2010 Pitt Preview - Offense
Pitt RB Dion Lewis
Pitt RB Dion Lewis
Posted Jul 18, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Pittsburgh Offense

Pitt Panthers

Preview 2010 - Offense

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What you need to know: Bill Stull will be missed, something Pitt fans never imagined they'd be hearing. The Panthers have a void at quarterback that's going to be filled by sophomore Tino Sunseri, a talented recruit with no experience. If the offense is going to maintain last season's momentum under second-year coordinator Frank Cignetti, who coached up Stull masterfully, it'll need some degree of consistency from behind center. Poor play from the quarterback means superstar receiver Jon Baldwin gets underutilized and opposing defenses can stack the line to stop Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. Lewis was last year's revelation, traveling from lightly-recruited rookie to 1,800-yard Heisman contender. The program's other concerns reside on the interior of the line and at tight end, where graduation sunk its teeth into both areas.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Tino Sunseri
10-17, 114 yds, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: Dion Lewis
325 carries, 1,799 yds, 17 TDs
Receiving: Jon Baldwin
57 catches, 1,111 yds, 8 TDs

Star of the offense: Sophomore RB Dion Lewis
Players who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Tino Sunseri
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore RB Ray Graham
Best pro prospect: Sophomore WR Jon Baldwin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lewis, 2) Senior LT Jason Pinkston, 3) Baldwin
Strength of the offense: The backs, the tackles, the running game, protecting the ball, protecting the quarterback
Weakness of the offense: Inexperience at quarterback, red zone touchdowns, the interior of the line


Projected Starter: The graduation of Bill Stull, who'll be missed more than anyone anticipated, opens the door for the Tino Sunseri era to begin in Pittsburgh. After being the backup and playing sparingly in five games, he took full control of this opening in the offseason. A strategic recruit from the 2008 class, he's a natural leader, with enough zip and accuracy on his throws to be an effective passer in this league. While no dual-threat, he has the quick feet to escape trouble and avoid a sack. The knock on the 6-2, 210-pound sophomore is his stature, which will force him to keep his elbow high in order to avoid having balls deflected.

Projected Top Reserves: In 6-3, 225-pound junior Pat Bostick, the Panthers believe they have an ideal backup in the No. 2 hole. A veteran of 16 games and nine career starts, he redshirted last year rather than blowing a season of eligibility on the bench. No, he hasn't fulfilled the lofty expectations that accompanied his arrival, but he has the most experience and a firm grasp on the system. Though unlikely to unseat Sunseri, he's a luxury to have in the bullpen.

Rounding out the depth chart is 6-2, 200-pound Andrew Janocko, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship last year. No stranger to the field, he's earned a letter in each of the last two seasons as the Panthers' holder on placements.

Watch Out For .... Pitt to keep it simple offensively. Already conservative, the Panthers will lean more than ever on the running game and intermediate passes. If Sunseri manages the game with minimum mistakes, a particular priority for this staff, he'll be off to a flying start in his first year.
Strength: The supporting cast. Sunseri has plenty of potential, but his biggest asset in the early going will be the Panthers surrounding. He'll be able evolve, knowing that LT Jason Pinkston, RB Dion Lewis, and WR Jon Baldwin were all members of the All-Big East first team.
Weakness: A proven winner. Sure, Bostick has those nine career starts, but eight came back in 2007, and he's generally been a disappointment. The Panthers are likely to enter a new season with a young quarterback, who has thrown 17 career passes, which comes with all kinds of pitfalls and an inevitable learning curve.
Outlook: In many ways, Sunseri is a prototypical Pitt quarterback, tough, smart, and willing to play within the system. It's unlikely he'll be asked to do too much in his first season as the starter, leaning instead on a heavy diet of Lewis and safe passes to Baldwin. He'll be a good one, but the training wheels might not come off until 2011.
Rating: 6.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: There's no way Pitt was going to adequately replace LeSean McCoy in such short notice. Yeah, right. Good luck convincing sophomore Dion Lewis who authored one of the great true freshman seasons ever for a back. Almost completely bypassed out of high school because of his 5-8, 195-pound frame, he erupted for 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns on 325 carries. He added 25 catches for 189 yards and another score in an unexpected national coming-out party. Forget the size thing. He runs much tougher than expected, and has the vision and cutback ability to pick up yards even when it appears there's nothing there.

