Todd Graham said when he came to Pitt, that he is big on personnel. He has proved that this spring, by moving players around in different positions. He tried out four different centers with the first-team, and it was on that fourth try, where Chris Jacobson seems to have found a home.
In regards to Graham and his personnel switching, he says body language is a key. In Jacobson's case, Graham likes Jacobson's body type for the center position. Sure, he feels there's still some things that Jacobson needs to learn about the position, but whatever Graham's vision is for a center, Jacobson seems to have to met that vision. He feels those technical things will be learned in time.
Graham made another interesting personnel move by moving Shayne Hale off the line of scrimmage at defensive end, to the Panther position.
"You can never have enough Panthers," Graham said two weeks ago, when talking about this hybrid defensive end/linebacker position. Hale has had a pretty good camp, and was working in with the second-team at defensive end for much of camp, alongside Tyrone Ezell and T.J. Clemmings.
When Hale signed on to play at Pitt, he came as a linebacker. That quickly changed, as Hale moved to the defensive line during his redshirt year of 2008. By that following spring, he was already a bookend with Brandon Lindsey, backing up the starting tandem of Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus. In his two seasons of action, though, he appeared in nine total games; just two in 2010. Graham noticed something about Jacobson's body language that made the head coach think center. When he saw Hale's body language, he noticed that Hale wasn't too upbeat about things.
"I'm big on watching their body language," Graham said. "I'm more interested in what that says, than what they say out of their mouth. Boy, his body language exhumed no confidence; down on himself."
He observed Hale's play at defensive end. Hale remained steady, working through the second group at defensive end, sometimes even in the three technique (over the guard). After the team's first scrimmage, Graham moved Hale to Panther. Keep in mind, Hale was moved from linebacker to end, because he had the size to be an end, while gaining a bit of a speed advantage playing on the edge—something he apparently did not have playing at middle linebacker in the 4-3 scheme.
If Graham needs the Panther to have enough speed—more speed than you would need from one of the two inside backers in the 3-4 scheme—to impact the quarterback, Hale has the speed that Graham is looking for to be a Panther.
Graham is waiting for Brandon Lindsey to return to action, to be the ‘Panther'—a position he feels is tailor-made for Lindsey. Bryan Murphy has had as good a camp of any player on the team. He now also feels good with Hale at the position too.
"(His confidence) has totally changed," Graham said. "He's got a chance. He's really working hard, and I think he's having fun; very proud of Shayne. I think he's got a chance to develop."
When Graham approached Hale with the idea of making this move, he jumped at the opportunity.
"Actually, one day we were talking about how well I was doing at defensive end," Hale said. "Next minute, coach (Graham), was like, ‘Well, we need you to move to the Panther position.' I said I'm fine with that. It's definitely exciting. It's a lot like playing linebacker, and I'm loving it. I just have to keep getting everything down and learning everything, getting better."
That confidence Graham talks about—while he credits Hale with finding the confidence within himself—Hale says the opposite. He feels Graham and his staff have had a positive impact on him and the rest of his teammates so far.
"When they came in, they came in with an open mind, and wanted to meet everyone," Hale said. "They made it easier for us to open up to them, and they opened up to us. (Graham) is giving me a lot of motivation every day. Just with the coaches in here, with smiles on their faces, it just makes us guys want to go out and work harder, learn what we want to do to please the coaches and ourselves."
Graham feels that Hale has found a new home, and Hale is just flat out excited to be back at linebacker. Hale wouldn't rule out also playing in at the line if need be. In fact, he feels this defense predicates itself more than ever, on being flexible to play in more than one spot.
"It's so good to be able to play more than one position on the defense," Hale said. "Just to be back at linebacker is great. It's a great thing. I can also play the three (technique) and at defensive end. I can move any time they need me."
You can tell he's also given some thought to going back inside, if the coaches were to ask him to move there as well.
"Just being back at linebacker is great for me right now," Hale said. "Outside linebacker is kind of like the defensive end; just up, but I'm dropping on a few things. I don't think the middle (linebacker) would change anything. I'd just have to learn more coverages and be more in depth with the safeties and stuff like that.
"Definitely, I think (Panther) is a good fit for me. I looked at the film, and I feel real good at it. After a few practices, I feel like I can get better at a few things. I definitely feel like it's a good fit for me."