Pitt football trying to get up to speed with first spring outing
New Pitt head coach Todd Graham talks with a group of players during the first day of spring practice at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex on the South Side.
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Pitt had its first practice of the spring and the word coaches used to describe the workout, which was mostly closed to the media, was "culture shock."
The practice, according to the coaches and players, was held at a much faster tempo than most as the team gets used to playing new head coach Todd Graham's up-tempo, no-huddle style of offense and defense.
During the one period open for observation, the offensive and defensive units were asked to run on and off the field in between plays at a brisk pace. According to wide receiver's coach Jay Norvell, that pace will only get faster as the players catch on to the system
"It was a good first day, a lot of learning, a lot of teaching, but we do things at a very fast pace," Norvell said. "After the practice, the receivers came up to me and I just started laughing and said, 'Ya'all thought I was lying to you,' and they said, 'No, coach, but we thought you embellished it a little.'
"It was good, guys were buying into it and starting to play fast. It was a shock to them, we put in this system and it is tough to be able to execute at the tempo that we want to and I even told them [Tuesday] wasn't fast enough. It is only our first day but that was nowhere close to being fast enough for our goals and expectations."
The offense has been advertised by Graham as "high octane" and "explosive," but in order to do that, the Panthers will need to settle on a quarterback who can make quick decisions and also run the ball when plays break down.
Pitt has four quarterbacks competing for time -- Tino Sunseri, Mark Myers, Anthony Gonzalez and Kolby Gray, though it seems pretty clear that either Gray or Gonzalez, or perhaps even both, could be moved to the other side of the ball depending on how the quarterback competition shakes out.
Gray, in fact, came to Pitt as a quarterback, but played as a safety last year and admits that he is rusty when it comes to playing the quarterback position. But he said Graham's offense is the same offense he ran in high school and it is just a matter of him getting back his arm strength and throwing form.
"In the first day of my first training camp I hurt my shoulder and just kind of ran with being a safety," Gray said. "Coach Dodge knew me and recruited me [as a quarterback when he was the head coach at North Texas] and told me he'd give me a shot. I haven't thrown in a year and half so I am still trying to get into the groove of playing quarterback, but I was excited out there because it was just like old times in high school."
Sunseri is the returning starter but it appears he will be pushed. The guy who seemed to have the best practice is Myers, who was considered the worst fit for Graham's offense.
That's because Myers is tall, strong-armed and a drop-back passer and was recruited to run a pro-style offense. But he said he fits well in the new offense and had little trouble picking it up.
"It felt good, I'm starting to love this offense, I feel like I fit it in right now," Myers said. "We ran a little bit of zone read in high school so I came into this camp positive and I'm just working on learning everything."
Regardless of who is the quarterback, it is clear they are going to have to be fast learners, but more importantly, as they found out Tuesday, they will have to learn how to play fast as well.
"It is tough but since we practice every day at that tempo," Norvell said, "the speed of game day seems slow to us."
NOTES -- Pitt held its "Pro Timing Day" Tuesday for seniors and underclassmen who declared for the draft. Safety Dom DeCicco, tackle Jason Pinkston, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, wide receiver Jon Baldwin, tailback Dion Lewis and fullback Henry Hynoski were among players who worked out for NFL scouts. All 32 teams were represented at the workout. ... Graham said tight end Mike Cruz was suspended for violation of team rules Monday but opted to quit the team instead and is no longer a part of the program. Also, Justin Vrbitsky has moved from tight end to guard. That means the tight end spot will be handled by Illinois transfer Hubie Graham and sophomore Brock DeCicco.
First Published March 16, 2011 12:00 am