Optimism Abounds For Pitt Football Team

Enthusiasm inside and outside the program is as high as ever, Pitt football coach Dave Wannstedt said Wednesday in a discussion about the state of the program, and with the talent the Panthers have returning there's good reason for optimism.

Pittsburgh finished the season at 10-3, the program's best mark since 1982, and ranked 15th nationally by the college football writers' and coaches' polls. And despite losing 18 seniors, including starting quarterback Bill Stull, three-fifths of the starting offensive line, middle linebacker Adam Gunn, both starting defensive tackles and cornerbacks. Still, Wannstedt is optimistic.

"I really like our quarterback situation,'' Wannstedt said. "We have a returning redshirt (junior), Pat Bostick, that's played and won. And we have a redshirt sophomore in Tino Sunseri who had as many reps with the first team when we were going through the competition (in the spring and summer).

"(So), I'm very confident that Tino's going to pick up where he left off. He's a year older, and he'll have a great spring practice. So, we've got two veteran guys, in my opinion, who have been around. We've got a talented walk-on guy who's been around, and then we have two talented recruits coming in. So, I really like where our quarterback situation is right now.''

Wannstedt noted that while the two will open spring practice in March on an even level, a front-runner should emerge by the Blue-Gold Game in April.

"We'll let it take its course, but we all know Tino's athletic ability, his arm strength and his accuracy,'' Wannstedt said. "If I didn't feel that Tino was ready to go in and win for us this year, we wouldn't have redshirted Pat. But it was clear that Tino was the next-best quarterback that we had coming out of camp, and that gave us the flexibility to redshirt Pat.

"And in defense of Pat, we don't have a player or coach in this entire organization that understands what we're doing and how to do it as much as Pat Bostick. He's got some really outstanding winning qualities that make you feel good from a coaching perspective. (And) he's gotten stronger and faster, so I can't wait to see him out there in action.''

Despite the losses on the offensive line, Wannstedt said the center spot was one position that needed to be solidified the most by the end of the spring.

"(Fifth-year senior walk-on) Alex Karabin, on the first day, will line up as the starter at center,'' Wannstedt said. "(And) we've obviously got to recruit one. But we've also got a couple guys on the team. Greg Gaskins played center in high school. Tony Wise has been spending some time with (redshirt frosh) Ryan Schlieper and Fernando Diaz.''

The starting offensive line, at least initially, will have fifth-year senior Jason Pinkston at left tackle, redshirt junior Chris Jacobson at left guard, redshirt sophomore Ryan Turnley at right guard and junior Lucas Nix at right tackle.

The starting wideouts are junior Jonathan Baldwin and redshirt sophomore Michael Shanahan with redshirt freshman Ed Tinker and Devin Street, fifth-year senior Greg Cross and redshirt sophomore Cam Saddler battling for playing time. Sophomores Dion Lewis and Ray Graham are the top tailbacks again, but redshirt sophomore Chris Burns is back in the mix as well.

The defensive line will have seniors Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard as the ends, while redshirt juniors Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih are the tackles. Romeus has told Wannstedt that he will return for his final season. The deadline to declare for the NFL Draft is Jan. 15.

The only linebacking spot determined is that sophomore Dan Mason will move back to the middle after playing weak-side backer the second half of the season. Redshirt juniors Max Gruder and Greg Williams, the returning outside backers, could play either the weak or strong side. Fifth-year senior Elijah Fields could be in the mix, as he spent the majority of the season as a linebacker-safety hybrid, but Wannstedt said that will be determined before the spring.

Redshirt sophomore Jarred Holley will stay at safety with senior Dom DeCicco in the starting spots. Redshirt sophomore Andrew Taglianetti and redshirt frosh Jason Hendricks provide depth, but DeCicco (toe), Taglianetti (knee) and Hendricks (shoulder) are coming off surgery and could be limited in the spring.

The top three cornerbacks are fifth-year senior Ricky Gary, junior Antwuan Reed -- a Greater Johnstown High School grad -- and junior-college transfer Saheed Imoru. Redshirt junior Buddy Jackson will battle for playing time.

"It's time for Antwuan Reed to step up and play,'' Wannstedt said. "I think he's going to be a heckuva player for us. I really do. (And) if we're playing tomorrow, Ricky and Antwuan are our starters.''

Imoru and tight end Hubie Graham, a transfer from Illinois, have enrolled this semester. Graham will redshirt and have two years left. Safety Todd Thomas, who originally signed with Pitt last year, has not yet qualified. The NCAA Clearinghouse is determining his fate, and Wannstedt said that must happen by Friday or he will need to enroll in May like LeSean McCoy did.

While wideouts coach Bryan Bossard has not officially been let go, he is looking at other options for employment and will not be back. No other coaching changes are imminent, according to Wannstedt.

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