Quarterbacks Off To The Right Start

Todd Graham has an ideal combination of quarterbacks to start off his tenure at Pitt. He returns the starter from last year who may be able to apply previous experience to being even more productive in a new system, two quarterbacks who were productive in a similar system in high school, and another who has the deep ball capabilities the staff is looking for.

The quarterback job might not even be up for grabs, but if head coach Todd Graham is looking for increased competition, or at least a fastpace type of development that will bring out the best of all four quarterbacks on the roster right now, from what he saw on Tuesday's first spring practice, his group is off to the right start.

"It's a bunch more snaps than they're used to handling, and I was very, very impressed with that," Graham said. "I thought the quarterback position really, really impressed me; the way they managed it, how we threw the football. We're going to be able to throw the football. We threw the football better, managed the game better, and it's the first day."

The mix he has—even though it only returns one player who has taken any snaps at the Division I level, is certainly a group that is not short on a wide range of abilities and potential. Tino Sunseri started all 13 games last year, throwing for 2,686 yards, 18 touchdowns to nine interceptions, with a 64.2 completion percentage.

Sunseri, though he admitted being comfortable as a pocket passer, likes what this offense can bring, and the numbers it can present a quarterback when executed. He said the first step to even having a good practice as Graham referred to, is just learning it in the meeting rooms. So far, he feels the meetings have moved over to the practice field pretty quickly.

"We've been able to get a jumpstart on that, and that's why it was a little bit smoother when we were out there today," Sunseri said. "We were able to call them out and make sure people were lining up in the right places. We were rolling out there today; not as fast as we want to be, but we're in the right direction."

Of course, the offense is going to call for the quarterback to use his legs a little more. Sunseri is up to the challenge.

"Whenever the play asks me to make a run, or make a read in the running game, I'm going to make that read," Sunseri said. "If it asks me to handle the ball, I'm going to be able to handle it the best that I can and get the most yards that I can."

Mark Myers came to Pitt initially because he played in a pro-style offense, and his strength is as a pro-style quarterback as well. Myers' system in high school also called for some zone read, something he feels comfortable with. Pitt kicked off spring drills with Myers as the No. 2 quarterback, after redshirting as a true freshman last season.

"I wasn't really apprehensive (of switching offensive styles)," Myers said. "I just came into this being positive, and it's looking to turn out pretty good."

One thing where Myers has a chance to showcase his abilities is throwing the deep ball. Since being hired, Graham and his staff have expressed a desire to throw the ball deep at least 10 times a game. Myers has the ability to do that.

"I love that, I love throwing the ball deep," Myers said. "Also, you have to get the game going by throwing little passes, good completions, getting the percentage up.

"I'm very excited. Last year, sitting on the bench I got to learn a lot. Since all the new coaches came in, we're all competing now, so I think it will go real well."

Kolby Gray initially came to Pitt as a quarterback, then moved over to the defense to provide depth at the safety position. After redshirting as a true freshman, Gray played in 12 of 13 games last year, providing a valuable role on special teams and as a reserve safety. In fact, he was the only non-defensive lineman to have a sack last season, coming up with one in the BBVA Compass Bowl game against Kentucky—technically a tackle off a fake punt, but also a play that counts as a sack.

During his high school career at Cypress Falls, Gray threw for over 5,000 yards and rushed for another 1,300 yards that drew the interest of several college coaches, including Graham who was the head coach at Tulsa, and quarterbacks coach Todd Dodge who was the head coach at North Texas. Being that he had an existing relationship with two of the men in charge of this offense, Gray felt comfortable asking for a switch back to quarterback on day one.

"All these coaches are great guys, I knew that when they were recruiting me," Gray said. "When I heard that they were coming here, I was just excited. I just kind of ran with it when I found out we had a new offensive staff; just excited for the chance to play.

"Coach Dodge obviously knew me, he recruited me. He said, ‘If you want to give it a shot, we'll see how it goes, and we'll go from there."

Gray said it's even a permanent switch if Sunseri maintains his role as the starter. He knows he'll be able to come in and be the backup, while getting a chance to take over the reins after Sunseri graduates. He says it's also very similar to the system he ran in high school that allowed him to produce over 6,300 yards of total offense in two years.

"It's an experiment and a little bit of a permanent switch," Gray said of going back to quarterback. "I haven't thrown in a year and a half, and I'm still kind of getting into the groove of quarterback. I was real excited out there (Tuesday). It was like old times in high school. I was excited to get back out there. It's very similar with a little bit of tweaks from the other coaches. I'm just excited and ready for the opportunity."

It's also exciting for another quarterback on Pitt's roster, who won a state championship playing in a system like this. Anthony Gonzalez earned the Associated Press Player of the Year honors in Pennsylvania for Quad-A as a junior, after taking Bethlehem Liberty to a state title in 2008.

That season, Gonzalez rushed for 1,697 yards and 24 touchdowns. He threw for 1,580 yards and another 12 touchdowns. It almost seems of all the quarterbacks, since Graham's system calls for the quarterback to run the ball—especially with Tulsa quarterback G.J. Kinne leading the team in rushing last year—Gonzalez may be the best fit for the long term.

"You can run and pass the ball, that's what this offense brings to the table," Gonzalez said. "I'm just going to go out every day and work on passing and running the ball.

"As far as run game goes, it's pretty similar with the zone and all that type of running plays, the passing adjustments and that. It's kind of similar to high school. Right now, I'm just learning."

Graham may have a task of taking Pitt to a higher level, but overall, he doesn't have to rebuild the Pitt program. A lot of what he wants to do—offensively and defensively—impacts the quarterback. He needs an athletic quarterback to run his system. Judging by the four he has on the roster, and the start they're all off to, he has a lot to choose from to be effective.

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