INSIDE SLANT The running game is solid, but Pittsburgh has to decide this spring in whose hands the passing game will rest.
Bill Stull is gone after an up-and-down career, but a solid finish, and his backups -- Tino Sunseri and Pat Bostick -- will slug it out this spring.
Sunseri was the backup last year, as he completed 10 of 17 passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns, and Bostick redshirted. However, he is deep in experience, having started two years ago when Stull was injured. Bostick has nine starts and has played 16 games while completing better than 60 percent of his passes for 1,770 yards and nine touchdowns.
With Dion Lewis back to pick up where he left off on a spectacular freshman season, Pitt has no running worries. The Panthers even seem immune to injury as backup Ray Graham, also a highly-talented prospect, returns along with fullback Henry Hynoski.
Jonathan Baldwin, a lean, tall deep threat who is on the path to an NFL career, will be the main target, but receiving depth is a key focus of the spring as Oderick Turner and Cedric McGee, two four-year performers, are gone, as are tight ends Nate Bynham and Dorin Dickerson.
There will be heavy emphasis on rebuilding the interior offensive line as John Malecki, an all-Big East performer at right guard, is gone along with Joe Thomas, a four-year starter at left guard, and center Rob Houser.
The battles to replace those offensive linemen could decide whether this becomes a great Pitt team or not.
Defensively, Pitt has a pair of menacing defensive ends in Greg Romeus, an All-American candidate, and Jabaal Shead, who combined for 13 sacks and 23 tackles for losses last year.
But the Panthers are looking for a pair of cornerbacks, which would make one suspect they could be vulnerable in the secondary, but the Panthers' pass rush should ease the pressure there.
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Rebuilding an offensive line is the No. 1 priority on coach Dave Wannstedt's spring to-do list.
"I think offensive line is our biggest concern this offseason with the loss of three starters,'' Wannstedt said. "Not only are we trying to replace starters, but also build depth.''
Not that he's worried.
"Last year at this time we didn't know who our running back or quarterback would be. Both of those areas turned out to be major strengths in our 10-win season,'' Wannstedt said.
Pitt must find a center and two guards to block for the strong running game that is built around Dion Lewis, perhaps the best returning runner in the nation. He is to Pitt what the legendary Tony Dorsett once was, maybe meaning even more as his supporting cast might not be as strong.
What Pitt has to do is make sure they get a quarterback in their who can take care of the ball and throw deep, which will allow the Panthers to use Jonathan Baldwin most effectively while keeping defenses from crowding in on Lewis.
Coach Dave Wannstedt has not been blessed with a Dan Marino-type quarterback since returning to Pitt and has had to stay with a basic run-first, strong defensive philosophy, even though he has turned out some marvelous receivers. Jonathan Baldwin could just be another Larry Fitzgerald, maybe even more dangerous deep.
If an offensive line can be established to give time to whomever wins the quarterback job, Pitt should score a lot of points.
Defensively, the pass rush should be strong enough to help inexperienced corners. Teams probably will pass more than they run against Pittsburgh, as the Panthers figure to have a solid run defense.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We had a big group of seniors in 2009 so there's a lot of opportunity for our younger players to step up and earn time. That opportunity begins this spring.'' -- Pitt Coach Dave Wannstedt on spring drills.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: If Pitt can come up with a quality quarterback it could challenge for a national championship as it enters the season with a star-studded cast of characters, headed by sophomore RB Dion Lewis, who averaged 138.38 yards rushing a game as the nation's most decorated freshman.
Lewis is enough to make the Panthers a contender, but they also have a great offensive weapon in 6-5 receiver Jonathan Baldwin, who averaged just less than 20 yards a catch with a 1,111-yard season on a team that didn't primarily throw the ball. Add in defensive end Greg Romeus, returning as co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and you have the heart of veteran team that figures to be among the nation's best all season.
DL T.J. Clemmings -- A 6-6, 280-pound specimen out of Paterson Catholic in New Jersey, he played only two years of high school football yet was considered the top overall player in the state. Scout.com rated him the No. 6 defensive end in the country. He is athletic enough to have been a Division I basketball prospect with offers from Big East schools.
OL Arthur Doaks -- An imposing offensive lineman at 6-6 and 325 pounds, he averaged more than six pancake blocks a game and did not allow a single sack his senior year at Lebanon. As a junior he keyed an offensive line that led the school to the PIAA Class AA playoffs for the first time in school history. He is probably a year away from being a major contributor.
QB Anthony Gonzalez -- Dual-threat quarter who compiled 5,311 yards in total offense and 61 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Liberty High in Bethlehem, Pa., while missing two games with a knee injury that required surgery his senior season. He led Liberty to a 15-1 season and PIAA Class AAAA championship as a junior, rushing for 205 yards and three touchdowns and throwing for a score while also intercepting a pass in overtime to clinch a 28-21 victory.
QB Mark Myers -- Rated among "country's strongest arm'' list while playing at Cleveland, Ohio's St. Ignatius. He threw for 2,127 yards and 20 touchdowns with only eight interceptions as a senior. He is expected to get a strong look for the future, along with Gonzalez.
--S Andrew Taglianetti is still recovering from knee surgery he underwent in the fall of 2009 and has yet to perform. Two other safeties also will be missing the spring, Dom DeCicco coming off a toe injury and Jason Hendricks, out with a shoulder.
--A shoulder injury has also sidelined CB Ricky Gary, a senior who is a leading candidate to win one of the starting jobs.
--Pitt has two new positional coaches this spring. Scott Turner is handling the wide receivers and Bernard Clark Jr. the linebackers.
Pitt Spring Outlook
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