The Pitt quarterback position faces a much different look than it did a year ago. This time last year, the Panthers entered camp with five quarterbacks, and another firmly committed for the 2011 recruiting class. At that time, it was Tino Sunseri, Pat Bostick and Andrew Janocko returning. The Panthers also had the luxury of promising 2010 signees Mark Myers and Anthony Gonzalez coming into camp. They also secured a commit from Don Bosco (NJ) star Gary Nova.
The biggest challenge is not so much the pressure facing Tino Sunseri to produce big numbers this season, as much as it is the position's depth. It's also the biggest difference from the 2010 quarterbacks to this current group.
A year ago, Pitt was looking at having six quarterbacks for 2011. Instead, they enter training camp with three. Bostick opted to forego his final year of eligibility, and instead will take on a new role as a color-man in the Pitt radio booth alongside play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove. Janocko has also forgone his final eligibility and joined the Rutgers coaching staff as a graduate assistant, while Nova later switched his commitment to the Scarlet Knights. Though still with the team, Gonzalez remains suspended indefinitely for an off-the-field incident in his hometown for. He has his arraignment set for September 1, two days before Pitt's season-opener against Buffalo.
Gonzalez' status has not changed, making the performance of both Sunseri and Myers in this year's training camp all the more critical. It's still unknown if and when Gonzalez will return. Sunseri appears to have a command on the starting job. When we last saw Sunseri, he completed 35-of-55 passes for 416 yards, 2 touchdowns and an interception in the spring game. Myers was limited during the final week of spring practice when he jammed his thumb. Prior to that, he had a promising spring splitting reps with Gonzalez as the No. 2 signal-caller.
Even though Sunseri produced big numbers—numbers that are indicative of the number of times we can expect to see the quarterback throw the ball on a game-by-game basis in this offense, head coach Todd Graham challenged Sunseri for the offseason, in his comments following the spring game.
"It's different from being a disciple of the offense," Graham said of being Pitt's starting quarterback. "It takes time that someone needs to learn this system. It takes time to learn this offense."
Sunseri did lead the Panthers to eight wins in his first season as a full-time starter, throwing for 16 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. In the offseason, he was invited as one of 30 college quarterbacks to the Manning Passing Academy two weeks ago at Nicholls State University in Louisiana. The invite to the camp was something not expected by Sunseri, but something he saw as an additional opportunity to prepare for the 2011 season.
"You learned so much information that you can apply to now, and getting yourself ready for that season," Sunseri said last week, about the Manning Passing Academy. "It feels like I can do so much now in this month (before training camp), and getting myself ready for that." Sunseri was also named to the preseason watch list for the Davey O'Brien Award.
One of the biggest aspects of Graham's hire was how his offenses have put up big numbers wherever he has been. At Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane led the nation in total offense twice (2007, 2008), and ranked fifth in 2010. Quarterback G.J. Kinne threw for over 3,600 yards, 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions in 460 passing attempts in 2010. If Sunseri can replicate those type of numbers this season, it will not only be a marked improvement from a year ago, but will lay the foundation for this offense to be the fast-pace, high-octane setup that Graham has been preaching of since the day he was hired at Pitt.
Moreso than that type of production—based on the numbers that Pitt has at quarterback entering training camp—Sunseri and Myers must first push each other through training camp from start to finish. It's not so much a matter of having a good training camp to get the system down, as much as it is to take as many reps as possible to get both quarterbacks ready to go. Consider the alternative. An injury to either quarterback would be even more devastating to the position, even moreso devastating to the team as a whole and arguably the biggest hit to any position on the roster. Look no further than the 2007 season, when Bill Stull was injured in the season-opener, and did not return, leaving then freshmen Bostick and Kevan Smith to man the position for that entire season.
The outlook for this position is still positive, but is more contingent on just avoiding an injury or another loss to the position. Gonzalez' suspension doesn't help matters, but it does place more pressure on both Sunseri and Myers as the team enters training camp.