Wide receivers coach Mike Norvell tried to warn his own unit that the pace of practice was going to kick up a notch. He got the notion that even though the players were responding through conditioning over the last eight weeks, that they'd be prepared to go at a fastpace. They were, but the pace was even faster than they expected.
"All the receivers came up to me after practice, I started laughing," Norvell said. "I said, ‘You all thought I was lying to you.' They said, ‘No coach, we just thought you embellished a little bit. It's exactly what you said.' It was good. The guys are buying into it. They're starting to play fast. I'm excited about this group."
Head coach Todd Graham was also pleased at the progress the players went at, but he cautioned the players that this is only the start, and that the pace is only going to pick up more from here.
"As we got about halfway through the practice, I told the guys we've played about a half a quarter," Graham said. "We had a whole bunch of snaps, a bunch more snaps than what they're used to. I was very, very impressed with how they handled that."
As players came into the media room to be interviewed, all came in with beat-red faces. Some even had to take a seat—just to catch up, even though practice had been done for awhile. Still, they could understand where the idea was coming from, and they can understand the point of running things—everything from conditioning, to team meetings, to the actual spring practices—and how this will all translate to the field.
"We just have to get used to the tempo thing, get the tempo of practice and stuff, the effort by everybody was there," receiver Mike Shanahan said. "As far as getting back to the line, being disciplined, lining up where you have to line up, the physical part is hard too. You have to be in great shape. You have to be tough. I think mental part is second-to-none."
Pitt has seen this type of pace from teams like Cincinnati in 2008 and 2009, Notre Dame in 2010 and Utah in 2010—teams that like to run a lot of plays with a no-huddle where they try to control the tempo. Look no further than that 2009 Cincinnati game that cost Pitt a trip to a BCS bowl. Cincinnati trailed by as many as three touchdowns in that game, but because of the pace of their system—those players believed, and eventually proved they were never out of any game. Now, Pitt has a chance to be that team. The players are starting to see how teams that run a fast-pace system—or a team that is able to run 82 plays a game, as Graham intends to at Pitt—is in the game no matter what the score is.
"For a defense to get lined up, it's hard to run any blitz packages or anything," offensive lineman Chris Jacobson said. "You can get confused. It just gives us the advantage. It's going to be fun."
While a lot of the tempo is dictated by how quickly the offensive line breaks the huddle and gets set up for each play, the skill players also see the idea.
"It definitely has its advantages," Shanahan added. "We can catch the defense sleeping on one play, get a positive gain or a big play out of it. I think just the up-tempo style really disguised the playmakers; the quarterbacks, the receivers, the running backs, the tight ends. I think everybody has an opportunity to make more plays now, since we're getting more plays off."