Well, we’ve had a few days off but there is lots to get caught up on so let’s get right into it…..
** The quarterback shuffle is over, at least according to Todd Graham. He said that Tino Sunseri will be the starting quarterback and will play the whole game. He said there won’t be any more Trey Anderson being forced into action and he said for better or worse, they are going to live or die with Sunseri. I thought the most interesting thing he said is that he has never used two quarterbacks, he has always settled on one and that he went against his policy this year and it has obviously hurt the rhythm of the offense. He said it is the job of coaches to “get it out” of Sunseri and that means coaching him up and coaching him hard. It was very definitive as well and there was no wiggle room so I have to take him at his word and say this team will go where Sunseri is able to take them. And again, I don’t think he is great, but he is right now the best option on the team. So those of you who were hoping for a different direction, well, you have to figure something else out because you are stuck rooting for Sunseri for at least five more games.
** Todd Dodge, the quarterbacks coach, went into more detail about Sunseri and why it was decided that he was the best option despite the way he has played for most of this season. He said there were “glimpses” in the Maine game and New Hampshire game and most of the Iowa and South Florida game and those are the cut-ups of film that he has used to try and “paint a picture” of just how good Sunseri can be when he executes the offense. He said in those glimpses, Sunseri has been very good and he is the only quarterback who has had glimpses like that. He said that those are the moments that he has focused on and those are the moments that he has worked to try and reinforce. Again, I don’t think anyone is deluded into thinking that the quarterback position has been good this year, but the reality is there are five games left and the Panthers need to find a way to score some points and get some production from that position. Sunseri has shown he can do it and that’s why he is in there.
** I asked point blank the Mark Myers question of Todd Dodge because I am tired of getting e-mails saying we are all too chicken to ask the question. First off, there is no question I am afraid to ask of anyone and second off, we’ve asked it plenty of times and plenty of different ways and the answer has always been the same – Mark Myers did not endear himself to coaches with his work ethic in the offseason, he came into camp a bit in the doghouse and even though he was handed the second-string job, he didn’t reach out and grab it and he ended up getting beat out by Trey Anderson.
So today, I asked it very direct – “why isn’t Mark Myers being given a shot”? I can’t ask it any more directly than that. The answer was equally as direct. “Mark Myers continues to be a viable option on our football team but quite frankly, he wasn’t the best option [for the back-up spot] at the start of our season and as we have continued through our season,” Dodge said.
He said simply put, the team started camp with Sunseri as the starter and Myers as the back-up and Trey Anderson came in and “lit it up” and won the job as the back-up quarterback over Myers. He said once that happened and camp ended, there is just no way to get enough reps for more than two quarterbacks and as a result, Myers has gotten very little work and the work he has gotten, he hasn’t seized the opportunity and made a case for a longer look.
** That being said we Myers taking the second-team reps today and so we asked about it and basically he will this week and into next week because Anderson has tendinitis in his throwing wrist. Dodge said it is an old injury that has become inflamed and so Anderson needs to rest it. And Dodge did say that in these two days, Myers has been very good, so maybe, just maybe he has an opportunity to work his way back up to the back-up spot and at that point he is one play away.
** Dodge and Sunseri were both asked how the offense could look so good against South Florida and so bad against Rutgers and Utah. Both said give the defenses some credit but that’s when I thought Sunseri went off the deep end a little bit as he put some of the blame on the receivers and offensive line. He said that the receivers need to get off the line, the offensive line needs to hold their blocks and he needs to get the ball out on time.
Both talked about the “man-free” (basically manned up on receivers and either blitzing or stacking in the box and taking away the run) schemes played by Rutgers and Utah – in Rutgers case it was a lot of blitz out of that, in the case of Utah it was bringing four and having a spy to watch Ray Graham. And therein lies some of the problem – I’d assume they will see this until they prove they can beat it – and that is that these receivers aren’t getting open.
