Pitt has much to do before Sept. 2 opener at Utah
Pitt officially starts preseason practice Saturday in the most
anticipated of Dave Wannstedt’s six seasons as coach, even if it
might seem to his players as if they have been preparing since the
day last season ended.
For good reason, too.
Asked what he did during his time off this summer, new starting
quarterback Tino Sunseri said he visited his mother for four days.
And that was his summer vacation, one mostly spent working out with
the teammates who’ve yet to see him lead them as a starter.
”That’s it,” he said Friday.
There won’t be much of a break when the season starts, either.
Pitt also has two new starting cornerbacks, two new starting
offensive guards a new center. Both interior defensive linemen are
With so much inexperience at key positions, this would seem to
be a season in which the Panthers might start slowly. But they
understand a team that was a near-unanimous pick as the Big East
preseason favorite can’t afford to do that with potential Top 25
non-conference opponents Utah, Miami and Notre Dame awaiting in its
first five games.
Wannstedt is hoping the Panthers’ depth – 20 of the 22 projected
starters are in at least their third year in the program – and the
abundance of star-caliber players help them get through their
rugged break-in period.
Running back Dion Lewis was a second-team All-American as a
freshman. Jonathan Baldwin is one of the Big East Conference’s best
wide receivers. Defensive end Greg Romeus, the Big East’s
co-defensive player of the year, could be a first-round draft
Wannstedt likes how his players are handling the expectations
placed upon them as the Big East preseason favorite. The challenge,
he said, is making sure they are game-ready for the Sept. 2
”Opening out at Utah, there’s no margin for error,” Wannstedt
said. ”We’re going to have to go out there and play as well as we
can in order to win that game, and everybody knows that. This is a
very, very important training camp for us as a football team. We
have a lot to get dome in 27 days.”
Pitt’s weakness appears to be its vulnerability at so many
pivotal positions – one bad throw by a new quarterback, one misread
pass route by a cornerback can cost a team a game and, perhaps, its
With three new blockers in front of him, it might be difficult
for Lewis to get off to as fast a start as he did while rushing for
1,799 yards last season.
”Last year at this time, I don’t think I mentioned Dion
Lewis,” Wannstedt said. ”It really was a situation where guys
like that all of a sudden have big years. … You hope you’ve
recruited good kids, their opportunities come and they take
advantage of it.”
While Sunseri has thrown all of 17 college passes, the son of
former Pitt linebacker Sal Sunseri is headed off to his third
training camp. At this time a year ago, he was sharing practice
snaps with Bill Stull, who went on to keep the job.
”The plays will take care of themselves,” Sunseri said. ”I
believe I have the physical tools to play the position. I can make
all the throws, but I definitely had to work on the mental aspect,
and I took care of that during the spring and the offseason.”
Lewis won’t have the surprise factor going for him like he did
last year, when he had the best season by a Pitt running back since
Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett ran for 2,150 yards on an
unbeaten national championship team in 1976. Lewis also won’t have
to carry the offense by himself; Baldwin made 57 catches for 1,111
yards and eight touchdowns last season as a deep threat who demands
attention from defenses.
”I think we can be just as good offensively, if not better,”
Lewis said. ”I think we’re going to have a big year, and that
should help me a lot. We’re going to have a great year on