PITTSBURGH – No tailgating.
No trip to a local high school.
No full-padded scrimmage meant to serve as the ending of one phase of the college football offseason and the start of another.
There were Popsicles and dodgeball though even as a rare mid-April snow squall roared outside the indoor practice facility the school shares with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Hey, it’s the least Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst could do for a team that’s starting to forge an identity closely akin to the relaxed but focused guy calling the shots.
The Panthers ended spring drills Tuesday without the faux pomp and circumstance of a traditional Blue-Gold game and instead spent it quietly enjoying themselves with an impromptu version of a playground staple and the sight of offensive linemen trying (only somewhat successfully) to do things such as catch punts and run.
“Stuff like that really helps a team come together, just guys having fun together,” senior safety Ray Vinopal said.
“You see in spring games it’s very basic usually, the calls and the coverages. Coach just felt we could get more out of an extra practice and just working on things that aren’t so basic. I think that was the mindset of the coaches and I think we accomplished that.”
Coming off a roller coaster 7-6 season that ended with a victory over Bowling Green in the Pizza Bowl, the Panthers are looking to build momentum entering the third season of Chryst’s tenure. There will be turnover again at quarterback, where Chad Voytik and Trey Anderson are looking to replace Tom Savage.
Otherwise, there is stability across the board on offense, where eight starters return, including wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
Pressed on whether he saw any surprises during the 15 spring sessions permitted by the NCAA and Chryst was typically understated.
“No one really did come out of nowhere,” Chryst said. “I think we’ve got a really good feel for our guys.”
So much so that Chryst felt his team worked at a slightly faster pace this spring than the previous two.
Though the overwhelming majority of the roster is in its first and second year with the program, Chryst pushed the tempo a bit. The coaches didn’t delve deeper into the playbook as much as they made sure the number of reps increased.
“We wanted to make sure it wasn’t about scheme,” Chryst said. “We wanted to make guys to focus on technique, the how to as opposed to what to do. It felt like it was a little bit faster, they kind of got it a little bit faster.”
The goal now is to carry it over into the summer. New NCAA regulations will allow coaches with limited access to their players between now and when training camp starts in August. Chryst expects to take advantage of the time, but he also expects his players to do the work necessary on their own.
“I see some things going the right way,” he said. “They’ve still got to do it, not just in summer and fall camp. It’s got to translate to the games.”
The Panthers open the season at home on Aug. 30 against Delaware.