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Pitt notebook: Panthers officially ready to start post-Sunseri era

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 5:42 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
PItt quarterback Tom Savage throws during practice Tuesday, August 6, 2013, in the South Side. Savage will make his first start in three years Monday, Spt. 2, 2013, at Heinz Field.

When Pitt plays Florida State on Monday, the Panthers' starting quarterback will be someone other than Tino Sunseri for the first time since Dec. 26, 2009.

The game was the Meineke Car Care Bowl, and Pitt defeated North Carolina, 19-17, behind senior quarterback Bill Stull. Dion Lewis ran for 159 yards and Dan Hutchins kicked four field goals, including the game-winning 33-yarder with 52 seconds left.

The victory was historic in another sense — it completed Pitt's only season with double-digit victories (10) in the past 32 years.

Back in action

Pitt quarterback Tom Savage will make his first start since Oct. 2, 2010, when he was injured in Rutgers' 17-14 loss to Tulane, triggering a nomadic career that took him to Arizona and, finally, Pittsburgh.

“Tommy hasn't played in a while, but I love his preparation and approach and hope he certainly grows throughout the year,” coach Paul Chryst said. “Every rep that Tom got was valuable in understanding the schematic part of it and how one guy runs this route or getting used to the receivers.

“I think it was certainly a work in progress, but I feel really good about the way he's progressed.”

While Savage was learning Chryst's system, coaches were learning about him.

“Part of it is we know him better,” Chryst said. “We know his strengths and can play to those.”

Chryst wasn't specific about those plans, but Savage has better arm strength than any Pitt quarterback since Joe Flacco in 2004.

Risk vs. reward

Despite the injury risk, Chryst has few worries about using three-fourths of his starting secondary in the return game.

Cornerbacks K'Waun Williams (punts) and Lafayette Pitts (kickoffs) will be joined by strong safety Jason Hendricks (kickoffs).

“We know every time a guy is out there, there's a risk for injury, but I don't have any concerns,” Chryst said.

Pitts averaged 24.3 yards per kickoff return last season, including a 64-yarder against Gardner-Webb. Hendricks and Williams have never returned kicks for Pitt.

No worries, so far

Freshman Chris Blewitt has been nursing a injury to his kicking foot for the past two weeks, but Chryst doesn't sound concerned.

“Right now, I think Chris will be ready to go. If not, we'll just put out another freshman kicker (walk-on Brad Lukasak). I'm all for a freshman kicker,” he said, laughing.

ACC memorabilia

A total of 2,013 footballs commemorating Pitt's debut season in the ACC are on sale for $99 at Nikcosports.com or by calling 1-800-345-2869. The balls are full size and come with an acrylic or mahogany display case. Proceeds ($7 per ball) benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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