Could it be 'Tino Time'?
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With all the required breathlessness, word broke early yesterday that a private plane carrying Brett Favre had taken off from Hattiesburg, Miss., reportedly pointed toward a certain Northern football team with the kind of unsettled quarterback situation worthy of the world's most famously unsettled quarterback.
Had it not been for decorum, certain eligibility questions and several hundred Federal Aviation Administration regulations, no one would have been surprised if some Pitt boosters hadn't diverted the aircraft into Western Pennsylvania airspace, because to many of them, the most unsettling quarterbacking is happening daily at the practices run by Dave Wannstedt.
Fortunately, Favre's plane landed in Minnesota without incident.
Unfortunately, Pitt's elaborate dress-rehearsal scrimmage, complete with officials, went off without anyone taking the quarterback job by the throat despite Bill Stull, Tino Sunseri and Pat Bostick all taking extended turns with the Panthers' No. 1 offense.
"The competition among the quarterbacks and the running backs is unbelievable," marveled senior guard John Malecki. "[Freshmen tailbacks] Dion Lewis and Chris Burns have been outstanding and Pat, Tino and Billy have all done a good job, and that's going to help out in the long run. I'm 100 percent confident in whoever plays at those positions."
Malecki has a better perspective on the quarterback situation than you might expect because he actually caught a pass yesterday, one of about a half-dozen that were batted in the air by Pitt's unrelenting defense, a unit that could make a lot of offenses appear skittish.
"That's two years in a row I've caught one in a scrimmage," Malecki said. "It's awesome."
The basic result of what was thought to be a pivotal day in Wannstedt's fifth training camp was that everything pivoted right back to about where it was when it started. A baking South Side heat ruled the early part of practice, but as the scrimmage drew near and someone barked "quarterbacks are live!" (available for your injurious pleasure), some dark clouds took their cue to form an October sky pretty much out of nowhere.
Stull took his reps first as it is still his job to lose, even if no one will state officially that it appears he'll do just that.
The first pass the senior from Seton-LaSalle High School threw was intercepted along the sideline by freshman Jared Holley, who tightroped for a touchdown, immediately amplifying the theme that when bad things happen to the offense in this camp, they seem to happen with Stull on the bridge.
Bostick went next and launched one of the very few deep balls attempted, overthrowing sophomore wideout Aaron Smith quite comfortably. Sunseri followed, but it wasn't possible to determine if he was drawing any momentum from Panther-centric portions of the blogosphere and the related message boards, where it is widely advanced that in the current history of Pitt football, it is "Tino Time."
The redshirt freshman out of Central Catholic might not be any better than the others at checking down at the line or in any of his required recognitions, but again yesterday the best balls thrown came out of his right hand. Sunseri was anything but error-free, but his 16-yard slant to Oderick Turner was maybe the crispest completion of the scrimmage, and his fade pass to Jonathan Baldwin was just the prettiest thing, even if it was disallowed by a boundary call. When Sunseri rolled right later in practice and found freshman tight end John Tisak behind Todd Gilchrist, nothing Bostick or Stull could arrange between then and the end of hostilities could alter the impression that Sunseri looks like Wannstedt's best pitcher.
The head coach, of course, was distancing himself for that interpretation.
"I don't think anyone jumped out in a great way or in a bad way," Wannstedt said. "We had some check-downs and all of them handled that well. Billy is still the starter, but this is training camp and you've got to show improvement every day. That's what training camp is for."
It's for getting as many people as many significant repetitions as is necessary to make important judgments. Malecki said he thought the quarterbacks were so close that it wouldn't surprise him if the coaching staff wound up rotating them.
"If they want to put Pat in to do the things he does well, Tino the things he does well and Bill the same, I think everyone could understand that," he said. "I'm confident no matter how it comes out."
Yesterday was as close as Wannstedt has come to leaving the door open to anyone but Stull, turning the lock in a kind of nonchalant manner, metaphorically speaking. The reality is with no marked improvement from Stull or Bostick, Sunseri simply can't be too many performances like yesterday's from convincing all relevant authorities that he's the Pitt quarterback.
It not being Favre.
First Published August 19, 2009 12:00 am