After giving his overview of this week's game, and the excited level that the coaching staff has entering this season-opener against Utah, the first questions that Dave Wannstedt fielded at his first Monday press conference of the season, were about Tino Sunseri.
Wannstedt took time over the weekend, to sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with Sunseri. The point of the conversation was to just test his state of mind, but to also pull him back a little bit. Wannstedt delivered the mantra that Sunseri is ‘One of 11' players that needs to carry it out on offense, in both his own press conference, and the Big East teleconference. The idea, is to maybe take the pressure off Sunseri heading into the game, so that he doesn't get too worked up.
"Tino and I talked, two days ago, we sat and talked for awhile," Wannstedt said. "I gave him a few stories of a few guys, who started off their careers, for the first time. I really wanted to make the point to him that he's one of 11 players on offense. Does he have to make plays? Sure, he does. Lucas Nix needs to make blocks. (Jon) Baldwin needs to make catches, and Dion (Lewis) needs to make runs."
Aside from getting Sunseri to realize that he's just one of those 11 players on offense, Wannstedt just wants him to have that confidence heading in--whether it's a road start at a place like Utah, or a home game, like he'll face next week against a team like New Hampshire.
"I want him to have the mindset of being confident, but going into this thing, feeling that there's no more of a burden on his shoulder, to carry any more than any other player on offense," Wannstedt added. "Even though he hasn't really started a game, at this point last year, Billy (Stull) was the starter going in, but Tino knew that he was the second quarterback in line, and that at any point, he was prepared to play. I don't think this is something that has caught him by surprise. I think he has prepared himself for this. We got a good plan. He understands the plan. It's a team game."
Tino is also likely to get advice from his dad, Alabama assistant and former Pitt linebacker Sal Sunseri--though Wannstedt joked, he hoped that Sal wouldn't give him too much defensive-oriented advice.
"He'd have him running into walls," Wannstedt said. "We need him to complete passes."
While Sunseri may be just one player, he is the quarterback, the focal point of every offensive snap. Was this conversation made to help ease his mind in doubts from other players not having faith in him? It doesn't sound like it. In addition to having the one-on-one with the head coach, there's ringing endorsements from all over the team.
"We're comfortable with him," receiver Jon Baldwin says. "We just have to keep working, and just keep getting better, and he'll do great; just keep going on to the practices, and he'll keep getting better and better.
Baldwin of course, is a player who is relying on Sunseri to get him the ball, so he can exceed his receiving numbers from last year. Another key component of the offense is running back Henry Hynoski--a player who has become a bit of a leader on the offense, but one who already feels Sunseri's confidence when he's out there.
"We see it in Tino right now," Hynoski said. "Like I've been saying all camp, his huddle presence has been impeccable. He brings an air of confidence to the huddle. We respond positively to Tino's attitude. We did the same with Bill (Stull) last year. Bill had a great year, and we expect Tino to do the same. Tino brings big-play ability to our offense, purely because of his arm strength."
Hynoski talked about that arm strength a little bit, but Wannstedt admitted that Sunseri has the ability to do some things that some of the other quarterbacks in his era, haven't been able to do. As Wannstedt spoke of some of these intangibles, we get a clearer picture as to why Sunseri has been his choice.
"He's very intelligent," Wannstedt said. "He understands what we're trying to do as an offense. He has a strong enough arm to make all the throws that we ask our quarterbacks to make. We're not going into a game plan, saying, ‘Okay, we can't call this play, or call that play because the quarterback can't get the ball there accurate.' He can make all the throws. He's got intangibles. You don't win a state championship in Pennsylvania by accident. He's a winner."
While he has the intangibles--Wannstedt also says that Sunseri won't be given much chance to make checks at the line, or call audibles. He's hoping he won't have to, which goes back into the confidence factor--does he really have faith in Sunseri, or does Wannstedt really feel he won't need to make changes at the line in this game?
"We'll have some checks," Wannstedt said. "It's just our philosophy, we're not a big audible team. We'll add things to it. If certain looks come up, we'll add things to it, and if certain looks come up, we'll take advantage of it. We're not one of those teams, who puts too much on the quarterback, from that perspective."
While there seems to be all kinds of backing from the coaching staff and other Pitt players, Wannstedt goes back to this being a team game, which is kind of why he had this talk with Sunseri in the first place.
"We got to play good defense, we got special teams, we got to be able to run the ball a little bit, and do some things, to try to keep a little bit of pressure off of him," Wannstedt said. "He's excited. He's got the total support and confidence of our coaching staff, of our players on the team--offense, defense--the entire football team. It's going to be good. I'm excited for him, as well as this football team."