INSIDE SLANT Is this the year Pitt finally gets over the hump for coach Dave Wannstedt?
Pittsburgh almost got there last year until losing to Cincinnati in the game for the Big East championship, but they now are looking to cap Wannstedt's steady rebuilding process.
Pitt features two of the nation's top players in defensive end Greg Romeus, a spectacular pass rusher, and running back Dion Lewis, who was third in the nation in rushing as a freshman and figures to only improve on that.
With that in mind, they also have a Biletnikoff Award candidate in long, lean, fast wide receiver Jon Baldwin, who caught eight TDs with Bill Stull at quarterback.
The key to the season probably is in the hands of first-year starter Tino Sunseri, who inherits Stull's quarterback spot. Pitt suffered until Stull finally got consistent. If Sunseri can do that the Panthers offense might match the defense.
There were no clues to come out of the spring game as the Panthers kept the offense pretty much under wraps, a 52-yard burst by Lewis being the only real bright spot.
"I don't think there was much concern about (scoring only one touchdown)," Sunseri said after completing 9 of 17 passes for 82 yards and scoring the lone touchdown on a 9-yard run on a bootleg.
"We wanted to keep it very simple because (the game) was on the NFL Network and things of that nature, and we wanted to establish the ground game and get certain guys touches and we wanted to spread the ball around and we did a good job of that.
"It was very vanilla by design. We wanted to come out here and just do some things that were very basic in our offense."
--Coach Dave Wannstedt was rewarded with a two-year contract extension which will keep him at Pitt through 2014. It is the second extension he has signed. Wannstedt is 19-7 since signing the first extension.
--New linebacker coach Bernard Clark, who played under Wannstedt at the University of Miami, went through his first spring, as did Scott Turner, a graduate assistant the last two years at Pitt before being promoted to wide receivers coach.
--WR Greg Cross and CB Antwuan Reed were named winners of the Conway Award, presented each year to the most improved players of the spring on each side of the ball.
†† SPRING MOVERS:
WR Greg Cross -- Cross, who came to Pitt from a junior college two years ago as a quarterback then redshirted last year while transitioning to receiver, had an excellent spring.
CB Antwuan Reed -- A two-year reserve, Reed established himself as a leader for one of two open corner spots. Reed was one of the most improved players of the spring.
CB Saheed Imoru -- A mid-year JUCO transfer, he spent the spring solidifying himself as a starting corner opposite Reed.
QB Tino Sunseri -- Sunseri took all the reps with the first team and appears to be locking up the starting quarterback job.
†† QUOTE TO NOTE: "We needed to go out and see specific players in live situations to see how they would respond. This is what spring football is all about." -- Pitt Coach Dave Wannstedt on what was accomplished in the spring.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
†† 2010 OUTLOOK: Pitt pushed right to the end in a failed effort to win the Big East last year, probably a year ahead of schedule. The Panthers this year are loaded on all sides of the ball, running behind All-American sophomore Dion Lewis on offense with WR Jonathan Baldwin making big plays in the passing game.
Defensively they need a couple of corners to step up but seem to have found one in the spring in Antwuan Reed. The defensive line will be rugged and may feature the nation's best lineman in Greg Romeus. The kicking game is in sound hands with Dave Hutchins.
†† SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense gets a new quarterback in Tino Sunseri, who served last year as the backup to Bill Stull. His job is to not make mistakes as the team will run the ball a lot with its star sophomore Dion Lewis, who was third nationally as a freshman averaging better than 138 yards a game.
With his backup Ray Graham also back, along with bruising FB Henry Hynoski, the running game will take the heat off Sunseri. It won't hurt, either, for him to have big play threat Jon Baldwin going deep after catching 57 balls for 1,111 yards and eight touchdowns as a sophomore.
†† SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This group has a chance to be special this year and got off to a strong start dominating the annual Gold-Blue scrimmage. The defensive line is anchored by DE Greg Romeus, an All-American candidate, and Jabaal Sheard. The pair combined for 13 sacks, 23 quarterback hurries and 22 tackles for losses last year.
Greg Williams and Max Gruder return at linebacker, as do starting safeties Dom DeCicco and Jarred Holley.Antwuan Reed showed he can handle one of the open cornerback slots winning the defensive player of the spring award.
†† SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Pitt is in as good a shape at special teams as is possible. The Panthers return senior Dan Hutchins, who doubled a punter and placekicker last year and will handle both again this year.
Hutchins was All-Big East as a place-kicker. Pitt also has a set of dangerous returners returning, so to speak. Cameron Saddler and backup running back Ray Graham handle the kick returns while Aaron Smith is the punt returner with Saddler.
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 No. 4 on Rivals' "country's strongest arm" list while playing at 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 as a backup, along with Gonzalez.
†† ROSTER REPORT:
--DE Greg Romeus was named to the 2010 Ronnie Lott Award watch list. The award is presented annually to the nation's top defensive player.
--CB Audre Wright suffered a knee injury that will result in surgery.
--DE Jabaal Sheard was limited during the last week of spring due to a right foot injury that is not considered serious.
--S Dom DeCicco was out all spring with a right foot injury but he is expected back for fall camp.
--S Andrew Taglianetti missed all of spring due to continued recovery from left knee surgery. He is expected back for camp.
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