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Pitt slow in adapting to Graham's speed offense

The day belonged to the defense.

Pitt football coach Todd Graham unveiled his "high-octane" offense in a full-pads scrimmage for the first time Saturday, and he was not surprised with the results.

The offense protected the ball well, but it had trouble moving the ball against Pitt's defense.

"We didn't move like are used to moving it," Graham said. "We had a lot of negative plays and a lot of assignment issues. It is slow right now."

Coaches counted nine tackles for loss by the first team, 10 by reserves and several alignment and signaling problems, but Graham hardly left practice discouraged.

"We've seen where we are going," he said of his coaching staff, much of which was with him in 2007 and 2008 when Tulsa led the nation in total offense (543.9 and 569.9 yards, respectively). "I thoroughly believe in what we are doing and how it works. This offense is a proven offense. We told the players to trust us."

Graham admits there are risks in trying to go too fast, but he isn't afraid of them.

During Graham's first season at Tulsa in '07, his team was 103rd (of 119 schools) in turnovers lost (30). It was 104th the following season, also with 30. By last season, Tulsa was second in the nation in turnover differential per game (1.31) and 31st in turnovers (19), while finishing fifth in total yards (505.6).

"A lot of people abandon it because it is very, very technical and very difficult to teach," he said. "It is the reason why it is very unique.

"You have to have smart players. You have to have guys who are disciplined and have great character.

"If you want excitement, you have to push it out there on the edge a little bit."

Pitt's offense is based on speed, not only from ball carriers but also in snapping the football after the previous play. If during the season it takes longer than 15 seconds — and that was the case many times yesterday — coaches will not be pleased.

"It is never fast enough," co-offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said.

Graham was patient yesterday, five months before the first game.

"We are not anywhere close to where we need to be," he said, "but we are ahead of where we thought we would be (after six spring practices)."

Tino Sunseri, the clear No. 1 quarterback, said he is not having trouble grasping the mental aspect of the offense.

"It is not very difficult once you understand what you are doing," he said.

The offense represents a change from what most Pitt players have grown up with, but Sunseri said he is not frustrated.

"I think it's interesting," he said, adding it's harder on the defense. "Our defensive guys come off the field and say how much of a strain it is on them."

Graham admits efficiency is missing now, but he promised not to ease up on his players or his demands of them.

"We are going to put it in the left lane and put the hammer down," he said.

Notes: Receivers Devin Street (knee) and Cam Saddler (ankle) did not practice, but Graham said they will return Tuesday. ... Zenel Demhasaj, a junior college transfer from Nassau (N.Y.) Community College, is trying to become what many people believe would be the tallest Pitt center in history. At 6 feet 7, 320 pounds, Demhasaj has been working with the first offensive line unit. ... Matt Rotheram's hamstring injury gave Cory King a chance to work with the first team at right guard. ... Several high school coaches and recruits watched practice. Upper St. Clair's Jim Render, who is entering his 48th season as a coach, said he was impressed when he first met Graham. "(His enthusiasm) is contagious," Render said. ... McKeesport coach Jim Ward said senior defensive lineman Delvon Simmons received the release of his letter of intent from North Carolina and is free to sign with any school. Texas Tech and USC remain atop Simmons' list, but Pitt has emerged as a contender. Ward said Graham called Simmons the day he was hired in January, even though Simmons was not considering Pitt at the time. Simmons may not make a decision until next month.

Additional Information:

Tulsa turnovers

Here is how Pitt coach Todd Graham's teams took care of the football and created turnovers during his four seasons as head coach at Tulsa:

2010: 19 turnovers lost (31st nationally); 1.31 turnover differential (2nd)

2009: 23 (57th); -0.17 (72nd)

2008: 30 (104th); -0.36 (84th)

2007: 30 (103rd); -0.43 (92nd)

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