Pitt Football Spring Practice 2011: Offense Trying To Keep Pace With Defense

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Pitt Football Spring Practice: Tino Sunseri Still Looks Like Favorite

The quarterback battle was the biggest one in all of camp and that probably hasn’t changed. What also hasn’t changed is that Tino Sunseri still appears to be the favorite. Head coach Todd Graham said that Sunseri entered camp as the starter and would need to essentially be beaten out. From all indications, that isn’t happening right now.

Graham had already given Sunseri some glowing reviews and now quarterbacks coach Todd Dodge says Sunseri’s experience is helping him out significantly:

“The thing that I told Tino today was, about halfway through practice, I told him, your intensity level is exactly where I need it to be,” Dodge said. “The first three, you kind of feel your way through it. The experience that he has as a 13-game starter kind of took over today.”

It’s no secret that the offense is probably a bit behind the defense at this poitn and, really, that’s to be expected. The offense is already playing without key pieces from last year such as Jon Baldwin, Dion Lewis, Jason Pinkston, and Mike Cruz, and having to run an offense without a huddle can’t be the easiest thing in the world.

Graham was committed to having an open competition, but will probably really need to be bowled over by either Mark Myers and Anthony Gonzalez to bench Sunseri. And right now, it doesn’t seem like that’s happening.

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Pitt Football Spring Practice: News And Notes

Several days into camp and there have been some pretty interesting developments:

For starters, 2010 four-star recruit Todd Thomas is playing defense. That’s a change from the Wannstedt regime, which had him pegged to play at wide receiver. I think that’s a good spot for him and should help the pass defense, which has already lost Dom DeCicco to graduation.

Speaking of the wide receivers, it sounds as if they’re still in conditioning mode:

Mike Shanahan and Devin Street both looked good today but the to.
conditioning for those receivers is very different and is going to take some getting used to.

There have also been a lot of turnovers, but it seems the talk has been more so about the good defense and less about the offensive mistakes:

“We have had about 28 turnovers (during spring camp). We reward our players and you get what you emphasize such as goals on defense. We want to out‐physical our opponents and that means stopping runs, tackling, sacks, and interceptions. We need to make explosive plays and that means sacks, TFLs and interceptions. Those three things are what win football games. We emphasize take aways, which will be the key to our success this fall.

Kolby Gray, who was moved from safety to quarterback by Todd Graham, is apparently moving back to safety. And it still sounds to me as if Tino Sunseri still has the edge for the starting quarterback spot over Mark Myers and Anthony Gonzalez.

For more on Pitt’s Spring practices, visit SB Nation Pitt blog, Cardiac Hill.

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Pitt Football Spring Practice: Players Still Adjusting To New Coaches

Pitt’s players, of course, are still getting used to the new coaches and offense/defense in Spring ball. I’m sure progress is being made, but it still sounds as if it’s going to take quite a bit of work to get used to things:

“The tempo is completely different,” Caragein said. “We are non-stop.”

Alecxih, who had 7 1/2 sacks as a junior last season, said the biggest change is the demeanor of the coaching staff.

“Right now, when you are first getting used to it, it’s hard,” he said. “Six coaches screaming, but the key is sprinting out there, you have to get set and see who is signaling the call (at the same time).”

The biggest thing to remember is that Pitt isn’t in pads yet, so it’s just going to get tougher from here…as head coach Todd Graham points out:

“You are always encouraged in shorts,” he said. “Now, let’s put the pads on see how we do.”

Pitt was scheduled to go in pads on Saturday so we’ll see how that went.

An encouraging sign is that it also looks like Aaron Donald is practicing with the first team defense. Donald impressed coaches last year and it’d be nice to see him jump into a starting role.

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Pitt Football Spring Practice: Panthers' First Day Tougher Than Expected

Pitt’s players knew the first practice would be an eye-opener under head coach Todd Graham’s new system. But they probably didn’t truly realize what they were in for:

During the one period open for observation, the offensive and defensive units were asked to run on and off the field in between plays at a brisk pace. According to wide receiver’s coach Jay Norvell, that pace will only get faster as the players catch on to the system

“It was a good first day, a lot of learning, a lot of teaching, but we do things at a very fast pace,” Norvell said. "After the practice, the receivers came up to me and I just started laughing and said, ’Ya’all thought I was lying to you,’ and they said, ‘No, coach, but we thought you embellished it a little.’

“It was good, guys were buying into it and starting to play fast. It was a shock to them, we put in this system and it is tough to be able to execute at the tempo that we want to and I even told them [Tuesday] wasn’t fast enough. It is only our first day but that was nowhere close to being fast enough for our goals and expectations.”

Sure, the players will eventually adjust. The question is, how fast will they do it.

So how did those quarterbacks do? Well, it sounds like Graham was pleased with Tino:

Graham saved his highest praise for Sunseri, who started every game and completed 64.5 percent of his passes last season as a sophomore.

“Tino, you can tell, is experienced,” he said. “He managed. He led. He listens. He is very eager to learn. He was very efficient throwing the football. Tino exceeded my expectations today.”

The QB battle is obviously just beginning, but that sounds like a good start for Tino.

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Pitt Football Spring Practice: Tight End Mike Cruz Leaves Team

New football head coach Todd Graham wasted no time in showing he was serious about cracking down on players as starting tight end Mike Cruz was suspended on Monday, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Cruz subsequently left the team and Pitt will apparently be without its 2010 starter.

Cruz’ loss will be a fairly significant one for the team. He was expected to contribute and, with a year of experience under his belt, he could have been a major part of the offense this year.

The good news for Pitt is that there are some guys ready to step in and take his place. Brock DeCicco who made a few appearances last season, will get some playing time. The Panthers also have Hubie Graham, who transferred from Illinois in 2009. Graham, a former four-star recruit out of Scranton, played sparingly for the Illini and sat out last season for Pitt. He’ll be in the mix and could even get the chance to start.

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Pitt Football Spring Practice 2011: Panthers Open First Practices Under Todd Graham

Pitt's Spring football practices are officially underway with new head coach, Todd Graham.

Jobs are up for grabs, but the one position battle everyone will have their eyes on is at quarterback. Graham has already said that incumbent starter, Tino Sunseri, is in the driver's seat. But it's hardly an open-and-shut case:

Let's talk about the quarterback position. How much of an edge does Tino Sunseri have after starting all of last year?


TG:
Of course, going into the spring, he started last year, so he's the guy to beat out. But we feel really good about [Mark] Myers. The guy can really throw the football, is a true passer, a drop-back pro-style type quarterback ... And then the [Anthony] Gonzalez kid is an athlete. The guy can run and was big time playmaker, and we're excited to see him because we have no film on him other than high school.

We're excited about what we've seen with all three guys. Then Kolby Gray, who played defensive back last year after a shoulder injury, we put him there to have a fourth guy. And that's where his heart is, and we've been impressed with him. So we've got four guys there we feel good about. Tino, I feel really good about how he'll adjust to his system.

I've said over at Cardiac Hill that while Sunseri's experience is nice, it's probably not going to be a deal-breaker for Graham. Graham is starting over at Pitt and I expect him to get the best guy in there at all costs.

While Gonzalez and Gray will be given some consideration, the battle will likely come down to either Sunseri or Myers. Myers is the name you hear the most about after Sunseri and Gray was switched over to safety last year before making the move back to QB this year to give Pitt a fourth option. Gonzalez may still be too raw, so I think he would have a hard time winning the job.

The QB job may not be settled after Spring practices, but we should have a better idea of where everyone stands.

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