With college football season slowly, but surely approaching, it's time to debut my "Summer Study" series, offering a comprehensive look at the 2011 Pitt football team. Sharpen your pencils, brush off your notebooks, and get ready to learn -- it's time for a little summer school. This series will be made up of three large parts, each broken up into smaller posts (to make reading and writing easier). Part one will examine the "High-Octane Offense", part two will delve into the "Nitro Defense", and part three will explore "The Best Coaching Staff in the Country." I will publish a few posts per week, with the series ending the first week of August -- right around Big East Media Day, when things should start picking up again. I'm sure Anson and Greg will be offering plenty of their own analysis as well, but you can never have too many opinions. Shall we?
The High-Octane Offense is being portrayed as the forte (and really, the defining characteristic) of Todd Graham's new style of Pitt football. Here's a position-by-position breakdown, on who and what to expect this fall. Today we'll look at quartebacks and wide receivers.
Quarterbacks - Redshirt junior Tino Sunseri will be the man under center for the second consecutive year. He will be relied on heavily to captain the new offensive system and from what I can tell, he seems to be learning it well. Last year, Sunseri threw for 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing 65% of his passes. Although he was on the receiving end of criticism, I never felt like he cost the Panthers a game. By no means was he spectacular, but he wasn't terrible either. For a first year starter, I think he did an okay job. Tino will have to take on a much stronger and much more vocal role in the offense this year for the high-octane attack to work. After a solid spring camp, a monster spring game (although these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt) and a recent invitation to polish his skills in the Manning Passing Academy, I think Sunseri will be cultivated enough to confidently and ably lead this squad come September. Is this the ideal system for him? No, he's a pro-style quarterback. But, I think he'll be able to adapt, especially with a year of experience under his belt. Sunseri has been named to the Davey O'Brien watchlist, given to the nation's top QB. Redshirt freshman Anthony Gonzalez was presumed to be Sunseri's backup heading into this year, but after a brush with the law a few months back, Mark Myers, also a redshirt freshman, might open the season as number two. Gonzalez is the more versatile athlete, while Myers is a pro-style quarterback with a cannon for an arm.
Wide Receivers - With big man Jon Baldwin gone to the NFL, the passing game will fall into the hands (literally) of redshirt junior Mike Shanahan and redshirt sophomore Devin Street. Shanahan put up strong numbers behind Baldwin last year, catching 43 passes for 589 yards and a touchdown. With Shanahan no longer playing in the shadow of Baldwin, I expect big things from the big man with this year's aerial assault. He has been named to the Biletnikoff Award watchlist for 2011. The 6'4'' Street will look to complement Shanahan as Pitt's deep threat. Last year, he had 25 catches for 318 yards and two touchdowns. Street is superbly athletic and has the look of the consummate wide receiver (he lived in my dorm freshman year and beat my high school in the '08 PA state title game, so I know). Despite his average performance last season, he has all the tools to step up and have a breakout campaign in 2011. For the Panthers to compete, he'll need to. Explosive return man Cam Saddler will be third on the depth chart. The small and quick junior appears to be the ideal fit for Graham's spread-like offense, so Saddler will likely play a more prominent role this year. Several others, including Ed Tinker, Salath Williams, and Drew Carswell could also vie for playing time.
Next time, I'll take a look at running backs, tight ends, and the all-important offensive line.