Twenty Questions : Best Position Battle?

This year's training camp will be keyed by position battles in the secondary, offensive line, receiver and quarterback positions.

No. 5: Antwuan Reed vs. Saheed Imoru vs. Ricky Gary vs. Buddy Jackson
Any two of these players will start. There are four names listed, but it won't be a four-man battle royal. Antwuan Reed and Saheed Imoru have the lead heading into camp, mostly because they took the majority of the first-team reps in the spring. Ricky Gary re-enters the race in the fall, after sitting out in the spring rehabbing from an injury.

Of all the players, Gary has the most experience, playing in 27 career games, and starting in 12 games over the last three seasons. Now that he is healthy in camp, Gary will be given every opportunity to remain with the first-team. In fact, barring any major breakdowns in camp, he should lock down one of the starting jobs. The problem for him, is that Reed and Imoru made up a lot of ground in spring ball, and might it hard for Gary to beat out.

Jackson is the wild card at the position. He has the ideal size for the position, and has blazing speed to go with it. The question is, can he get down his assignments? He too took some limited first-team reps in spring ball, but not nearly as many as Reed and Imoru. Unless he proves to be the can't miss guy in fall camp, he's probably still behind Reed and Imoru. The good news for him is that he played in nine games last year, up from five in his redshirt freshman year. The coaching staff seems to trust him a little more.

With four juniors battling for the two spots, there has to be another corner in the mix to come in for nickel and dime packages. Brandon Ifill might be the leading candidate for that spot. Not to look too far away, getting a true freshman some playing time now will help a lot down the road--especially in two years, when the four corners battling now, are all gone.

No. 4: Mike Shanahan vs. Greg Cross vs. Cam Saddler
Mike Shanahan probably has the edge on this one, but expect Cross and Saddler to compete for the job. If they don't win the other receiving spot opposite Jon Baldwin, they will still see significant playing time. Shanahan was also Pitt's leading receiver in the bowl win over North Carolina, signifying that he is most ready to be the starter.

The battle for this other receiving spot is an interesting one. Even though Pitt has to replace two graduated seniors, the position has more versatility than it had last year. Shanahan is similar to Baldwin--a tall target that can make athletic moves. Does the staff want to put another twin tower in there, or do they want to plug in other athletes like Cross or Saddler? Cross has the athletic ability, and game-changing speed to make plays. This year, he has a full year of experience at the position to add to those abilities. He showed how far he's come by being named the offensive winner of the Ed Conway Award.

Saddler is still flying under the radar. He scored his first career touchdown in just his third game last year. He did it by doing what he does best--improvising. Saddler averaged 25.3 yards a kickoff return and 11.3 yards per punt return. With a full year of experience under his belt, and another year to learn the system, Saddler is capable of making an impact to the offense.

Regardless of which one of these three earn the starting job, all three expect to figure in to the offense somehow.

No. 3: Greg Gaskins vs. Jordan Gibbs vs. Ryan Turnley
Based on how the staff has made moves in the past, Greg Gaskins has the lead heading into fall camp for two reasons--one, he (much like some of the other starting positions up for grabs) took the most first-team reps. Of the three, he boasts the most game experience. When Joe Thomas was forced to miss the bowl game with a muscle pull--Chris Jacobson moved in to start in his place. After Jacobson, Gaskins was the next guy. With graduations to Thomas, Robb Houser and John Malecki, Gaskins goes from being the seventh-best lineman, to at least fourth.

Gibbs also appeared in 13 games, but it was Gaskins who was given first dibs on the open right guard spot during the spring. Gibbs, because of his height, is more suited for tackle. Turnley is the top backup at either guard spot, but because of even less game experience than both Gibbs and Gaskins--unless he's the most dominant lineman in camp of any of the positions, it's hard to imagine a younger player outshining two players entering their fourth year with the program.

No. 2: Andrew Taglianetti vs. Jared Holley
Might be the most competitive position battle of camp. Taglianetti beat out Elijah Fields last year, and had everything going his way. Then, in just the second game of the season, Taglianetti tore his ACL, and was lost for the year. He is back and ready to compete again.

Holley found his way into the rotation as a redshirt freshman, and also beat out Fields after Taglianetti went down. He started the final eight games of the season. He finished with 48 tackles and three interceptions on the sesaon. His presence in the secondary took a lot off the shoulders of Dom DeCicco. Before Holley started, Pitt's pass defense was yielding an average of 232.2 yards a game. During Holley's eight starts, Pitt's pass defense gave up an average of 201 yards a game.

Both players have won position battles in the past, and have found their way to the field earlier in their career than a lot of other players on the roster. It's going to be a significant position battle, but whoever loses, is also going to figure in importantly in the defense.

No. 1: Tino Sunseri vs. Pat Bostick
For a third fall in a row, the quarterback position is up for grabs. What's different about this year is that both quarterbacks have experience, including Bostick who has nine career starts. Sunseri has no starting experience, but did play in five games last season.

This position battle is likely to have all eyes on it for all of camp. It will draw the most conversation of any news item coming out of camp. The quarterback position has that draw to it, whatever the team. In addition to having two players with experience battling for the job, the position is deeper than it has been in awhile. Anthony Gonzalez and Mark Myers come in, and if both are able to redshirt this season, they only make the position stronger and deeper, going forward.

As to who will win it, it's anyone's guess. Sunseri will enter the camp as a favorite to win it, based on the amount of first-team reps he took. Offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti had a plan for the quarterback position, and so far, it's worked. Bill Stull did his job as a senior last year. Bostick redshirted, and gained another full year in the system, while Sunseri got his feet wet, playing in five games. The end result was production last year from the senior quarterback, a whole year for Bostick to improve, and Sunseri to get the experience. We may have thought it worked just for Stull, but Bostick and Sunseri should benefit even more.

It's possible the starter won't be announced until that game, but for a season-opener, Wannstedt usually likes his starters in place, so they can at least get used to the idea of starting, or at least act as a starter in the form of leadership. Only if it's a week two, or week three decision, or later in the season, will the staff let a position battle carry up to game day--to bring the competitive flavor out of both players for a whole week of practice.

It's Sunseri, the hometown star, vs. Bostick, the veteran who has been the starting quarterback for road wins in Morgantown and South Bend during his career. Bostick has done well in fall camps, particularly camp scrimmages, in years past. Will it be enough for him to win the starting job?


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