Pitt's kicking game, running game and the return of Dan Mason were all topics for discussion, as Paul Chryst held his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon. Chryst was asked on two separate occasions about the play of Harper and Mason.
Chryst was asked multiple times about the play of Kevin Harper, who kicked two field goals in Saturday's 20-6 win at Buffalo. Harper kicked a 45-yarder to open the scoring, his longest field goal of the season. This comes after a week after missing a 50-yarder in the previous loss to Louisville.
Entering the Buffalo game, Chryst said he was placing an emphasis on special teams--specifically the punt protection unit, and the are of field goals. He felt Harper responded pretty well Saturday, despite the windy conditions.
"I'm happy for him," Chryst said. "We needed something positive. The good thing about sports is that he gets to do that again and be that guy. I would hope we would give anyone that confidence, whether its Kevin, on offensive lineman or defensive linemen. Hopefully he'll have a strong finish to his senior year."
As for Mason, Chryst admits he wasn't here for much of his rehab process, that has taken the better part of two years. His only impression of Mason is watching his work ethic since he took over the program last December.
"I think Dan is a guy who really loves the game and works at it," Chryst said. "Truth be known, we should have production like that from the linebacker. He doing what he should be doing. I think, I'm not surprised (at his return) by the guy that I've been around. He's getting better, he's getting more healthy and all that. I wasn't here two years ago and last year. I can follow the story, but the guy that I know, I'm not surprised. (by his return)."
RUNNING GAME CONCERNS
Based on the history of play that Ray Graham has shown throughout his career, and the impact that Rushel Shell has been able to make as a freshman, Pitt's running game is one of the team's strengths on paper. However, outside of a 100-yard performance from Graham against Cincinnati, the breakout game both players had in Week Three against Virginia Tech, the running game has been a non-factor in the last three games.
In this recent stretch, Graham has rushed 50 times for a total of 151 yards (3.0/carry) with 2 rushing scores. Shell has 31 carries for 133 yards (4.3/carry) and 2 rushing scores over the same span.
Positive yardage, but nothing near the impact Chryst expects out of the running game.
"I think it's been inconsistent," Chryst said of the running game. "There have been times where it's been good. We had some decent runs on Saturday; some in crucial situations where we didn't convert. That's the neat thing about the running game. One guy doesn't get it done, it affects not the whole unit, but the whole team. I think it is every week.
"Absolutely we'll work on it. You try to address the things, technique, make sure your schemes give your players a chance. Players have to go out and execute it on Saturday."
TIGHT END A CONCERN
One thing that's been evident during Chryst's first season is how involved the tight ends can be. On the plus side, freshman J.P. Holtz is showing promise for a great career, making four starts this season. On the negative side, the same thing. Holtz has been forced to start due to injuries to Hubie Graham and Drew Carswell. Graham has missed four games this season due to injury, including the last two. Carswell has also missed the last two. Brendan Carrozoni made his first appearance of the season against Buffalo.
Health is affecting the production from the position right now. Chryst says despite Holtz seeing an increased role, there has been one completion to a tight end of the last three games; a 15-yarder to Holtz at Syracuse. He attributes those health issues to the lack of production, not something that Holtz is or is not doing. In fact, he says that a lot is being placed on Holtz in another areas, which is deterring from getting the position involved more.
"J.P. has also been helping on special teams," Chryst said. "He's getting a lot of snaps. We used some different special teams, we haven't lost confidence in him. The snaps we're getting out of (tight ends), we're using them wisely. (Mike Shanahan) is taking on a different role; kind of the way it's been designed.
"Job is number one, in pass protection. We're certainly not trying to phase (Holtz) out, just use personnel the best we can."
AFFECT ON RECRUITING
Chryst also touched on recruiting a little, and how the team's 3-4 record has affected recruiting discussions.
"The (discussions with prospects) that I know have been consistently receptive," Chryst said. "I don't know if we're further along because we're further along in the recruiting process. As far as I'm concerned, they've been pretty receptive."
OTHER FRESHMEN ON THE HORIZON
I addition to Shell and Holtz, freshman defensive lineman Darryl Render is the only other member of the 2012 class to start this season. Jahmahl Pardner played in the first three games of the season before going down with a knee injury, which will likely give him a redshirt. Outside of that, everyone else in the freshman class is set to redshirt at this point.
Is there anyone else that has opened some eyes, or maybe close to getting a shot at the field?
"Every place we've been, we've tried to develop guys," Chryst said. "Every day there is a star; a player of the day and all that. It's fun. It's good stuff. It's not always perfect, but these guys are playing and competing, and hitting. There's a lot of guys on there."