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Pitt's Perceived Weaknesses (Part IV of IV): The Passing Game

You had to know that Tino Sunseri was going to make an appearance in this series (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
You had to know that Tino Sunseri was going to make an appearance in this series (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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You knew this was coming, right?

All week, we've been looking at some of Pitt's perceived weaknesses for 2012. Yet, there was no mention of the biggest lightning rod for criticism - Tino Sunseri. Truth is, I'm sick of talking about it myself, and it was the one I least wanted to do.

That said, it may be the biggest weakness of all the ones we've looked at, so writing about it is a necessary evil.

Sunseri had a poor 2011 and I'm sure even he'd admit that. But things are bound to be better for him and the passing game in 2012.

The most oft-cited reason for Sunseri bouncing back in 2012 is that he's returning to a pro style offense. It's a trite answer, but one that really fits. In 2010, he wasn't great, but had a pretty solid year - especially for a first-year starter. That success came in Dave Wannstedt's pro style system. Last year, despite having a full season as a starter under his belt, Sunseri struggled mightily in Todd Graham's quirky offense.

But there's also another reason Sunseri will be better.

One is better chemistry with his receivers. Sunseri gets both of his main targets back - Devin Street and Mike Shanahan. Neither was particularly great last year, but that was partially due to Sunseri simply not being very good. As he improves, so will they. The other thing to like is that he's had a full season to work with both as starters. The chemistry is bound to be better between the trio and that should equal better play.

When you put those two things together along with the fact that Sunseri is a year older, it all equals a better year from him.

The other component, of course, is the play of the offensive line. I lumped them into the passing game, because I wanted to keep the series to four parts and they affect it more than the running game, which can still make a few plays even with a bad line. Gone are Lucas Nix (now in the NFL with the Raiders), Greg Gaskins, and Jordan Gibbs. But the Panthers get Chris Jacobson back, who missed much of last year, and Ryan Turnley had a good year at center and is year older. Huge question marks are the new tackles, presumably Juantez Hollins and Matt Rotheram, and Cory King at guard. The good news is that both all three played a bit last season and King started briefly.

The bigger factor when it comes to the line is that there's practically no experienced depth there. Those guys need to stay healthy if the passing game is going to have any success. Offensive line, as it has been for many seasons in recent memory, is a huge question mark.

Despite the questions about the line, I think the comfort level in the passing game is going to increase. This is by far the biggest concern for the team and if the passing game can't get it going, it's going to make it even harder to run effectively. But if Sunseri and company can even have modest success, Pitt should be able to compete for the Big East crown.

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