Pitt opens camp today under new coach Todd Graham

Big numbers are expected from the Panthers' high-octane, spread offense

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Pitt defensive end Brandon Lindsey has set 15 sacks as his goal for the season.

Receiver Mike Shanahan does not have an exact number in mind for how many touchdowns he would like to score, but he believes the Panthers can average more than 40 points per game.

Lofty goals, big numbers.

But such things are what Pitt coach Todd Graham's talking points have been since January, when he brought his brand of "high-octane" football to Oakland.

The Panthers will start working toward those goals today when they open training camp at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side.


Shanahan said the Panthers got a small taste of what the offense can do in 15 spring practices, but he believes the best is yet to come.

"I think it took us a while to be able to run the offense at the speed it needs to be run, but that was what the spring was for and then our workouts in the summer," Shanahan said.

"But we're ready, I think we've really come together as an offense, and we will be able to really get after it from the first day. The thing is, I don't know if we can average 40 points a game or not, but I wouldn't doubt that it is possible.

"The key is going to be turnovers and penalties -- if we can limit both, we can score a lot of points."

University administrators hope Graham can deliver the kind of exciting football he is selling because they have made a huge financial investment in him. Graham is making about $2 million per year and was given a pool of $2 million for his staff. The school has made him the focal point of its marketing campaign, going so far as to create a glitzy website called highoctanefootball.com.

Given Graham's history, there is no reason to believe the Panthers will not post big numbers.

He was the coach at Tulsa from 2007-10, and twice the Golden Hurricane led Division I-A in total offense. They were fifth last season.

In '08, the Golden Hurricane averaged 569.9 yards and 47.1 points per game and scored 661 points, the second-highest single-season total in the NCAA's modern era.

Last year, the Golden Hurricane averaged 505.6 yards per game and 41.4 points.

Graham coached Rice only in '06, and the Owls increased their scoring from 21 to 28 points per game. Graham did that with a team recruited to run the wishbone.

Not surprisingly, one of the main questions Graham has faced since he arrived at Pitt has been, "Do you have the personnel to pull off your wide-open, spread offense?" His answer, consistently, has been "absolutely."

"We took over a team at Rice and changed them from the wishbone to our system in one season," Graham said, "and, by the end of the season, we were rolling. And here I think we have a lot of very good pieces to work with.

"Do we have everything we'd like? No, not yet, but I think we have an excellent quarterback, a lot of good receivers and at least one running back [Ray Graham] who really has a chance to do some special things in our system.

"Our goal is to run 81or 82 plays per game, and I believe that as long as we protect the ball, we're going to be able to do that."

While the Panthers are expected to be exciting on offense the defense, as Lindsey said, also will be exciting to watch.

But will Graham's defense be fun to watch because it will be ultra-aggressive like the offense and attack the quarterback from every angle? Or, will it be fun to watch simply because Pitt has allowed so many points in recent seasons?

The aggression part of Graham's defensive philosophy is evident in turnovers -- Tulsa forced 36 last year, third in Division I-A. Pitt forced 22. Despite all the turnovers, however, the Golden Hurricane defense was ranked No. 111 and gave up 53 touchdowns. Pitt yielded 29.

But Lindsey said that this new defense will work well with Pitt's personnel because they are experienced and the unit has the defensive line and secondary necessary to make it work.

"Everyone talks about our secondary as, like, it is the weak link, but we have a lot of guys who can run and cover, and that's what it takes," Lindsey said.

"But I think it is going to be fun to see how we are going to attack teams. Last year, we probably only blitzed about 10 percent of the time, if that, but, this year, coaches are talking about blitzing as much as 60 percent of the time.

"It is going to be a huge change for us, but we're ready for the challenge."

Pitt 2011 Preseason camp outlook

2010 record: 8-5, 5-2 Big East Conference.

Bowl game: Defeated Kentucky, 27-10, in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

Top returnees: QB Tino Sunseri; RB Ray Graham; WR Mike Shanahan; OT Lucas Nix; DT Myles Caragein; CB K'Waun Williams; S Jarred Holley.

Schedule: Sept. 3, Buffalo; Sept. 10, Maine; Sept. 17, at Iowa; Sept. 24, Notre Dame; Sept. 29, South Florida; Oct. 8, at Rutgers; Oct. 15, Utah; Oct. 26, Connecticut; Nov. 5, Cincinnati; Nov. 12, at Louisville; Nov. 25, at West Virginia; Dec. 3, Syracuse.

Camp battles: With a new coaching staff, every job usually is up for grabs, but that is not the case with the Panthers, a veteran team with few holes to fill. The one area of concern is the offensive line, where, beyond returning starters Nix, tackle Jordan Gibbs and center/guard Chris Jacobson, there are questions about who the other two starters will be and where they will play. ... Graham is the starter at tailback, but Wisconsin transfer Zach Brown will push him for playing time. ... The starting secondary is nearly set, but a bunch of players will scramble to get on the two-deep depth chart.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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