We've officially reached the one-month countdown for the opening of Pitt's training camp for the 2013 season. Four weeks from today, the Panthers will open up camp on the South Side (and eight weeks from yesterday they'll open up the 2013 season in primetime against Florida State).
Yesterday, we met with some of the players who Pitt will be relying on this upcoming season to talk about summer conditioning, hopes and goals for 2013 and preseason accolades. Here's a link to my story from today's Post-Gazette about Aaron Donald, and here are a few more highlights...
- Donald garnered the biggest praise yesterday (if you can call being named to a preseason watch list praise) when he was named to the Bednarik Award Watch List. The Bednarik Award is given annually to the nation's best defensive player. Donald was named All-Big East each of the past two years. Last year, he led the team in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (18.5). Obviously, Donald is going to be the anchor for Pitt's defense this year and the Panthers are going to need a solid year out of him not only for his production, but to open up space for other guys to make plays.
Donald admitted it was an honor to be recognized, but was focused on preparing for the upcoming season.
"We're just working," Donald said. "Each day we try and get better and when it's time to put them pads on, we're going to go at it, and hopefully come game time we're going to be ready to go play FSU."
Donald will face regular double-teams this season, something that happened a majority of the time in 2012, as well. He's good enough to break through them sometimes, but even when he isn't, it creates matchups that Pitt's other defensive linemen and rushers need to take advantage of.
"I'm getting noticed a lot more, so it's expected to be double-teamed," Donald said. "I'm just trying to go out there and make plays to help my team win.
"If I get one, I'm trying to take advantage of a single block."
- Devin Street also stopped by to talk with reporters yesterday. Street was named second-team All-ACC by Phil Steele, and has appeared on a couple of regional college football preview magazines. Like Donald, he isn't buying into any preseason hype.
"Preseason doesn't do anything," Street said. "It matters what you do on the field. I'm blessed to be [noticed], but it's nothing that I take into account or anything like that. I'm just looking forward to going in there, getting ready, getting my team ready."
Street said he and the other older players are trying to hold everyone to a higher level of accountability this offseason, even for the smallest details.
"No more excuses for just missing even a light throw, 15 minutes," Street said. "If we want to be great, we have to do all the little things too. Going to class, being on time for workouts, not even a minute late. That stuff carries over. When you're not accountable for your actions, you can't be successful."
- One thing I've heard from a few different players is that they're spending a lot more time around the South Side facility this offseason than they used to. Paul Chryst has added things like a ping pong table and cornhole set to the locker room to make players want to stay around and spend time together this offseason.
"It's a family around here right now," Street said. "Guys are grinding, guys are working hard. We love being over here, and that's what I think it has to be like. it has to be a family atmosphere, but at the same time it has to be a working atmosphere. Guys are coming over here and treating it like a job. We're coming over here and working everyday, but at the same time we're bonding, getting that much closer, so when we get on the field, we have each other's backs and we're all in sync, playing together."
When I talked to Chryst last month, he compared it to when his own kids bring their friends over to hang out at his house.
"You want it to be a place they're comfortable at," Chryst said. "I think that we can't spend enough time getting to know each other. I think we can be a closer team. I think that there's a lot of reasons, probably the same way a parent wants to have a decent rec room, I like it when they're around. Players give me energy and I want to be around it. Summer's a good time, it doesn't always have to be about business, you know what I mean?"
- Street said he's started doing a little film work on the ACC cornerbacks he's going to face this season, and one thing is immediately evident: speed.
"They're athletic," he said. "They're definitely athletic, got some speed, but their whole team does. That's what we're expecting. We have to up our level of gameplay, we have to be explosive, be fast. That's why we're working out four times, five times a week, so we can be explosive just like the ACC teams."
- Of course, one topic that's always at least on the back of everyone's mind is that Sept. 2 opener against the Seminoles.
"That's big," linebacker Todd Thomas said. "We talk about it everyday, working out. That's definitely a big point. We talk about them everyday. That's going to be a big day for us."
- When asked what has been missing from this team the past two seasons, Thomas couldn't put his finger on it.
"I'm not sure," he said. "This year it's going to be different. I promise you it's going to be different this year.
"We're just going to work hard, we're going to turn this program around. We're in the ACC now, it's not the Big East. Not trying to say the Big East is bad, I'm just saying you've got to work hard. The ACC means you've got to step up."