Lewis' backfield mate will be 6-2, 260-pound junior Henry Hynoski, a powerful blocker and not your garden variety fullback. Yes, he does a nice job of creating running room, but he also has soft hands and can provide a change-of-pace on the ground. In his first full season of action, he carried 24 times for 107 yards and a touchdown, while catching 15 passes for 109 yards.

Projected Top Reserves: When Lewis needs a breather, Pitt will have no reservations of putting 5-9, 185-pound sophomore Ray Graham in the huddle. The top reserve a year ago, he showcased his potential by turning 61 carries into 349 yards and four touchdowns. One of the star's of the offseason, he has the quickness and change-of-direction to snap off a big play whenever the blockers do their job.

Barring an injury, it won't be easy, but 5-11, 195-pound sophomore Chris Burns will be looking for touches whenever they become available. A third-string candidate, who logged just 11 carries for 29 yards last season, he's a shifty runner and can get to top gear in an instant. Although he's fallen behind in the pecking order, if the opportunity arises, he has the talent to surprise a lot of people outside the program.

Watch Out For .... for more Graham. Hey, Lewis is the man, but it's gotten harder to tell the two sophomores apart this year. Graham grew considerably since the end of last year, commanding more chances to make plays in 2010. Plus, given a choice, the staff would prefer it if Lewis didn't absorb as many hits as he did last season.
Strength: Depth of talent. Lewis is a legitimate All-America candidate and Graham would start for a bunch of schools not named Pittsburgh. This is an ideal situation for Dave Wannstedt, who's biggest concern this season might be making sure that all of his gifted backs are happy.
Weakness: Size. No, it's not such a problem that anyone in Pittsburgh is concerned, but the Panthers' top backs are south of 200 pounds and not prone to moving piles. In theory, Hynoski can be used to soften defenses, but Pitt lost a potential hammer when Shariff Harris transferred to Southern Illinois.
Outlook: Wannstedt has been pointing to this day for years, when he has a loaded backfield that can wear defenses down for four quarters. Lewis, the undisputed star, has looked even better and stronger this offseason, and Graham plans to make life tough on the staff. Particularly as a new starting quarterback gets broken in, both will be used liberally in 2010.
Rating: 9.5


Projected Starters: The Panthers are facing a glass-is-half-empty situation at receiver. On the one hand, graduation took a heavy toll, especially at tight end. On the other, the star of the group, Jon Baldwin, is back for his junior year. A 6-5, 225-pound human mismatch at flanker, he showed his potential when the quarterback cooperates, catching a team-high 57 passes for 1,111 yards and eight touchdowns. With his long arms, huge hands, and smooth gait, he makes regular appearances behind the secondary.

With all of the defections, the offense has an opening at split end that should be filled by 6-5, 220-pound sophomore Mike Shanahan. He finished fifth on the team a year ago, making 15 grabs for 211 yards and improving as the season progressed. Similarly built to Baldwin, he's more of a possession receiver, who uses his long frame to his advantage and has the reliable hands to be a natural on third down pass plays.

Losing NFL–caliber tight ends Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham were big hits. In their place steps 6-5, 270-pound sophomore Mike Cruz, who won't be nearly the same threat as a receiver. Used in the program's "jumbo set" in short yardage, he's seen as more of a third guard, catching one pass for a two-yard touchdown last season.

Projected Top Reserves: In stark contrast to Baldwin and Shanahan is 5-7, 170-pound Cameron Saddler, a jolt of energy capable of making plays out of the slot and turning short slants into long gainers. Very fast and lightning quick out of his cuts, he'll be used much more than a year ago, when he caught three passes for 41 yards and a touchdown.

Senior Greg Cross arrived from junior college as a quarterback, but is going to leave as one the Panthers' split ends. He's a terrific all-around athlete, with the 6-2, 215-pound size to win battles with defensive backs when the ball is in the air. Still a threat to throw the ball on trick plays, the staff would like to finally maximize all of his athleticism.

After sitting out last season for NCAA rules, 6-6, 255-pound junior Andrew Devlin is set to make his debut in his hometown of Pittsburgh. A transfer from Virginia and one of the nation's top-rated tight ends of 2007, he brings starting experience to the Panthers and the hands to be a viable threat in the passing game.

