Pittsburgh Offensive PersonnelQB: Tino Sunseri – Threw two touchdown passes in the loss at Iowa last week, but still hasn't grasped a firm command of the no-huddle, fast-pace approach. That was evident two weeks ago in Maine where the FCS opponent came up with six sacks, including four in max protection. Sunseri had his best game statistically against Iowa, but still coughed up the ball to Iowa defenders three times—twice on interceptions, and another on a fumble.
RB: Ray Graham – Graham averaged 28 carries in the first two games, and was leading the nation in rushing with 161 yards a game heading into last week's Iowa game. Give him the ball more, right? Not exactly. The plan was for him to have 22 carries at Iowa, which resulted in 97 rushing yards. Still a productive game for the junior running back, but with a lead in the fourth quarter, head coach Todd Graham insisted on going back to the passing game instead of letting his star running back do what he does best.
The most impressive thing about Ray Graham, is his ability to make a lot out of a little. If he gets the slightest opening, or beats one defender at the second level of defense, he has the chance to go the distance. Notre Dame linebackers will have to be on their toes. Graham already hurt the Irish in his true freshman year, where he ripped off a 53-yard run the last time Notre Dame was in Pittsburgh, which helped clinch the win last time.
WR: Mike Shanahan (5-back) – In Todd Graham's system, he has a number system for the skilled players. The five-back, in this case, lines up in the slot to match up with linebackers and safeties, but can also be split out wide for the big play. Shanahan has been given the task of being Pitt's No. 1 receiver, replacing first-round draft pick Jon Baldwin (Kansas City Chiefs).
He might not have all the athleticism that Baldwin has, but he does have the better work ethic, and that may be a reason why he'll have a more productive season than Baldwin had last year. When you look at his build—6-5, 220—he has the look of a typical possession receiver. He's much more than that. He was a pretty talented basketball player in high school, and he uses some of those basketball skills on the football field.
WR: Devin Street (9-back) – The nine-back is simply known as the playmaker, and over the last two weeks, Devin Street has been doing that. Right now, he's Pitt's leading receiver with 15 catches for 236 yards and a touchdown. That touchdown came last week on a short pass from Sunseri; Street did the rest. He did the same on the opening play in a win at Syracuse last year—he took a short screen pass and turned it in to a 79-yard touchdown reception.
Street isn't a speed guy, he's not a hands guy. He's just a gamer. He needs to be a consistent gamer, as he's shown in the last two games. He had a couple of drops in the opener against Buffalo. With a career-high 7 receptions for 138 yards and the touchdown at Iowa, we might be witnessing a transition in Street's career from good player to pretty good player. He has to put up similar numbers against Notre Dame, which will be a little tougher than it was against Iowa.
WR: Cameron Saddler (2-back) – The two-back is the name for the hybrid running back/slot receiver position on the field. Last year in Tulsa's offense, this was Demaris Johnson's position. Junior Cameron Saddler has the position this year, where he caught a 30-yard touchdown pass in the loss at Iowa. Saddler had a chance for a couple of deep passes in the opener against Buffalo that he just couldn't make happen.
Saddler is another player like Street, in the sense that he's still trying to break out and be a more frequent contributor. His touchdown catch at Iowa was his first touchdown since week 2 of last season. Saddler has the ideal abilities they like of a slot receiver. The problem is that he's battled injuries for much of his career, and when he's healthy, he's just needed to establish some consistency.
TE: Hubie Graham (3-back) – The team's most consistent receiver through three games. What's great about Graham, is that in this system—even though he came from the mold of a traditional pro-style tight end, and came to Pitt for that very reason, he is athletic enough and has adjusted well to the new system which shies away from those traditional tight ends. Graham can block, but isn't really utilized in that type of role.
He can get open, and is arguably the best at yards after the catch of anyone on the Pitt team. One thing to watch for—if he does make the catch, don't expect him to get up the middle. He'll look for the sideline, which may be by design to drag the safeties out of the play. Because he is fast enough, there might be a few safeties on someone's roster that he can outrun. Graham transferred to Pitt in 2010 from Illinois, and sat out last season.
LT: Juantez Hollins – Has the unenviable task of replacing three-year starter Jason Pinkston, who is now the starting left tackle for the Cleveland Browns. Hollins played in his first college game in the opener on September 3 against Buffalo. He's taking baby steps in his development, and seems to have support from the coaching staff.
During training camp, he was somewhat of a last-minute addition to the first-team. In fact, he didn't start working full-time with the first-team until the first week of preparations for Buffalo. Hollins has had help with making some of the calls. He's still in the early development stages of that mental aspect. Physically, he's as athletically gifted as anyone Pitt has on the line.
LG: Chris Jacobson – Right now, Pitt's most consistent lineman. Since Todd Graham took over in January, Jacobson has been one of the team's leaders, and has responded well to the new coaching staff, despite his loyalty to the previous staff. Jacobson is one of the most physical players on the Pitt roster, and plays with a mean streak. He was tested out at center in the spring, and appeared to have done enough to move over one spot after playing left guard for his entire career.
That all changed when the coaching staff wanted to get Ryan Turnley at center. It wasn't a matter of Jacobson not doing something at center—they just felt that Jacobson was such a dominant left guard, why not just keep it that way. As proof of his leadership, he's tutoring first-year starters Hollins and Turnley on either side of him. He's got a lot of responsibility, but he never plays with a panic.
C: Ryan Turnley – Despite offensive line troubles, Turnley has been the most pleasant surprise. He had been a reserve for this first two years, before making his first career start against Buffalo in the season-opener. Todd Graham stresses that the center—in his offense—must get the shotgun snap down 100% of the time. Well, in his first career start, Turnley did just that.
RG: Lucas Nix – Pitt's most experienced lineman with 28 career starts. Nix has started at both right tackle and right guard—his last 13 starts coming at right guard. Though he is more of a natural at right tackle because of his pass-blocking abilities, he's been moved to right guard because of the way he can run and pull. Like Jacobson, a tough, physical player.
He struggled a little bit in the game against Maine, but has stayed at right guard. Todd Graham has even admitted he loves what Nix can do at right tackle, but he's more excited about the opportunity for what he can do when he pulls.
RT: Jordan Gibbs – Made his first career start in game 4 last season against Florida International, and has started every game at right tackle since then, with the exception of the opener against Buffalo. Prior to kickoff, Gibbs hyperventilated and had to be held out. It was a combination of emotions and heat that caught up to Gibbs. He's not as athletic a player as Jacobson or Nix, but is a solid player at right tackle.
He was initially slated to be the left tackle—considered his natural position—before Juantez Hollins cracked the top five. The thinking was, if Hollins was indeed the fifth-best lineman, he still had to play left tackle because that's all he's ever played in his time at Pitt. Gibbs is versatile enough to play either tackle spot, and most likely a better fit at right tackle because of run blocking.
Key Reserves: RB Zach Brown; wide receiver Ronald Jones, tight end Anthony Gonzalez; QB Trey Anderson.