Pitt's Graham is quick to point out team's potential
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Speed and athleticism are the staples of Pitt coach Todd Graham's offense and defense, and that isn't just associated with skill position players.
Few positions have Graham as excited about the future as the defensive line, and that's because that unit has plenty of young players who he said fit into the "explosive" category.
Sophomore defensive lineman Aaron Donald has been a fixture since the start of the season, and a few others, specifically freshmen Khaynin Mosley-Smith and LaQuentin Smith, have come on strong in recent weeks.
Graham said those young players, as well as freshman Ejuan Price, are getting experience and improving.
"It is exciting, the power that Aaron Donald has, his potential is off the chart," Graham said on his weekly teleconference. "Then Juan Price is going to be really special. He is one of the most gifted players we have. LaQuentin has been just phenomenal when he has been in there, and he is guy I'd have no problem playing him every snap.
"And then [Mosley-Smith] is a guy we continue to get more snaps out of. He is an explosive guy and he is very athletic for a big guy and that bodes well for that group.
"The athleticism of those guys up front is impressive and to be so young, is exciting for the future."
Graham said the athleticism of the defensive front is a big reason the defense has been able to pressure on the quarterback without blitzing.
"I think we sacked the quarterback two or three times with just three-man pass rush," Graham said. "It makes it nice when you can get there with only three and know that you can get there with four. These [young] guys are just getting started and they are just learning what they are doing."
Pitt is off Saturday then will play Nov. 25 in the annual Backyard Brawl against rival West Virginia, but Graham said the Panthers won't get days off because they don't have a game on Saturday.
"We don't ever use the word bye here," Graham said. "We just basically have extra days to practice. We watched film Sunday and we've already moved on to the [West Virginia] game. Our guys will have normal Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday practice and have the same type preparation as they would if they were playing Saturday."
Graham said that one factor in the Panthers' favor heading down the stretch is that they have an experienced quarterback in redshirt junior Tino Sunseri.
"There is no substitute for experience," Graham said. "The fact that [Sunseri] has been in those situations before always helps tremendously and the biggest thing is just managing the ball.
"Experience helps knowing when to throw the ball away, how to distribute the football and the emotions of the game."
Graham said he hopes senior guard Lucas Nix (knee) will return for the West Virginia game. "I say that every week. I hope so," Graham said when asked about Nix's status. "He was real close this last week so I'd say with the two weeks [to get ready] I'd be surprised if he wasn't." ... Graham said other than Nix the Panthers are healthy for the West Virginia game. ... Graham said one big reason the defense has been more consistent than the offense is that the Panthers have only had one season-ending injury, to safety Jason Hendricks, on defense. Pitt has lost three starters on offense to season-ending injuries and Nix has missed a significant chunk of the season. ... Despite all the injuries to the offensive line, the unit has continued to improve and Graham said that is a testament to the way the players have worked. "This is a team sport, the guys behind [the starters] all have to be ready to go and I'm proud of them for doing so," Graham said.
First Published November 15, 2011 12:00 am