PITTSBURGH - Nobody was happier that Pitt's preseason camp started Monday than new head coach Todd Graham.
"We had a great summer conditioning program, but this isn't spring ball or conditioning anymore. The season is finally here and now we're preparing to win football games," Graham said. "Time was our biggest enemy. We've needed every second of every minute we've been here to prepare for today."
Graham outlined the goals of his first camp at Pitt, which will run for the next two weeks before the team starts game planning for its first game, which is hosting Buffalo at Heinz Field Sept. 3.
"The key is we need to get better every day. We want to become efficient and also tougher as we develop the discipline to play in our system," Graham said. "We'll build togetherness as a team and hopefully come out healthy and ready to play."
The high-octane system Graham introduced at Pitt has been talked about since he arrived earlier this year. He credited Pitt's leaders on the field as being ambassadors for his system, which filters down to the entire team. He imprinted a slogan on T-shirts to get his point across.
"Our philosophy is non-negotiable. Our core leadership has bought into what we're doing," Graham said. "We had T-shirts made up that say 'Keep the Change' on the front and 'Pay the Price' on the back to remind everybody to work hard and focus on not going back to old bad habits."
Some of that core leadership Graham is excited about is on the interior defensive line, which he also thinks has excellent quality and quantity of depth.
"We've got a bunch of good interior linemen. It's probably our deepest position on the whole team," Graham said.
"[Myles] Caragein, has shown excellent leadership and we're going to try to get Chas Alecxih on the field for as many plays as we can."
Alecxih, a redshirt senior, does not see much difference in his position even though the defensive system is totally revamped compared to his last four years on the team.
"I'm excited about playing in this system but it's not as different as it seems for defensive linemen," Alecxih said. "I still need to make plays and try to get in the backfield."
On offense, Graham feels returning starter Tino Sunseri has improved vastly and also expects speed at the offensive skill positions.
"He's [Tino] gotten better every day and he realizes he can't turn over the football and try to operate outside the system because we can't afford to give up those plays on offense," Graham said. "I've seen as much confidence in him as I've seen in any player."
Sunseri has accepted Graham's challenge head-on and has seen improvement in both his knowledge of the new system and his own play on the field.
"No matter what system a quarterback is playing in or at any level, the quarterback is the focus of any offense and has to be smart and make plays," Sunseri said. "I know what's expected of me on and off the field and after the work I put in on my footwork, athleticism, and overall shape, I feel excited for the season to start."
Junior running back Ray Graham is now the feature back after sharing the backfield with now-departed Dion Lewis the last two seasons. He does not see his role as being any different though.
"I don't feel any different this year than when I was playing with Dion. I just go out there and have fun and do what I can to help my team win," Graham said. "It's not just me. We've got a lot of weapons and we'll need the help of all our players to get things done."
One player that will be needed is running back Zach Brown. He transferred from Wisconsin but is eligible right away since he graduated. Graham would have been the only experienced scholarship running back returning so Brown will be called on to provide support on and off the field.
"I have confidence and experience. I know I can play the game. I'm more between the tackles and more of a bruising back, where Ray [Graham] can make a man miss," Brown said. "I know I'm in a rare situation here being new but also being experienced but it's a challenge I look forward to."
Nobody has a bigger challenge than Graham, but he is also looking forward to what is expected of him by the university, his players, and the fans.
"This is the greatest opportunity I've ever had. I came here to win championships, I'm not boasting or bragging because we haven't won a game yet," Graham said. "The city of Pittsburgh is the City of Champions and our fans expect championships."
Notes: Sophomore defensive end Bryan Murphy was expected to contribute this year but has been ruled academically ineligible for the season. He will redshirt but continue to practice with the team. ... Last year's starting linebacker Dan Mason is still rehabbing his knee after season-ending surgery ended his redshirt freshman year and will not start camp practicing on the field.