They just aren’t beating man coverage, they aren’t creating separation and they aren’t winning those 1-on-1 battles even a little bit. They have to start winning some of those battles and getting open. But like Dodge said, when that doesn’t happen, Sunseri needs to throw the ball away or tuck it and run and stop holding it. We asked him if all of the sacks have gotten to Sunseri and Dodge’s response was “it could [get in his head], but it absolutely can’t”
Sunseri needs to be more accurate, he needs to throw the ball quickly and do it on time, but as I have written, he really does need help and the problem is, I don’t know how much help this receiving corps is realistically able to give him. Devin Street should be able to stretch the field some but that hasn’t happened yet. Cam Saddler and Ronald Jones should be able to get open underneath and make yards after the catch but that hasn’t happened. Mike Shanahan has become the invisible man. This is a big area of concern.
** The other major area of concern has been the offensive line and that’s because, as Todd Graham said today, they can’t keep the same lineup together. Yeah, that’s a problem and it is going to change again next Wednesday as Lucas Nix (knee) is probably on his way back for the Connecticut game. But Nix isn’t going to be a guard – he is going to go back to his more natural spot at tackle. That means Matt Rotheram will be pushed inside to one of the guard spots and Ryan Schlieper and Cory King will battle for the other spot. This makes the most sense given how rough it has been for the tackles this year and rushers coming off the edge have really given this offense big problems. Todd Graham said he liked what he saw of Rotheram, enough to declare him a starter for the Connecticut game. So it should be interesting to see what the unit actually looks like but with Rotheram, Turnley and either Schlieper or King, on the interior, look for the Huskies to take a page from the book of the last two teams and attack this area of the line with some blitzes, stunts and twists or whatever.
Todd Dodge did say it is important to remember that every sack is not on the offensive line. Some are on the quarterback (holding the ball too long), some are on the receivers (not getting open) and some are one the running backs just not picking up their blocking assignment. He said it takes all 11 players to protect the football, not just the five up front.
** We haven’t yet spoken to Keith Patterson – that is tomorrow – but the one important note on defense is that safety Jason Hendricks (wrist) is out for the Connecticut game and in listening to Graham speak, it is obvious, likely longer than that. Hendricks had really put together a few good games in a row so this is a shame but I think that it will be interesting to see how they compensate for the loss of him.
The key is this – Andrew Taglianetti will slide in and start at that spot, which is fine as he is a very good player and he’ll do a good job. But his role as nickleback and even some of the spur stuff he was doing on certain downs will have to be covered as well. Some of the solution will be bringing Brandon Ifill in at safety and moving Taglianetti up to nickleback but Graham also said that we will start to see more of Buddy Jackson in that nickleback role.
At any rate, no matter what – unless Ifill or Taglianetti gets hurt and can’t return – Graham said they do not want to break the redshirt of Lafayette Pitts at this point so they are going to try to get by as long as Hendricks is out, without using Pitts. “It wouldn’t be fair at this point,” Graham said of using Pitts.
** One other interesting note on an injury – Todd Thomas (knee) is likely going to return to his spur linebacker spot after missing two games but the coaching staff may have actually found another good player to use in that position in his absence. Kevin Adams was an offensive player in the spring but had played linebacker some in his career and when Thomas went down, he asked for a shot at the spur and ended up starting the past two games. He played well, too, so I’m sure we will still see him some now that Thomas is back. But the coaches have been looking for some more bodies on defense and now they have at least one more.
** And oh year, in case you missed it, Chas Alecxih apologized for his comments about Utah offensive lineman John Cullen and the Utes. If you remember, Alecxih said that Cullen was a “fat-ass” and “a dirty player” and the Utes were “a dirty team”. Alecxih Tuesday issued an apology and said his emotions got the most of him. Of course, he never actually apologized to Cullen or Utah and he never said he was sorry for WHAT he said – he just said he was sorry for letting his emotions get the best of him. And there is a good reason for that – because he believes what he said. In talking to others on the team and even talking to players last year, they are convinced Utah’s players are coached to take cheap shots after the whistle because they seem to do it often. Again, I’m not out there so I can’t say whether or not that is the case but this is two years in a row this complaint has been made about the way Utah plays.
** Tomorrow we will have the Good, Bad and Ugly as well as some more defensive notes after we talk to Keith Patterson. Also, don’t forget we have our weekly Pitt chat tomorrow at noon. You can begin sending questions at 11 am and I will answer them at noon.