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Pitt's offense still work in progress

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pitt concluded its spring drills Saturday in the annual Blue-Gold Game by filling the dark, rainy sky with 81 passes, running its fast-break offense without regard to the conditions and committing five turnovers.

The football was slippery, and the turf was slimy. But you won't hear any excuses from coach Todd Graham.

"It doesn't matter," he said. "Rain, sleet, snow, wind. It doesn't affect how we are going to operate. We are going to run our offense. We are going to throw the ball, run the ball, do all the things we always do.

"We threw for 400 yards (498, actually), and I'm standing in ankle deep water."

The final score was predictably lopsided, with the Blue first-teamers, who ran more than 100 plays in two hours, defeating the Gold reserves, 48-13, in front of a crowd of 1,507.

The truth is: The offense remains a work in progress.

The good news: The first game that counts is nearly five months away.

"It's kind of like we have training wheels on," Graham said, "and I'm the training wheel. That's why I am out there (running alongside the offense). I have gotten in better shape this spring. I don't usually have to do that."

Quarterback Tino Sunseri, who ran a totally different scheme last season under former coach Dave Wannstedt, was productive yesterday. But he was facing inexperienced defensive players, many of whom will be no more than reserves next season.

He completed 35 of 55 passes for 416 yards and two touchdowns. But redshirt junior defensive back Marco Pecora intercepted a pass, and walk-on linebacker Emanuel Rackard picked a ball out of the air when it slipped from Sunseri's grip and returned the fumble 10 yards for a touchdown.

"Two turnovers are unacceptable," Graham said.

Graham is pleased with Sunseri's progress, but he insists, "He has a lot to learn. We are not close to being where we want to be in running this offense.

"Right now, he is running the offense. It's different than becoming a disciple of the offense and knows it inside and out. We have to have a quarterback who is smart and makes good decisions.

"That position's development is the No. 1 key to our success."

Meanwhile, Sunseri looks to have at least four playmakers surrounding him, including former Norwin wide receiver Mike Shanahan (seven receptions, 158 yards and a 50-yard touchdown).

"Mike Shanahan sticks out to me as a leader and playmaker," Graham said. "As he gets in mental and physical shape to run this offense, he is going to be special."

Wide receivers Devin Street (eight, 81, one) and Cameron Saddler (six, 50) also played well, and running back Ray Graham was used sparingly (five carries, 15 yards) because he's the only scholarship running back on campus.

Backup quarterback Anthony Gonzalez, who shared the Ed Conway Award with cornerback Buddy Jackson and defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell, was 9 for 26 with two interceptions.

Jackson returned the opening kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown but lost a fumble on his next one when Andrew Taglianetti knocked the ball loose.

After the game, Graham gathered his players around him and talked about their next challenge.

The players are faced with a lot of free time before summer camp. Some members of last year's team couldn't handle it responsibly, and the legal problems that ensued helped lead to Wannstedt's firing.

Graham expects no such problems, especially after he had his players sign a document earlier this year reaffirming their commitment to the program.

"I told them, all over the country between now and camp, you are going to see every day somebody getting in trouble," he said.

Graham said it's not enough to ask them to stay out of trouble.

"Every day I see them, I am going to shake their hands, look them in the eye and tell them I'm committed, and I expect them to do the same thing.

"We have given each other our word, so I have a great confidence that these guys are going to do the right things."




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