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Sunseri, Graham impress at Pitt scrimmage

Kevin Gorman
| Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2009

The average fan watching Pitt's first training camp scrimmage Tuesday might have left believing that quarterback Tino Sunseri and tailback Ray Graham are the most talented players at their position.

And they would be backed up by statistics.

Talent doesn't necessarily translate into spots in the starting lineup.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt reiterated his stance that there isn't an open quarterback competition, calling Bill Stull the starter after the fifth-year senior completed 9-of-14 passes for 57 yards, and he said freshman Dion Lewis was "the most consistent" of the tailbacks.

Nevermind that Graham, a freshman from Elizabeth, N.J., led all rushers with 42 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown -- 1 yard more on one less carry than Lewis, who also scored. Or that Sunseri, a redshirt freshman from Central Catholic, completed 6-of-7 passes for 60 yards and a touchdown.

Wannstedt also noticed their blemishes, as Graham fumbled on each of his first two carries, and Sunseri took a pair of sacks for minus-15 yards.

"Ray Graham has talent, but we had a chance being down 14-nothing with his first two carries," Wannstedt said. "A fumble last year in the Bowling Green game early turned the game around. It's just not a matter of how hard someone is throwing or how many moves a player with athletic ability might have. Is he prepared to play the entire game and do all the things necessary?

"That's what we're working through with these young kids. There's no question that Ray's got a lot of talent. He's going to be a heck of a player. There's no question Tino's got talent. He's going to be a heck of a player. It's just a matter of when and how fast these guys can come along."

If Stull is the unquestioned starter, it isn't being discussed in position meetings with Frank Cignetti Jr., Pitt's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The Panthers are treating each practice as if it's an audition, and Stull's first pass was intercepted by cornerback Jarred Holley.

"I feel if I don't play well that I'm not going to play," said Stull, who also led an eight-play scoring drive. "Obviously, it is a competition. I know how camp is around here. I definitely think it's a competition. I'm always going to compete and do my best, and I know the guys behind me are going to do the same."

Stull is being pushed by Sunseri, who's splitting first-team reps with Stull and appears to have moved ahead of junior Pat Bostick (5-of-10 passing for 18 yards). Sunseri has impressed with his arm strength and mobility, but he admits he's still learning the nuances of the offense and huddle command.

Nonetheless, he led two scoring drives, settling for a field goal on the first after Jonathan Baldwin dropped a corner fade in the end zone and rolling right to throw a 22-yard touchdown to walk-on tight end Jon Tisak on the second.

"With the way coach Cignetti has done it, it's open competition," said Sunseri, son of former Pitt All-America linebacker and assistant coach Sal Sunseri. "In that same aspect, we're trying to help each other every day. ... Whatever we can do to help the team is what we're going to do, and whoever can do it the best is going to play."

Lewis, a freshman who enrolled in January, got a head start in the tailback competition by having a strong spring. His combination of power was on display on the third series, when he shrugged off safety Andrew Taglianetti's tackle attempt on a 14-yard touchdown run. And Lewis showcased his elusiveness in faking out cornerback Aaron Berry.

"Dion was pretty much making everyone miss," Stull said.

Graham took a backseat in receiving repetitions to classmate Jason Douglas and redshirt freshman Chris Burns, who ran for 20 yards on nine carries and had three receptions. Graham finished the scrimmage strong with several sizzling runs on the final drive, which ended with his 1-yard touchdown run.

Wannstedt did his best to downplay talk of competition in camp.

"Every day we go onto the field, we have to prove ourselves and continue to improve," Wannstedt said. "That's probably the real phrase. I don't think it's as much as 'I've got to prove anything' as much as 'I've got to improve every day in my decision-making, in my throws, in my work ethic.'

"That's what training camp is for."

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