Watch Out For .... Shanahan's role to expand considerably. Who does a young quarterback typically look for when things break down? A back in the flat or a lonely tight end. Well, Shanahan isn't a tight end, but he does share a lot of similar qualities. He's big and reliable, which might be parlayed into 35 or 40 catches this season.
Strength: The edge in size on the outside. Baldwin is 6-5 and 225 pounds. Shanahan is 6-5 and 220 pounds. When these guys are on the field at the same time, Pitt quarterbacks should have few problems playing above defensive backs, especially near the goal line. If the Panthers can't leverage this natural advantage, it'll be a missed opportunity.
Weakness: Tight end. After enjoying access to a first team All-Big East tight end the last two years, Pittsburgh is going to be a little flat at the position this season. Cruz, Devlin, and redshirt freshman Brock DeCicco are nice players, but they won't be a threat down the seam the way Dickerson was in 2009.
Outlook: While Baldwin is a sure-thing and a candidate for early entry into the NFL, the success of this unit depends on his teammates. It'll be up to Shanahan and the other wideouts to give opponents reason to pause about swarming the franchise. With a young quarterback likely to stare down the star, it's important for the group to be more than just a one-man gang.
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: The situation on the outside and inside are about as polar opposite as, well, outside and inside. Pitt is set at tackle with a pair of potential all-stars, but both guards and a new center must be developed. At left tackle the Panthers have a potential All-American in 6-4, 305-pound senior Jason Pinkston. His shoulders finally healthy, he had a terrific season protecting the quarterback's backside, a key reason Pitt led the league in sacks allowed. An All-Big East first teamer, he's a terrific athlete with outstanding feet.

On the right side is 6-6, 300-pound junior Lucas Nix, another tackle with an NFL upside. His career went into overdrive last fall, as he started all 13 games and did an exceptional in the expanded role. One of the most heralded linemen to ever sign with Pitt, he plays with a mean streak, yet also has the get-off and light feet needed to survive on the edge. Pinkston will get more pub, but Nix is following a similar trajectory to prominence.

At the all-important center spot, the staff needs to replace steady Robb Houser. The favorite is 6-1, 290-pound senior Alex Karabin, a former walk-on and two-time letterman on special teams. Predictably, he doesn't have a huge ceiling, but he's loaded with intangibles, such as a blue-collar work ethic and a good head for the offense. After toiling anonymously for four years to get this opportunity, he's not about to be a liability.

Although 6-3, 290-pound junior Chris Jacobson has had limited experience to date, starting one game a year ago, the coaches are confident he can be a successful left guard. A blue-chipper from the 2007 class, he brings a degree of tenacity and power that's going to be welcomed by the backs and the running game.

The Panthers are not as confident at right guard, where 6-4, 285-pound junior Greg Gaskins has the edge, but hasn't exactly padlocked the job. He earned his first letter a year ago, playing in all 13 games, and has the versatility to play multiple positions, but has yet to earn the complete confidence of the staff.

Projected Top Reserves: Gaskins' stiffest competition is coming from 6-6, 305-pound sophomore Ryan Turnley, who saw limited duty in his first season of eligibility. At his best as a run blocker, he has good punch coming out of his stance and the leg drive to move opponents off the ball. He still needs work as a pass blocker, which will dictate whether or not he wins the job in the summer.

Providing depth at tackle will be 6-7, 295-pound junior Jordan Gibbs, a letterwinner for the first time last season. The likely heir apparent to Pinkston at left tackle in 2011, he has the requisite size, athleticism, and reach to be a productive pass protector, but simply needs more reps to be successful.

Watch Out For .... any drop-off from last year to be insignificant. Yes, there are concerns about the interior of the line, but the tackles will provide plenty of help and the replacements are upperclassmen with a decent amount of experience and maturity.
Strength: The tackles. Pinkston and Nix form one of the sneaky-good bookends in the country, ensuring that Pittsburgh will again be air-tight in pass protection. The latter is a budding all-star and the former is an All-America contender, good news for a young quarterback.
Weakness: The interior. With two new guards and a new center, the Panthers have to be a little concerned about their ability to control the line of scrimmage this fall. At the pivot, Karabin is pedestrian and right guard remains an unsettled position.
Outlook: Good recruiting and player development have put Pittsburgh in a position to bounce back from the loss of three starters and an all-star to graduation. The tackles are set, meaning it'll be up to the guards and the center to fuel a repeat of last year's success. More specifically, Karabin and Gaskins will be under a microscope since Jacobson is expected to bloom in his best chance to date.
Rating: 7

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