Graham pleased with his first outing as coach, lays foundation for direction of program
April 17, 2011 4:00 AM
Matt Freed /Post-Gazette
Pitt head coach Todd Graham yells during the Blue-Gold game at Heinz Field Saturday.
By Paul Zeise Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt concluded spring football drills Saturday with the annual Blue-Gold game, and while the rain and cold weather put a damper on the game, coach Todd Graham couldn't be more content with the way that his first spring in charge of the Panthers has gone.
"It was a beautiful day for football," Graham said with tongue firmly planted in cheek after the Blue team, which was made up mostly of the first-team players, beat the Gold team, 48-13, before a crowd of 1,507 at Heinz Field.
"I'm very pleased with our team, we have a lot of work to do and there are so many things that I see [we need to get corrected] by the time we kick this thing off in the fall. For instance, our quarterbacks running the offense the way we want to run it and that is a challenge but those guys have made tremendous progress."
Graham said his top priority this spring was building relationships with his players and getting them to trust him and his staff -- and vice-versa -- so they could come together as a team.
He said one of the most important developments has been the emergence of leaders and the leadership has been outstanding from some of the returning players.
"We got a bunch done," Graham said, "and I am an optimist, but honestly when I talk to [key members of the coaching staff], I'm saying to them, 'Tell me what you think,' and Calvin [Magee, offensive coordinator] feels like we're ahead, Keith [Patterson, defensive coordinator] is excited, he really thinks we have a chance to have a special group on defense.
"We're all optimists for sure, but I think we have had [a great spring] and I could not draw up a better spring than what we have had because I believe these kids believe in what we're doing and we've started to build some trust and that is the key and we have enough talent in place and I think we have a good football team."
Although the offense has grabbed most of the headlines this spring because of how high-powered it has the potential to be, there could be a period early in the season where the team is still finding itself on that side of the ball.
But Graham said he has found out this spring that the defense may be good enough to carry the load until the offense comes around.
And he is OK with that because the only thing he is concerned about is winning football games and that winning foundation and formula has been put in place this spring.
"It doesn't matter either way," Graham said, "but I do think the defense has a chance to be really good, but I think our offense has a chance to be good, too. We're going to have to do a great job of leading and have guys step up as leaders. It is going to take a lot of work and every single person pushing to get better.
"I think we have no question, potential to be one of the best defenses in the country and that is what our goal is and there is no question what we do on offense is going to challenge on that because of the number of snaps we want on offense."
The game gave fans a small taste of the pace the Panthers want to play, but only a small taste because the quarterbacks were not allowed to be hit and thus the defense couldn't rush with the same intensity and aggressiveness it will once the season starts.
Still, there were some interesting things -- like the fact that Tino Sunseri threw the ball 55 times (he completed 35 for 416 yards and two touchdowns) and also that new center Chris Jacobson was perfect on his snaps.
And Buddy Jackson, who, along with Anthony Gonzalez and Tyrone Ezell, won the Ed Conway Award as the most improved players of the spring, returned the opening kick for a touchdown -- something he has done several times in the past few weeks.
One other key development was Kevin Harper's 52-yard field goal in the slop and rain.
Sunseri said a big part of this spring has been learning the offense, but another part was learning about Graham and what he expects from the team and he believes that process is complete.
"As each practice moved on, we felt like on offense we got more comfortable [with his style]," Sunseri said. "And now we know where coach Graham is coming from, he wants high character guys who are motivated each and every day to get better."
NOTES -- The following players did not participate in the game: Drew Carsell (ankle), Arthur Doakes (knee), Kolby Gray (concussion), Brandon Lindsey (shoulder), Dan Mason (knee), Chris Mike (knee), Antwuan Reed (concussion), Dan Schneider (shoulder), Todd Thomas (knee), Ryan Turnley (shoulder), Greg Williams (shoulder), Manny Williams (shoulder), Derrick Burns (shoulder) and Mark Myers (thumb).