So Far, So Good For Pitt Players

In an offseason that began with the dismissal of head coach Dave Wannstedt, the hiring then firing of Michael Haywood followed by the hiring of Todd Graham--all in one month's time--some of the Pitt seniors took time Tuesday to talk about actual football, and how they're getting ready for the start of training camp which is less than two months away.

When it comes to offseason conditioning, it always seems there are players becoming faster and stronger. One of the most exciting things about the annual media day—for whatever team—is to see who passes the ‘look test.'

While there's just under two months to see who on this Pitt team will ultimately pass that look test, the Pitt players are hard at work on a conditioning routine under first-year strength coach Shawn Griswold. While there was always a new challenge under previous strength coach Buddy Morris, this current group of Pitt players are getting acclimated to the new philosophies.

"It's definitely different from what we've done in the past," senior defensive lineman Myles Caragein said. "It's a little bit more agility. We do the combine stuff. We run a lot more yards, especially for the linemen. We're going a lot more heavier in the weight room, just little things like that."

Todd Graham has spent a lot of time praising the work of the line on both sides of the ball, proclaiming several of these players as leaders. He added on Tuesday, in an impromptu meeting with the media, that the seniors are doing a good job leading in these voluntary, senior-led workouts. That should be no surprise with fifth-year seniors Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih on the defensive side of the ball, Chris Jacobson, Greg Gaskins and Jordan Gibbs on the offensive side of the ball in addition to senior Lucas Nix.

"It's unbelievable," Alecxih said of the leadership. "Obviously, we have Myles, the leader on the d-line. On the o-line, (Jacobson), Lucas Nix, Jordan Gibbs, Greg Gaskins is going to step into a leadership role. It's seniors all around. I think that's going to be the strength of our team this year."

While there's a lot of game-experience in those names mentioned by Alecxih, there's also some strong senior leadership that needs replaced with the losses of key players like Jason Pinkston, Jabaal Sheard and Greg Romeus—also players who were key components for several years. Despite those losses, the new seniors have gradually moved into a leadership role.

This current group of seniors has a lot more to bear on its shoulders, leading the team into a new era following a trying offseason, where they were also loyal to the previous coaching staff. There isn't anything new this group feels they have needed to put on their shoulders. To them, it seems like a more gradual transition.

"I think they're just coming along with being leaders," Caragein added. "They're doing everything right when they're asked to do it. They're guiding people, even when they're not supposed to. It's not part of their job, but they're picking up the young guys, bringing them forward; just little stuff like that."

"It's just the earning of respect as a leader," Jacobson added. "We've been here for awhile, and this is it. We got a special group of seniors that are coming together. A lot of younger kids are looking up to us, coming out here. Everybody is doing a great job."

That leadership starts to develop in these voluntary conditioning sessions, as Graham also said on Tuesday. He feels it starts with the mental part, then carries over to the physical part. The players exercised the same feelings.

"Our guys are constantly coming up to me and talking about how much stronger, how much better they feel as far as their conditioning," Graham said. "I think through hard work and coming out and grinding every day, I think you develop your team chemistry as well."

Some drills are tougher, including a couple of sled drills that the players have learned to hate, but also ones they realize test their mental and physical capacities to the fullest.

"We put a coach on a sled, and we push him around the field," Alecxih said, referring to one challenging drill. "We put him on the sled, and we have to push him around, and push him fast. Everyone else has to jog behind. There will be four (linemen). They'll push him for six seconds, then break, then four more. You keep running and keep pushing. That's not one I look forward to. I hate it, but it's good."

Relying on each other for leadership, these players also rely on each other to get through the workouts. Caragein and Jacobson have been teammates going back to high school. Ironically, the two go up against each other—as center and nose tackle—in some individual drills.

"Me and Myles work together all the time," Jacobson said. "We come at the same weight times, and then we run together next to each other. Me and him, we push ourselves to our limits. It's fun, but we both make each other better. We push each other out here every day. It's big."

Alecxih also gets a shot at Jacobson from time-to-time; something he enjoys, but like the sled drill, something he also doesn't look forward to at times.

"Chris Jacobson, he's just strong," Alecxih said. "His punch is just lethal. I despise going against him, but I get him sometimes too. It works out."

When asked for players who are standing out through the offseason conditioning, the same names come up, proving the team chemistry that Graham talks about, is developing with the help of these summer workouts.

"The guys sticking out right now are Chas (Alecxih), (Jarred) Holley, Max (Gruder) on defense," Caragein said. "On offense, it's probably Chris Jacobson and Mike Shanahan."

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