Spring Practice Primer: Pittsburgh

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer


Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Pittsburgh.

Spring Practice Starts: March 15

Spring Game: Saturday, April 14

Three things to look for:

1. The undoing of Todd Graham's "high-octane" offense. After Graham's up-tempo spread attack imploded on itself, Pittsburgh fans will welcome the more traditional, downhill style of football that accompanies new head coach Paul Chryst . Paul Zeise, of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, described spring practice under Graham as "very helter skelter," with lots of coaches running and screaming as they attempted to change the tempo across the board. With Chryst, there will be more of an emphasis on fundamentals and establishing the physicality that will eventually define the offense. Competition at the skill positions likely won't open up until the fall due to injuries, so this spring will be the time to shake out the offensive line. In 2011 Pittsburgh's 63.0 sacks allowed ranked dead last in all of FBS. Improving the pass blocking, along with installing the new run blocking schemes, will be important steps for the offense this spring.

2. Establishing depth at running back. One consistent piece of the Panthers offense, at least for the first seven games, was running back Ray Graham. The shifty junior was averaging over 120 yards per game when his season was ended by an ACL tear against Connecticut. While Graham will sit out spring practice as he continues to recover from successful surgery, backups Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis will take a majority of the snaps at running back. Bennett saw his first action as a freshman after Graham's injury, and finished the season as the starter after senior Zach Brown suffered a bruised sternum. Highly-touted freshman running back Rushel Shell will join the team in the fall, so this spring provides Bennett and Davis an opportunity to get a head start on what figures to be stiff competition in August.

3. Aaron Donald's continued development. 2012 might be a special season for junior defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Over the last couple of years Pittsburgh has produced great pass rushers on the defensive line - Greg Romeus, Brandon Lindsey, Jabaal Sheard, to name a few, and Donald appears to be the next in line. After breaking out in 2011 with team-high 11 sacks (2nd in the Big East), you could argue Donald has already added his name to the list. New defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable wants the defensive line to be very active in his 4-3 scheme, and Donald possesses the type of playmaking ability to have a special season for the Panthers.

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