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April 23, 2014

Paul Chryst

COACH CHRYST:  Well, certainly I'm sad we're no longer practicing.  But I thought it was a good spring for us.  The big focus I talked to the team about was we'll get better as a team if individually each guy can get better.
I think spring is a great time for the development of your players and along with that you're kind of laying the foundation first time on the field with this team that we'll have for the fall.  You're starting to lay the foundation of your team.
I think the spring is as much about trying to get all your guys to grow and develop as players.  I thought we accomplished that for the most part.

Q.  Obviously you have some big holes to fill at defensive tackle.  How are those positions looking to you?
COACH CHRYST:  Certainly we do.  We have big holes there to fill.  I know we're not going to replace Aaron Donald, the type of year that he had.  Probably be a long time before any player has that kind of year.
But I think we have numbers.  We have to replace his production.  You can't replace him.  I think we're pretty young at the defensive tackle spot.  Guys are continuing to grow and mature as players.  Liked what we did there.
We had two quarterbacks this spring.  I thought both definitely got better during the spring.  They're going to need a good summer and a fall camp obviously.  Both Aaron and Tom have a chance to be early picks in the draft.  You don't just replace them.
But we got guys that will step in and are getting better.  I like what the quarterbacks did and the defensive tackles did this spring.  We're a ways away from being game‑ready, in my opinion.

Q.  Are you surprised by how much Tom has risen up draft boards over the past few weeks and months?
COACH CHRYST:  I'm certainly happy for him.  You never know what to expect.  If you said you're surprised or not surprised, you'd probably be wrong.
He certainly has a lot of the talents and physical attributes.  Tom has played a lot of football.  Talking about how teams feel about him, what they see in him, I agree that Tom is a talented, talented player.  The only thing he needs is just to continue to keep growing.  I think he can continue to keep developing.
He's got so much of the skill set that I think teams are looking for, that part doesn't surprise me.  But certainly happy for him.  I know going into the process, he just wants an opportunity.  He wasn't kind of caught up in everything.
I think a lot of the buzz that comes before he wasn't as much a part of because he hadn't played for two years.  I think what he did in the season, the Combine, individual workouts, it's been great to see.  Hopefully everyone is right and his stock is rising.

Q.  The three guys that you gave the award to for most improved, why did you give it to those three guys?
COACH CHRYST:  It wasn't just me.  But I agreed with it.  I thought T.J. had a great spring from start to finish.  You can see that growth in a guy that last year I thought did some good things but was just gaining familiarity with the position.  Now I think he's done a ton of work in the off‑season, is truly confident in his knowledge, what to do, how to do it, and therefore was just able to play without thinking as much.
As you know, he's certainly an athletically gifted player.  Just his approach.  Love the way he worked.
Dave Durham, the same thing.  Sat out the year before.  Was on offense, defense, doing anything to help us practice.  Last year settled into the position.  There is a guy that I think is doing everything he can to have the best senior year possible.  Great example to all our players.  He's got a motor that doesn't stop.
Then Todd, we've got to be better on special teams.  Special teams was a point of emphasis this spring.  We said if we're going to get better, we're going to need everyone.  What better than a senior starting linebacker that just championed every bit of the special teams, as well as had a good spring at the linebacker spot.  He sends the right message that if we're going to get better at it everyone has to be all in.
I thought those three had a really good spring and also sends a great message to our guys of what we need, the kind of commitment and approach that we need.  Those three were very well‑deserved.

Q.  About Todd, there's only one other time in the history of the program that you've awarded most improved player to a special teams player.  You mentioned the emphasis.  You hired Chris Haering.  Did you know it was going to be your emphasis to find somebody that improved or was that based on Todd's play?
COACH CHRYST:  I think probably it's everything.  Certainly we knew going into spring where we had to get better, our points of emphasis, areas of growth.  I thought Todd, he did do a lot of good stuff.  I thought he got better as a linebacker.  I loved the way he approached any times we did the special teams.
I think he earned it kind of on all fronts.  Wanted to reward, recognize someone that approached it the way Todd did.

Q.  You come from a place that had a lot of guys drafted high.  What did it mean to Wisconsin, Pitt to have guys taken high?
COACH CHRYST:  I think first and foremost you're truly happy for those individuals.  I think our job at universities, for us in the football program, is to make sure that everyone is well‑prepared and ready to go on to the next chapter in their life.  You're happy when guys get the opportunity.  Those are special things that happen.
I think program‑wise, you know, kind of like I thought with Aaron, you can accomplish anything, you can maximize who you are as a player and as a person at Pitt.  Pitt's got a great history of high draft picks, not just first‑rounders.
I think you feel good.  It's been a while since Pitt has had anyone drafted.  So I think for the program, it's good.  But most important you're happy for those individuals.  That's what really makes it special.  That's what made it special when I was at Wisconsin.

Q.  Of the guys you have going forward, the ones you're going to be coaching this year, who do you really feel has stepped up?
COACH CHRYST:  There's quite a few.  I thought guys that truly got better this spring, in the defensive backfield, Titus Howard, had a really good spring.  Terrish Webb, Reggie Mitchell, safeties.  Ray Vinopal had a tremendous spring.  We asked a lot out of Ray.
Linebackers, I thought Matt Galambos really grew as a linebacker, middle linebacker.  I thought Anthony Gonzalez.  Bam Bradley was having a good spring until he got hurt and missed the tail end of it.
Up front we got a lot of young guys.  Shakir Soto, going to be a starter for us.  You can go down on list on offense.
I thought Tyler approached the spring the way you'd want him to approach it.  James Conner got better.
I think in the offensive line, we're starting to develop some depth.  Jaryd Jones‑Smith, a guy that redshirted last year, had a really good spring, especially when you consider it's his first spring.
I thought we had a lot of guys certainly get better, take advantage of the time that we had, the 15 practices.  I'm sure there's some guys I'm forgetting or leaving out.  But I felt as a group we had a lot of guys that truly got better.  That's what made it fun being out there every day.

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