Stull Still The 1

Despite its success on offense, scoring prowess -- especially in the red zone -- and best regular-season finish in more than two decades, the Pitt football team's passing game was a sore spot for most last year.

So, Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt opened the quarterback competition this spring, sort of, with incumbent Bill Stull, who began the offseason as the starter, battling with junior Pat Bostick and redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri.

The three had their moments during the Panthers' opening four spring practice sessions, all held indoors Thursday through Sunday, but when the workouts continued Tuesday afternoon on the turf outside, the group got hot. In a red-zone drill, Stull, Bostick and Sunseri combined to complete 9 of 10 passes with seven touchdowns.

And Stull, working primarily with the first team, was sharper than ever.

"I think that Billy has not fallen into a shell or been pouting around,'' Wannstedt said. "He's rolling up his sleeves and competing the way you would expect a winner to compete. (And) we also are giving the other guys equal reps, so they know they're getting a chance. So, we'll scrimmage Saturday.

"And after that, it'll give us a little clearer picture of where we're at. I believe we're going to be better at that position with all of them, and if that happens we'll be better (as a team). But Billy's going to be working mostly with the first group, and we'll split the rest. (But) it's Billy's job to lose.''

Before there's an uproar, it has appeared so far that Bostick and Sunseri are getting a chance to change the status quo. Sure, they have an uphill battle displacing the fifth-year senior Stull with the with upperclassman-friendly Wannstedt's system, but there is a chance.

In fact, offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti has put the final four plays the past two practices up for grabs with the first team, and whichever quarterback has the best performance leading up to that has earned the final four reps. That was Stull in both sessions.

"Billy, obviously, is the starter, and he's earned the right to be with the ones,'' Cignetti said. "But Pat and Tino are playing excellent, and Tino has earned the right to split time with the twos. (But) I'm pleased with all three quarterbacks. (They've) done a great job performing and a great job in the classroom.

"(So), I'm very pleased with where we are and where we're going to go. ... Everything is evaluated, but this is the healthiest competition I've ever been around. And I think all three kids feel good about themselves, and they've bought into what we're trying to do. (And) the quarterbacks competing against each other makes them better in the classroom and on the field.''

Stull's offseason work was an effort to get healthy, after being banged up nearly every week last season, and become more of a student of the game. After seeing how that translated on the field, Stull believed he already was a better quarterback than he was last season.

"As a group, we've been practicing very well,'' Stull said, "and we've been completing more passes than I've seen around here in a long time. ... Coach Wannstedt always wants competition at every position, so I knew that coming in. But it didn't affect how I prepared. I know every snap could be my last.

"So, I prepare like it's a game every day. (And) I think I've had a lot more completions, and I'm more decisive than I've been in the past. I'm getting the ball out of my hands, and ... I know not to hold onto the ball or I could get my head taken off. So, experience really helps in situations like this.''

Bostick believed this spring was a new beginning for all three quarterbacks.

"Our performance today was a testament to us buying into what we're trying to do here,'' Bostick said, "and I think we're a lot more comfortable now. When you have a new guy coming in, Coach Cignetti has put us back to square one, basically. And that means we're back to square one, too. But it's refreshing.

"(And) it's the same principles, but different names for certain concepts or route combinations. ... (A competition) is what we want. We just can't come out and rest on our laurels. It's healthy, and it should happen every year. Every practice should be competition, and that way everybody can get better.''

Sunseri knows he has the arm strength to make plays in Pitt's passing game, but his needed area of improvement is his footwork. So, he has worked hard to earn those final four reps to help improve his game.

"I feel that I'm getting a fair amount of reps, and the last four are up for grabs,'' Sunseri said. "So, depending how well you do in a practice, you can earn more reps, and that creates even more competition. So, we're competing, but we're having fun. So, it's been a real healthy competition.''

Pitt is off today and returns for its sixth spring practice Thursday at 2:45 p.m.

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