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College

Pitt adjusts to Graham's no-huddle style

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Whole units of players ran onto the field like the clock was running out in the fourth quarter.

Signals were called in hurried bursts of verbiage, the ball snapped within 15 seconds of the end of the previous play and the play run.

Not perfectly executed but efficiently enough for March 15.

"We were rolling," incumbent junior quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "Not as fast as we want to be, but in the right direction."

Todd Graham conducted the first practice of his Pitt coaching career Tuesday. It was the first of 14 such sessions that will culminate April 16 with the spring game at Heinz Field.

"I could feel the kids' anxiety," he said.

Overall, Graham said he is impressed with how his players have adapted to his high-energy, no-huddle offense that is in total contrast to the pro style game plan employed since 2005 by former coach Dave Wannstedt.

"Halfway through practice," Graham said, "I told them we have played about half a quarter, and we (already) had a whole bunch of snaps."

The goal, Sunseri said, is about 82 per game.

"That is a bunch more snaps than they are used to," Graham said, "and I am very, very impressed with how they handled it. At times, we had to tell them 'whoa,' instead of 'go.' "

The idea behind Graham's scheme is to wear down the defense with repeated snaps in a short period of time.

"When you see the defensive line tired, it's like blood in the water," senior left guard Chris Jacobsen said.

Still, there is plenty of room in Graham's offense for the deep pass.

At one point, he wanted to test his four quarterbacks — Sunseri, sophomore Kolby Gray and redshirt freshmen Anthony Gonzalez and Mark Myers — and said, "Let's throw the thing down the field 50 yards and see if we can hit 'em (the receivers). And we hit 'em."

Graham saved his highest praise for Sunseri, who started every game and completed 64.5 percent of his passes last season as a sophomore.

"Tino, you can tell, is experienced," he said. "He managed. He led. He listens. He is very eager to learn. He was very efficient throwing the football. Tino exceeded my expectations today."

The others caught his eye, too.

Of Myers, he said: "He can flat spin the ball. He threw some deep balls today that get you excited."

Of Gonzalez, he said: "He is very, very athletic. He made some great throws on some bootlegs."

Of Gray, a high school quarterback who was a safety under Wannstedt, Graham said, "Kolby shows a lot of good signs, too, but it's been a while since he's been over there."

Notes: Graham said tight end Mike Cruz, who started 12 games last season, has decided to leave the program after he was suspended for violating team rules. ... Senior Brandon Lindsey, who recorded 10 sacks in 11 starts and was named second-team All-Big East at defensive end last season, will play outside linebacker in the new 3-4 scheme, similar to how the Steelers use James Harrison. Lindsey had shoulder surgery in January and will be inactive through the early days of spring drills. ... Sophomore Bryan Murphy also will move from defensive end to outside linebacker. ... Former tight end Justin Virbitsky will move into the interior offensive line. ... Graham said his team will practice in pads for the first time Saturday.

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