in position to have a role for the fall, to say, ‘Hey, you can count on me, I’m good enough to be playing.’ Then for some of the players it’s truly just learning the base schemes and getting comfortable with it. For Tom Savage, he was here last year, but wasn’t featured in a lot of the reps.
What does your quarterback competition look like?
PC: You’ve got Tommy Savage, who’s got the most experience, and that was as a freshman at a different school. (Savage played at Rutgers in 2009-10, where as a freshman he threw for 2,211 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was on scholarship at Arizona in 2011 but didn’t play in any games.) I like everything he’s done since he’s come on campus. He’s done everything you’d want him to do, now he has to go out and compete and earn his spot. Trey Anderson is a guy who’s been here and will be starting his third season. He was a backup last year and then you have two freshmen, a redshirt freshman, Chad Voytik, and a true freshman, Tra’Von Chapman. First and foremost they have to get comfortable with the offense and then once that happens, there is a quarterback competition because we haven’t named a starter. They’ll get a lot of work, I know that much.
Entering your second season, how much more comfortable are you? Or are you a little uncomfortable, knowing you have to play Florida State on Labor Day to kick it off?
PC: I’m never comfortable, but you ask of yourself everything you ask of your players -- to get better. I certainly know there’s areas where I can and need to.
Where do you think you guys will make the most progress this year? Or where would you like to see the most progress?
PC: Everywhere, seriously, we need to. The only consistent thing for us last was we were consistently inconsistent. We need to make strides and grow across the board. There’s not two or three things you can say, ‘Well, if we got this squared away we’d be that much better.’ In every area we have to get better.
What are your thoughts on the schedule and playing in the ACC this year?
PC: I’m excited in a sense that last year we knew we were going to the ACC, but now we’re here. As far as the schedule, every year you get your schedule and you embrace and find a way to get excited about it. You’re naturally excited because that’s the season; it’s the best part of the year. It’s not like you have to manufacture excitement, but who you play and when you play them, those are given to you, and you try to play them accordingly. It’s our first year in the ACC, we’ve joined the ACC and now we can plan on that.