Pitt Strength And Conditioning

When Coach Dave Wannstedt returned to his alma mater after the 2004 season, he took a laid-back approach to upgrading the Pitt football program.

Wannstedt didn't make any knee-jerk reactions regarding players, coaches and staff. His intensive evaluation came during a 5-6 season that had a 1-4 start. While the coaching staff and roster were juggled, to no one's surprise, there was one main area where Wannstedt believed Pittsburgh needed an upgrade.

"There are certain things you believe in and certain things that you want to be done a certain way,'' Wannstedt said. "So, what I wanted to do was bring in people who think the same way as I do.

"People who think the same way and talk the same language. And we brought in Buddy to do the job for us in strength and conditioning, but I don't think anybody talks the same language as Buddy.''

While that might be true, Buddy Morris has a method to his madness. And a proven track record to go with that. Nearly every player interviewed has praised his work with them. And James Smith, Pitt's assistant strength and conditioning coach, has received equal admiration.

"James does a great job with us,'' Pitt redshirt junior outside linebacker Max Gruder said. "I'm much more physically ready for this coming season. I weigh the same, but I'm leaner, stronger and quicker. And James deserves a lot of credit for making me this way.''

Like Morris, Smith doesn't say much. And when he does, Smith chooses his words carefully. In the division of labor with Pitt's strength and conditioning program, Morris primarily handles the offensive and defensive linemen. Smith basically handles everyone else.

And he was asked which players worked the hardest this past offseason and which ones made the most improvement in strength and conditioning.

"I have autonomous control over the skill guys, so I can speak about those guys the best,'' Smith said. "Aundre Wright has to be at the top, so that was really tough for me when he got injured the other day. He put such an enormous amount of work in since last season, and he really attacked the opportunity to change positions in order to make a bigger contribution to the team.

"Dan Mason is very, very impressive. Coming in as a freshman, he already had a tremendous work ethic. When you couple that with his ability, expectations for him are very high. Antwuan Reed also is up there, and so are Jarred Holley and Jonathan Baldwin. We had an exceptional January and February, and to be honest with you the list is much, much shorter for who didn't do well.''

Smith, of course, declined to list the players' names on that short list. However, he wanted to stress that while that group is extremely small, it's only negative when compared to how well everybody else did and not necessarily bad.

"I have a lot more good things to say about most of the guys because it's been really good this year,'' Smith said. "I'm very impressed.''

One area where there was a marked improvement the previous year was in an increase in strength as far as bench-pressing was concerned. The Panthers went from a handful of players who could bench press more than 400 pounds to more than a dozen going into last season.

Smith cautioned that while someone could be strong in the bench press, he still might not be impressive on the football field in a down lineman position due to a "lack of skill in using their hands and putting their body in the right leverages and so on isn't what it needs to excel at the position.''

"But speed benefits everybody,'' Smith said. "Speed of movement, covering distances, multi-directionally, straight-line and so on. So, improvements in speed have a marked and noticeable carryover to playing skills.''

Take junior right offensive tackle Lucas Nix, for example. He came to Pitt from Thomas Jefferson High School in Jefferson Hills, Pa. at 6-foot-6 and about 300 pounds. He wasn't in prime physical condition, and he wasn't powerfully-built, either. But he was exceptionally athletic for a man that size.

"He had good quickness and mobility, which makes for a good offensive lineman,'' Smith said. "But his improvements in strength now are immediately noticeable on the football field, because he was lacking in that area before.

"And when you add strength to what he already had, he became a well-rounded offensive lineman. The same could be said for Ryan Turnley, who from a muscular strength standpoint really developed increased strength. He's going to be very good once he gets the cast off his hand and wrist.''

Smith then addressed his skill players for their hard work.

"There's no question that Dion Lewis and Ray Graham really took it up a notch in the offseason,'' Smith said. "They worked out very hard, and what people don't realize that Dion is far and away our fastest running back. Ray is a little more similar to Shady, like water flowing through rocks.

"But Dion is more like LaRod was. Angular, explosive and powerful. LaRod was stronger than LeSean, but it might not have seemed that way. And Dion, I wouldn't be surprised at all if he runs a 4.3 when he works out for the NFL in the future. And we'll be back at it when spring practices ends.''

As Wannstedt enters his sixth season at the helm, Pitt's strength and conditioning program has worked with seniors their entire career now.

"The guys in their senior years, those who came in under our regime, we've got some history training with them,'' Smith said. "So, I really feel that from a physical development side, we're operating on a very high level in terms of allowing their skills to take care of themselves because they have the fundamental physical platform to work from.''

And with that as a baseline, along with an increase in recruiting, the sky's the limit for the Pitt football program.

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