Only a week removed from spring drills, Paul Chryst's opening statement reflects how much he enjoyed his third spring as Pitt head coach.
"I'm sad we're no longer practicing, but it was a good spring for us," Chryst said. "We'll get better if everyone can improve. You're starting to lay the foundation."
One question mark that Chryst is going to have for the 2014 season, is replacing Aaron Donald. Donald had arguably the most-decorated season for a defensive tackle in he he history of college football. He says first and foremost, he doesn't anticipate replacing or replicating exactly what Donald did. But he liked what he saw from the position as a whole in the spring.
"I know we're not going to replace Aaron Donald, and I now it will be a long time before any player has that type of year," Chryst said. "We're pretty young at defensive tackle. Guys continue to grow. We like what we did there, and at quarterback. We had two quarterbacks this spring. They're going to need to have a good summer."
Chryst continued on Donald, who is expected to be taken in the first round of next month's NFL draft. He also talked about Savage, who after just one season at Pitt, is a possibility in the second round.
"I'm certainly happy for him," Chryst said of Savage. "If you said you're surprised or not surprised, he has the talents and physical attributes when talking about how teams feel about him,what they see in him.
"Tom is a talented, talented player, and he'll continue to keep growing. He's got so much of the skillset teams are looking for. That part doesn't surprise me. Going in to the process he wasn't caught in anything."
The Ed Conway Award for Most Improved Player was announced after camp. T.J. Clemmings won it for the offense, David Durham for the defense and Todd Thomas for special teams. All three will be fifth-year seniors in 2014. Chryst talked for the first time since the award was announced, on why these three were selected.
"I thought T.J. had a great spring from start to finish," Chryst said. "He did some good things gaining familiarity with the position, has done a ton of work in the offseason. He's an athletically-gifted player. I love the way he worked.
"Dave Durham, same thing. He sat out the year before, was doing anything he could to help. Last year, he settled in to a position. He's doing everything he can to get better. His motor doesn't stop."
Pitt has only awarded a most improved player on special teams one other time. Chryst appointed Chris Haering as special teams coach in the offseason. It wasn't the intent to put additional emphasis on special teams, by having a most improved player in that area. However he saw enough from Thomas in the spring, where he and the staff felt that he too made some strides.
"We have to be better in special teams," Chryst said. "What better than a senior starting linebacker as well as linebacker spot.
"It's everything. When you go in to spring, our points of emphasis, I thought Todd, he did do a lot of good stuff. Any time he did something special, he earned it on all fronts. We wanted to reward someone the way Todd did."
Chryst also pointed out a few other players who made some strides this spring. He doesn't typically hand out compliments, either.
"Titus Howard, Reggie Mitchell, Terrish Webb, Ray Vinopal," Chryst said, mentioning some defensive backs. "Matt Galambos really grew as a linebacker and as a middle linebacker. I thought Anthony Gonzalez, he got hurt, so he missed the tail end of it. We got a lot of young guys. Shakir Soto played a lot for us. He is going to be a starter for us. Tyler (Boyd) approached the spring you want him to approach it. On the offensive line, Jaryd Jones-Smith had a very good spring."
The Clemson program has been in the news this offseason for an anti-religion group taking aim at the program's practices around religion. Head coach Dabo Swinney defended his program in a statement released Wednesday.
"I'm very proud of our program," Swinney said. "I'm very proud of the way we run our program, the culture that we have here and the young men we develop. There's really--to me there's been already too much talked about all that stuff. But the statement is what it is, and for me, I'm very, very proud of the way we do things here at Clemson."
The ACC has the defending national champion in Florida State. Head coach Jimbo Fisher talked about what it's like to have a spring building off a national title, yet looking to build on that.
"I think just the ability to have hunger again and understand that they have to have that chip on their shoulder," Fisher said. "They have to stay aggressive and keep refining the things they did well."
"Louisville is an unique situation. The Cardinals have to replace quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, head coach Charlie Strong. Yet they replace someone who won at the school not long ago in Bobby Petrino, and they look to do it in a new conference.
"I think it's very similar to when I came in before and took over for John L. Smith," Petrino said. "It's a program that's pretty well set and has great leadership. But now it's time to go to the next level, and it's going into the ACC."