Receivers hit stride after stumbling out of blocks

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For an example of how much Pitt's receivers are willing to help each other succeed, look no further than the team's most recent game.

With a minute left in the third quarter, quarterback Tino Sunseri found Mike Shanahan deep down the right sideline. Shanahan hauled the pass in and looked poised for a big gain. Just as Gardner-Webb cornerback Drew White was about to force Shanahan out of bounds, Pitt receiver Devin Street flew in to deliver a block and spring Shanahan for a 77-yard touchdown pass.

"That's part of the game," Street said. "We've got to look out for each other. He'd do the same thing for me."

Pitt's receiving corps put together its most complete game in the 55-10 win Saturday against the Runnin' Bulldogs. Street, Shanahan and Cameron Saddler each had five catches and combined for 321 yards and three touchdowns.

Shanahan and Street had 16 and 13 catches coming into the game, and Saddler had just three. The Gardner-Webb contest marked the first time all three receivers found their rhythm.

"Whenever those guys keep on getting touches, it kind of keeps a defense on edge because they don't know who really to zone in on," quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "I feel like those guys are really staying balanced."

Street and Shanahan were Pitt's two leading receivers last year. Saddler is a fifth-year senior coming off a junior season cut short by injury. Shanahan said that the team was excited that Saddler -- one of the more vocal players on the team -- put together a big game for the first time this season.

"I don't think he can get any louder at practice, but he's been his usual self," Shanahan said. "I think the whole team really feels good he had that type of game."

Like most of the team, Pitt's receivers have been trying to answer questions about what had changed during the two-game winning streak that followed the team's 0-2 start. The passing offense -- which ranked 52nd in Division I-A with 258.5 yards per game two weeks ago -- now is No. 23 at 299.25 yards per game.

Receivers have credited increased practice repetitions, assignment knowledge and hard work as reasons for improvement. Shanahan, though, also said the Panthers have simplified the playbook a bit.

"We kind of scaled back on the different plays that we've been running," he said. "We rep a lot of the same plays at practice. We're just getting really good and comfortable with them, and we know what can beat certain coverages."

While they keep practicing those plays this week, each of the receivers have different goals for the off week. Street said he wanted to improve his route running and timing with Sunseri.

Shanahan said he planned to work on blocking, presumably to pay back Street the next time he needs a block.

"I think we've done some good things in that area," Shanahan said. "But we need to make it an every play type of thing, where we just know our assignments and we win our blocks on the outside for the running backs."

The process might still need some refinement, but Pitt's receivers have shown they're more than willing to lay a hit for one another.

pittsports

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.


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