Pitt, WVU and Penn State using practices to groom new starting quarterbacks
It's been nearly a decade since Pitt, West Virginia and Penn State were all in the unenviable position of having to break in a new starting quarterback.
In 2002, Rod Rutherford took over for David Priestley at Pitt. It was a smooth transition, as Rutherford led the Panthers to a 9-4 record and an Insight Bowl victory.
It helped, of course, that Rutherford had All-American receiver Larry Fitzgerald catching everything within reach.
Fortunately, for the Panthers, Nittany Lions and Mountaineers, their 2010 offenses are not built on the passing game, even though West Virginia offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen said he adjusts to his quarterback.
"The identity of your offense is your quarterback," Mullen said. "It's not the system, then quarterback. It's quarterback, then system."
Frank Cignetti, beginning his second season as offensive coordinator at Pitt, differs philosophically with Mullen.
"Every year, your identity changes because of personnel changes," Cignetti said. "But the foundation of our offense will not change."
Will Pitt turn to Sunseri?
The Panthers, who have to replace quarterback Bill Stull, three linemen and two other starters on offense, will be fueled by tailback Dion Lewis and wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin.
Cignetti is likely to settle on Tino Sunseri at quarterback, although the sophomore isn't a lock. Sunseri, a product of Central Catholic, could face a tough challenge from Pat Bostick and Andrew Janocko.
Coach Dave Wannstedt and Cignetti must then wait until the fall to determine if heralded recruits Anthony Gonzalez and Mark Myers are capable of challenging for playing time.
It's hard to fairly evaluate Sunseri, who had only 17 pass attempts last season. But the Panthers hope he is ready to open the season Sept. 2 at Utah.
PSU race wide open
The favorite to win the QB job at Penn State is Kevin Newsome, who completed 8 of 11 passes as a freshman last season.
But the Nittany Lions, who open spring drills March 26, are not ready to commit to Newsome as the replacement to Daryll Clark.
"If we say that Newsome is the No.1 guy, then that signals that the other guys have to beat him out," Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said. "This thing is wide open, really wide open."
The "other guys" includes Paul Jones, a 6-3, 226-pound true freshman from McKeees Rocks, who is already on campus. Robert Bolden, a blue-chip recruit from Michigan, will arrive this fall.
"We have to build around what we have," Paterno said. "We'll go about six or seven practices into the spring and adjust from there.
"Obviously, it'll help (Jones) because he'll have 14 (spring) practices under his belt, and he'll get familiar with terminology and formations. It'll help during the spring game, because we'll have 75,000 to 80,000 (fans)."
However, Paterno said Jones' spring participation doesn't necessarily give him an edge over Bolden, who was rated among the top-10 high school quarterbacks in the country by some scouting services.
Newsome, who battled Clark for the starting job last spring, should be better for the experience.
"We could see near the end of last year that Kevin was a little more focused and paying more attention," Paterno said. "He's ramped up a lot about competing for the starting job again."
Odd situation at WVU
Mullen will have both his 2009 leading rusher (Noel Devine) and receiver (Jock Sanders) when the Mountaineers kick off spring practice on April 6. But the Mountaineers' projected QB starter, Geno Smith, will be sidelined the entire spring while he continues to recover from a broken foot.
The Mountaineers won't have depth at quarterback in the spring. Both of their freshmen recruits, Jeremy Johnson and Barry Brunetti, will arrive in the fall.
But Mullen and Coach Bill Stewart have a far more complex problem. They decided immediately after a 33-21 loss to Florida State in the Gator Bowl that Smith would inherit the starting job from fifth-year senior Jarrett Brown. However, with Smith sitting out, Coley White will get most of the reps. White, though, doesn't appear to have a future at quarterback. Odds are he will shift to slot or running back upon Smith's return this fall.
"(White) is certainly a capable kid at that position (quarterback)," Mullen said. "Because Geno beat him out for the No. 2 job last year, we had planned on moving (White) to the slot or slash position. Unfortunately, we won't be able to do that in the spring.
"When we move into the fall, depending on the development of Johnson and Brunetti, we'll decide whether to keep Coley as a backup quarterback."
While Pitt, West Virginia and Penn State sort through their quarterback dilemma, growing pains are seemingly unavoidable for all three.
"In the spring, you throw everything at the (quarterbacks)," Mullen said. "Spring is a time to find out what they can do physically and mentally."
The last time Pitt, West Virginia and Penn State all opened the season with a new starting quarterback was 2002. All three schools finished 9-4 in 2002.
Pitt - Rod Rutherford replaced David Priestly
Penn State - Zach Mills replaced Matt Senneca
West Virginia - Rasheed Wallace replaced Brad Lewis
Dates for spring games:
Pitt - April 17
Penn State - April 24
West Virginia - April 30th