Pitt: Receivers' return a boost
Share with others:
On a practice field at the UPMC South Side facility Tuesday afternoon, reporters and cameramen were getting into position to swarm Steelers receiver Mike Wallace as he walked off the practice field. As that was happening, two lesser-known receivers who missed almost as much time as Wallace during Pitt's training camp were quietly going through a practice on an adjacent field.
It was a somewhat smaller story that Pitt's starting receivers Devin Street and Mike Shanahan were banged up with injuries and missed a lot of practice time, but their return this week is important for the Panthers as they prepare for the opener against Youngstown State.
Shanahan and Street spent more time in the training room than the practice field during Pitt's three-week camp that ended last week. Shanahan was slowed with a hamstring injury; Street with a sprained MCL in his right knee.
Street missed the most time and has just a handful of full practices under his belt.
The question now is whether the missed time will hamper the passing game early in the season.
"I'm not really concerned just because we put in countless hours in the summer working on stuff," Shanahan said after practice Tuesday. "And we both came back last week and got a lot of reps and we'll get more reps this week, so we'll be fine."
Coach Paul Chryst hasn't been sweating their absences much, either. He said their previous experience and approach to the game will help them.
"We're fortunate with Devin and Mike, they've played a lot football," Chryst said. "They have good football IQ. You don't necessarily need 1,000 reps at each route for them to understand and feel comfortable and develop timing with Tino [Sunseri]. Would we have liked them for every practice? Absolutely. There is value to camp. That's why we do it. But also, you have to balance it out. Everyone needs work for Youngstown State. I feel pretty confident. Part of that is the comfort level with who [Shanahan and Street] are as players."
Their track records are good despite playing in two very different offensive systems the past two seasons. Shanahan started 25 games the past three seasons and needs three receptions for 100 in his career. Street has 17 career starts and 78 receptions, including a team-high 53 last season.
For both players, conditioning might be an issue early in the season because their injuries prevented them from being able to get in tip-top shape. Otherwise, they are looking forward to playing again in a pro-style offense, something they did in 2010 under former coach Dave Wannstedt.
"For me, it's what I was recruited for," Shanahan said. "I'm definitely happy to be back in it."
Last season, they played in Todd Graham's spread offense, which Sunseri termed a "high school offense" Tuesday when he was asked to draw a comparison between it and the pro-style offense Chryst has installed.
Street called Chryst's offense more complex, and Sunseri agreed, saying players at all positions must be more aware of how motion, shifts and route combinations can have an effect on defenses.
All three will benefit from being back in a pro-style offense, but the experience of playing together last year remains important. Chryst is fond of saying that "football is football" and they'll draw on games from the past to help them take a step forward this season.
It's one reasons they all believe big things can happen for the passing game this fall.
"We like to think that will help us out in the long run," Shanahan said of playing together with Street and Sunseri for so many years. "We had good chemistry last year. The system is different, but we have a good relationship with Tino. We're trying to build that trust right now."
First Published August 29, 2012 4:30 pm