Pitt Notebook: Expect defense to blitz more

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A five-letter word to summarize the biggest difference between Pitt's defensive philosophy the past six years under Dave Wannstedt and what it will be under Todd Graham -- blitz.

The Panthers will likely blitz more in the first half of their opener than Wannstedt's teams did in six seasons.

That might be a bit of a stretch but not by much. After talking to players and coaches, Graham's defensive philosophy mirrors his offensive philosophy: "When in doubt, attack."

The past two years Pitt was among the Division I leaders in quarterback sacks but did that without blitzing. The Panthers relied on their defensive linemen to get to the quarterback. That will change this coming season.

Pitt defensive lineman Chaz Alecxih said Saturday the philosophy is more fun and a lot less predictable. Opposing offenses will have no idea where the pressure is coming from.

"We knew that if the defensive line didn't get to the quarterback last year, nobody was going to," Alecxih said. "We didn't run a lot of blitzes last year, although coach [Phil] Bennett was a genius with our defenses. But this year it is different because the linebackers can get pressure, they can step up and make our job a lot easier up front.

"That makes it a lot more fun for us."

Alecxih said that although the Panthers will blitz more -- they have shown a number of zone blitzes this spring -- that doesn't mean the defensive linemen are off the hook.

He said Graham has made it clear that all 11 players on defense are responsible for what he calls "impacting the quarterback."

Snap judgments

Chris Jacobson's move to center looks like it will be permanent. While he has shown some real flashes of brilliance, he also has had some growing pains. That was evident Saturday by the number of bad snaps he had during a scrimmage.

Graham said Jacobson will be an excellent center once he develops some consistency snapping the ball and that will come with repetitions.

"I'd say he was about 70 percent perfect on snaps today," Graham said. "That's obviously not where we want to be but he's going to be very good once he gets it down."

Quarterback shifts

A major difference in the offense is quarterback Tino Sunseri will almost exclusively take snaps in the shotgun formation. That means his pre-snap view of a defense is different.

"I've had to learn to be able to locate the snap and to be able to look up and locate safeties," Sunseri said. "That is the biggest thing about being in the shotgun, being able to look up and find the safeties and know where the rotation is going.

"When you are under center, you don't have to worry about the snap because you get in rhythm with the center and so you can just locate the safeties and snap."

Another difference for Sunseri are the read-option plays he will have to run. He will carry the football more than he has in the past, which is fine with him.

"I think it takes some pressure off of Ray [Graham]," Sunseri said of the read-option plays. "Whenever a defense can key into a running back, it makes it a lot harder on him and now they can't be so downhill running after him. They have to be able to respect me running a little bit."

Spring stars

Because so many players are sitting out with injuries or for precautionary reasons, spring drills can produce "stars". The problem is that these one or two players often are never heard from once the season starts and the starters return.

The best candidate for that this spring is walk-on tailback Desmond Brown, whose older brother Antonio is a receiver for the Steelers.

Brown has excelled carrying the football and has made a number of plays but part of that is because he is one of the few players at his position and has gotten the bulk of the work.

One other player who has emerged is redshirt freshman tight end Brendan Carozzoni. Again, he has benefited, especially in the past week, from the fact Pitt's top two tight ends, Brock DeCicco and Hubie Graham, have been out with injuries.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com .


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