1.) I know I wrote about Dan Mason Tuesday but I have to be honest, this is one of the most amazing stories I've covered in 11 years and today I actually got a chance to talk to him along with several other reporters. I know we aren't supposed to "root" for the team as reporters and whatnot but my goodness, how could any human being with even a tiny heart or soul not want to root for this guy to succeed?
Seriously, his injuries were so severe, his road back was so long and hard - and he still has some nerve issues that need to heal - but yet, he is out there running his tail off and playing middle linebacker as if he has nothing holding him back. His attitude is great and I think all you need to know about the kid is that when doctors told him he'd never play again, his response was (his words, obviously) "I couldn’t stop, rehabbing and everything, trying to get back, God put something in me, I just couldn’t [quit], I just had to try. It was working hard and faith. I was doubting right after the injury but that is only the time I doubted, but once I just got back into it, got my mindset right, it just started coming back."
Again, Mason was born to play middle linebacker, he looks the part, he plays the part and if he is indeed able to line up as the starter - which is where he is right now - in the opener next year, the Panthers defense will be better for it and you, as fans, will witness one of the better feel good stories we've had in a long time.
2.) One thing that is clear about Paul Chryst - he is being embraced by the high school coaches in Western Pennsyvlania and the reason is - he is open to them and he wants them to know he values them and values what they mean to Pitt. I've seen more high school coaches at these few spring practices than I did all of last year and all of them have said the same thing - they really like and respect Chryst because as one guy put it "he's a football coach, not a publicity hound" That should help Pitt recruiting locally, though, ultimately Chryst has to win for Pitt to have a chance to win some of these local battles.
3.) Please sit down before you read this - I actually thought the quarterbacks had a good day today. I know that we are supposed to criticize the quarterbacks every day, but I'll be honest, they -- and actually more accurately, Tino Sunseri -- had as good of a day as I've seen in a long time. He completed a lot of passes, looked confident in the pocket, made good decisions - it was a good day for him. He seemed to have a nice rapport with Cam Saddler, who caught a bunch of balls and he made a number of tough throws. Again, I am not saying he is all of the sudden channeling Peyton Manning - I am saying he had a good day. And if he has a good day Saturday, then Sunday and then makes a habit of it, he could actually have people feeling good about that positon by the fall.
4.) I thought the receivers had a really good day, even though there were at least three inexcusable drops. But they seem to be getting on the same page as the quarterbacks and as a result we're seeing less balls flying into nowhere and more guys making catches. Brandon Ifill had a real nice catch on the sidelines, Devin Street had a few nice catches, Saddler caught a bunch, including a deep one for a touchdown - all in all it was a pretty good day for the offense.
5.) Running backs coach Desmond Robinson was very cryptic in his answers but he has to like what he has seen from the fullback position, especially Derrick Burns, who one member of the Pitt propaganda machine compared to former NFL stud fullback Larry Centers. Now, I know that is a bit much but I will say I've seen Burns enough in five days to know he will be a weapon in both the run game and the pass game and he is good at catching passes out of the backfield as well. Robinson said basically to ask him at the end of spring what he thinks of the running backs, which was a polite way of saying he is not going to tell us who he likes and doesn't like cause he wants them all to keep working hard. He does seem to be very high, however, on both Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis, which isn't a surprise because I think both are good players.
6.) It is funny - after watching a year of spread offense football (which, please understand, I have no issues with it, I'm just point out the differences. There are many ways to get it done) I was thinking "boy these guys are really physical again" as I watched the inside run drills and the hitting and the way the line comes off the ball. Of course, Paul Chryst has been watching Wisconsin for the past few years and he has a lot different idea about what physical football is supposed to look like.
Here is his answer to my question about whether he has been happy with how physical the team has played....
“We have a long ways to go. I think guys are trying, though. I don’t think that part is not there. A lot of being physical is knowing what you’re doing then doing it with the proper technique and the willingness. It’s not that they’re not willing to be physical but when you play with high pad level it’s hard to be physical. When you have bad footwork it’s hard to be physical. It goes hand-in-hand.”
7.) In case you missed the memo, Pitt has moved the spring game to North Hills high school. It is on April 14th and the gates open at 11. There will be the annual youth clinics and whatnot as well. Chryst said this was a way to reach out to the community and take Pitt football out to the people. Pitt did this in Wannstedt's first season - 2005 -- when they had the spring game at Gateway. I kind of like it because it felt like a better atmosphere so this is a good move. But at the end of the day it is a spring football exhibition so I'm not sure the venue matters all that much.