Pitt Football: Depth on all sides will benefit Panthers
August 21, 2011 4:00 AM
Quarterback Tino Sunseri will lead Todd Graham's high octane offense in the coach's first season with the Panthers.
By Paul Zeise Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt's training camp concluded Saturday with a scrimmage and the Panthers will begin Monday to prepare for their season opener Sept. 3 against Buffalo.
That means the depth chart for the first and second team is set, for the most part. Looking at all of the positions, it appears the Panthers will have a nice mix of veterans and younger players.
And any team that proclaims itself to be "high octane" probably starts with the quarterback. That position is held by a familiar face -- redshirt junior Tino Sunseri, who started every game last season.
Sunseri is a little bigger, a little stronger, a little quicker and has improved his arm strength. Most importantly, he is now in an offense that plays to his strengths. Last season the Panthers had a pro-style system and, though Sunseri had a good year, he was asked to make a number of throws -- particularly down the field and to the boundary -- that he wasn't capable of making at that stage of his career.
"I feel like, in this system, I'll really be able to grow as a quarterback," Sunseri said. "What I think is most exciting is that we are still developing as an offense every day and we're only going to get better. But for me, I like the versatility of this offense, I like the quick throws and the fact that we can open it up or we can run the ball.
"I've heard coach talk about us throwing the ball 55 times in a game if necessary and, obviously, as a quarterback, that excites me, but we can and maybe sometimes will hand the ball off 55 or 60 times in a game if that's what it takes to win and I'm all for that, too."
Redshirt freshman Mark Myers and walk-on freshman Trey Anderson ended camp in a battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot. While Anderson took most of the second-team reps at the end of the week, Pitt coach Todd Graham said the back-up will be determined after coaches watch film of Saturday's scrimmage.
One of the old faces in new places is a quarterback, Anthony Gonzalez, who spent this past week almost exclusively working at the threeback (H-back in most offenses) positions and with the tight end group. Graham said Gonzalez, who is suspended the first two games for an incident involving marijuana this summer, is still a quarterback but too good of an athlete for Pitt not to use elsewhere until he is able to win the starting job. Gonzalez will likely fall in line somewhere behind starting tight end/threeback Hubie Graham and Sto-Rox graduate Drew Carswell, who has had a good camp catching the football.
Here is a look at the rest of the positions and the players who have found their way to the top of the depth chart for the Panthers this season:
• The offensive line was juggled a bit late in camp but it appears as if the unit will look one of two ways -- either it will be Jordan Gibbs at left tackle, Chris Jacobson at left guard, Ryan Turnley at center, Cory King at right guard and Lucas Nix at right tackle, or Nix will move to King's guard spot and fifth-year senior Greg Gaskins will be the right tackle. Regardless of how it shakes out after coaches watch the scrimmage film, those six, along with redshirt sophomore tackle/guard Juantez Hollins, will be the primary players holding down the five line spots at the start of the season.
• Receivers coach Mike Norvell said he would like to have six or seven receivers ready to play and, going into the final day, four of those spots were seemingly taken by Mike Shanahan, Cam Saddler, Devin Street and Salath Williams. But Street and Saddler have been slowed by injuries this week so a number of younger players have gotten opportunities. The two players, according to Graham, who are next in line are junior college transfer Josh Brinson and freshman Ronald Jones, who may also return punts.
• Ray Graham, who rushed for 922 yards and nine touchdowns in a back-up role to Dion Lewis last season, will be the starting tailback. The Panthers have an excellent second option in Wisconsin-transfer Zach Brown. Pitt brought in four freshmen tailbacks and the one who has consistently generated the most buzz -- and seems to be in line to be the third tailback -- is Corey Davis, who has big-play ability.
• The defensive line is again the strength of the team with the first and second units loaded with talented athletes. The first unit will likely be Aaron Donald, Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih from one end to the other with the second unit being nose tackle Khaynin Mosley-Smith flanked by Tyrone Ezell or TJ Clemmings or Justin Hargrove. This group should put up lots of numbers and be among the best in the Big East, if not the country, particularly because of the depth.
• Brandon Lindsey will start at the stand-up defensive end spot called "Panther linebacker". He should have a big season in terms of tackles for loss and sacks as his primary duty will be to rush the passer. But this is another spot where the drop-off to the back-up is minimal because freshman Ejuan Price has been much better than coaches could have hoped at this stage in his career.
• Todd Thomas jumped ahead of three-year starter Greg Williams at the spur linebacker spot, and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said Thomas will likely be the starter opening day. Graham said redshirt freshman Eric Williams and safety Andrew Taglianetti will also be used here.
• Inside, three players are fighting for two jobs. They are Shane Gordon, Tristan Roberts and Max Gruder, though Gruder seems firmly entrenched at one of the spots. Roberts is a fifth-year senior, and like Williams, a veteran with plenty of experience, but Gordon has had a strong camp and because of his speed and athleticism, fits in well. All three figure to play extensively but two freshmen -- LaQuentin Smith and Nicholas Grigsby, who was slowed with an ankle injury -- will push them.
• Graham said three players are starters at corner, even though only two will start games. All three -- Buddy Jackson, Antwuan Reed and Kwaun Williams -- played a lot last year, so this is one of the more experienced groups.
• The starting safeties are Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks, though Hendricks has been slowed by turf toe, followed by Taglianetti and Brandon Ifill.
• Redshirt sophomore Matt Yoklicwill be the punter, and redshirt junior Kevin Harper, who has had a great camp and is finally realizing his potential, will be the place kicker. Harper was one of the highest rated kickers coming out of high school but has struggled with consistency until this year.