Pitt receivers finding better fit in offense

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Devin Street and Cam Saddler have had excellent practices recently as Pitt's receiving corps has shown steady improvement in spring drills.

It's also good news for the Panthers because the receivers did not fare well in 2011 and shared the blame for the offense's lack of consistency with erratic play from the quarterbacks.

Senior Mike Shanahan, limited in practice as he recovers from back surgery, said new coach Paul Chryst's offense is better suited to the talent of the wide receivers.

"I like the route combinations, they make sense, they are very clear, and that helps us," Shanahan said. "Last year, we weren't asked to run routes specifically, and there was some confusion. Most of us were recruited to play in this pro-style offense. So, it should be an easy transition and it has been."

While Shanahan hasn't been able to participate fully in drills, Street and Saddler have, and the competition has been intense.

That's the way it should be according to receivers coach Bobby Engram, who starred at Penn State and played a number of years in the NFL.

"The No. 1 goal this spring has been for everyone to improve and really learn the offense," he said. "The older guys, the ones who have been here, they have to know that more is required of them from our standpoint, though Mike is different as I am encouraging him to get mental reps and go through drills.

"And it is encouraging to see that Devin wants to be a consistent playmaker, a guy we can throw the ball to and a go-to guy. I want to continue to raise the level of play of all of them, and this, being our first spring, is a great opportunity for them to establish themselves."

Engram said he believes Street is the type of player who will take the pressure off the other receivers.

"Devin has the skill set to be a go-to guy, but I am looking for the mental and physical," Engram said. "So it is, 'What is his mentality, is he willing to do the extra work, do you want the ball?' It is all earned around here, you have to earn it every day by the way you perform, and these guys are working hard to earn their spots."

Saddler, who had three touchdown receptions in a red-zone drill to end practice Tuesday, has caught Engram's eye with his energy, but there are a lot of inexperienced players such as Ed Tinker, Brandon Ifill, Salath Williams, Ronald Jones, Kevin Weatherspoon and Brendon Felder, who are getting noticed.

"We've got a lot of younger guys and guys who haven't played much, so that is part of my challenge -- getting them ready to play," Engram said. "The good thing is we have some guys with talent and I think we have some very good parts so that's always a good start."

Street, who took up the leadership role because he believes it is a part of being a go-to receiver, agrees with Shanahan that the pro-style offense is a much better fit.

But, he said, Engram is the wild card because not only is the coach's experience an asset, but his ability to communicate also has resonated with the receivers.

"It's great to have a coach that we get along with so well and who teaches us so much," Street said. "We've had teachers, but he just knows how to go about it the right way. There is respect for anyone who has played in the NFL.

"A guy like [Engram,] who knows what it's like to play in the NFL, it helps us. He has the experience, and it rubs off on us, and we go out there and have fun. And last year in the spread offense, it was just 'go,' but now we are thinking a lot more. We are understanding why concepts are that way, why routes are that way, so there is a little difference. Football is football."


Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise. First Published April 5, 2012 12:00 AM


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