Today was the final day of media availability for Paul Chryst before Pitt takes on Virginia Tech at Heinz Field Saturday at noon. Let's get to some quick notes from today's session, as well as some stuff left over from last night's player session.
- Chryst said linebacker Todd Thomas, who returned to practice for the first time since early in training camp this week, was making steady progress, but would not be ready to play this week. Coming off a knee injury, though, Chryst said he liked what he saw from the work Thomas was doing, mostly in individual drills.
"When they’re energized, they’re starting to trust [the knee] more," Chryst said.
In other defensive injury news, it sounds like K'Waun Williams could be returning this week. He missed the game against Cincinnati, despite making the trip and even participating in warm-ups before the game. Chryst said Williams probably could have played if he had to, which certainly bodes well for his availability for this week.
- Having Williams back would certainly be a boost for a defense facing arguably the best quarterback it'll see all season. Through two games, Logan Thomas has completed 59 percent of his passes for 442 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Chryst said earlier this week that Pitt really didn't have a scout team player that can mimic the skill set that Thomas brings.
"It’s unique," Chryst said. "I’ve been around some big backs before, but I don’t know if any of them were 260. I don’t know what his real weight is, but he’s a special athlete."
Thomas isn't quite as mobile as Cincinnati's Munchie Legaux, but still can take off when he needs to. Thomas has 26 rushing yards on the season, but racked up 469 yards last year.
"If he sees something up the pocket that he can take advantage of, he will take advantage of it," Pitt safety Jarred Holley said. "They do have some runs with him out of a zone read where he keeps the ball. He’s a talented kid."
- My colleague Ray Fittipaldo covered how Notre Dame's move to the ACC affects Pitt.
- I did my weekly Pitt football today, and thanks to everyone who stopped by. If you missed it, here's a link to the transcript.
- I've written about this a couple of times here, but Chryst spoke a bit today on learning about his roster through game situations. For as much practice time as they have, there's something to be said for finding out how guys react to game situations. This is especially true with young players, and Pitt is relying on plenty of them this season.
In particular, Chryst regretted going for a touchdown with five seconds left in the first half of the Cincinnati game.
"We, as coaches, have got to make sure if there’s too many of those problems, are we asking them to do something that they can’t do," he said.
- Chryst said the coaching staff has thought about shuffling up the defensive line to create a spark there, but that he didn't think it was a good idea right now. Tyrone Ezell, specifically, lined up at several different positions along the line during preseason. For now, though, they'll just try and get better production out of the same lineup.
"I still feel guys play best when they’re confident in what they’re doing, when they know what they’re doing, trust their techniques, trust their assignments, trust the guy next to them and if you shuffle the deck, you could end up becoming a jack of all trades, master of none," Chryst said. "So, do we look at it? We look at everything. But I think you’ve also got to make sure you’re being fair to the players."
- Speaking of the defensive line, Aaron Donald said he has been getting double-teamed on pretty much every snap this season. He's the first to say that it's no excuse, but it does create the need for someone else along the defensive line to be a presence and force opponents to take the double-team off Donald every once in a while.
"That’s where other guys have to step up," Chryst said. "You can do a couple of things schematically maybe on a play or two. But Aaron’s a good player, and you know where the good players are. To me, that’s where other guys have to step up. You’ve got to create some pressure, have other pressure points."
- On the defense as a whole, both Holley and Donald said the big plays given up against Cincinnati were a result of mistakes, mostly of the mental variety, on Pitt's part, rather than simply getting beat by Cincinnati. If there's a bright side to that, it's that, theoretically, if those mistakes are corrected, the big plays will subside.
"There’s little stints of where we look like a defense, then there’s a couple plays where it’s just miscombobulated or something like that," Holley said.
Both players specifically talked about the need to improve the communication within the defense. It's not necessarily one guy barking out commands better, but rather the defense as a whole playing as a cohesive unit.
"Depending on what you see, you make certain checks," Holley said. "Everybody’s making checks, everybody’s got to be on the same page, so it’s more of a collective thing."
- Former Pitt coach Walt Harris stopped by practice yesterday, and I spoke with him today for a story I'm working on for later this week. He commended the current Pitt players for their determination sticking through such trying times with all the coaching changes, and said he plans to be around practice and whatnot to support the team this year.
"I admire what the team has done, and I really have a lot of respect for Paul and his staff," Harris said. "That’s really why I’m coming to practice, because I respect the staff and I’m a Panther. I come out, and I don’t think anybody knows who I am. I just want to be there."
That's all for now. I'll be back tomorrow with a post scouting out Virginia Tech and what they do on both sides of the ball. Paul Zeise will have a story on the Hokies in tomorrow's P-G, so be on the lookout for that as well.