Pitt held practice at Hoover High School on Wednesday. Aside from practice, there was one personnel item. Right guard Arthur Doakes has been suspended for Saturday's game due to a violation of team policy. Doakes did not make the trip, and the school will not comment on if and when Doakes would return to the team.
Doakes had started the final six games at right guard after starter Ryan Schlieper was lost for the season with a foot injury after the Temple game. Chryst did not specify who would be his replacement, but that could be answered Thursday. It makes the move of T.J. Clemmings to the offensive line all the more important. The only other guards on the team are Chris Jacobson and Shane Johnson. Freshman Gabe Roberts traveled to Birmingham, but is taking a redshirt due to a shoulder surgery earlier this season.
Clemmings starting is not too far out of the realm, based on numbers.
As for the practice itself, head coach Paul Chryst said Wednesday's practice was 'spirited' and full of energy. In talking with the players, that sentiment carries over.
"They better be (energized)," Chryst said. "It has been fun. We got off the plane and had a nice practice. We got a good group of guys.
"We've had two good, spirited practices. I like the way guys have approached it."
It's clear Chryst's confidence has resonated throughout the team. Fifth-year seniors Ryan Turnley and Mike Shanahan have been a part of five bowl teams, including three trips to Birmingham. Both players said in addition to confidence, there's a lot of trust in the gameplan the coaches are installing.
"I definitely think, on a serious note, we do feel comfortable in practice here, and around the hotel and stuff because you've been here before," Turnley said. "I don't know it will be an advantage in the game, but we definitely feel comfortable."
Not to mention, this is the first time in three years the team doesn't have a coaching change hovering around it. Turnley also said having a head coach in place, with no interim tag, allows the team to build on some of the things they've been doing this year. He feels it may be the single-most important difference this time around.
"It's night and day," Turnley said. "The practices are severely more intense. Everyone is into it. Everyone has a focus about them. Before, there was really no voice of the team or anything like that. Now, everyone is excited about it and focused."
"It's actually been pretty fun," Shanahan said. "I think Coach Chryst has been stressing this whole time about, ‘we're here to win.' That's the goal. We experienced the city a little bit, so now, I think this is the year we can really focus on football. I think yesterday we had a pretty good practice. Today as well. We're on the right track."
POSTSEASON PLANS FOR SHANAHAN
Shanahan also said he will be playing in the January 11 Casino del Sol All-Star game in Tucson, Arizona, on January 11. Teammate Chris Jacobson is also playing in the game. Shanahan said he will also begin training for a shot at the NFL after the game. He plans to head up to Buffalo and train with former Pitt strength coach Buddy Morris.
PITT WAS IT ALL THE WAY FOR SHELL
When Rushel Shell was being recruited, the Hopewell grad also had an offer from Alabama on his offer sheet. He says the Crimson Tide were never a thought, adding that Pitt was always where he wanted to be.
"I never made a trip down, no unofficials (visits), officials," Shell said. "This is my first time being down here. I had my school picked out before all the recruiting process."
PITT TOURS CIVIL RIGHTS INSTITUTE
As their activity for the day, the team took a tour of the Civil Rights Institute in downtown Birmingham. It might have been a repeat for some, but even those returning picked up things they might have missed.
"It just teaches you a lot of lessons about life," redshirt freshman corner Lafayette Pitts said. "It just shows us a lot, about what's going on. It's hard to believe when you see some of the things, hard to believe what was going on. That's what was going on at that time."
Devin Cook--also a redshirt freshman--went on the tour last year. He said there were new things he picked up along the way. Among the displays in the Institute are a big screen presentation of the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'I Have A Dream' speech and a display showing the events of a bus led by the Freedom Riders. Making a trip from Washington D.C. to New Orleans, the bus was firebombed in Anniston, Alabama in May of 1961. The front section of that bus is on display. Cook said the display was very moving to see.
"We were looking at the bus, the Freedom Riders bus," Cook said. "They were showing how it got bombed, and how they were telling everyone about it. Just to see that, was crazy.
"For me, it just seems like a second time reading the book. There's a lot of things you didn't see the first time. It's just cool to see everything."