Tuesday's practice was not really eventful as the team was in shorts and shoulder pads and did a lot more review work and walk through stuff than hitting and scrimmage. But I did good opportunity to speak with quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger and Tino Sunseri and so we will focus on the quarterback position for today.
** First, I would be remiss if I did not mention the "Dessert Tasting for A Cause" event which is going to take place Saturday night after the Blue-Gold Spring game at Larimor's downtown. It is an annual charity function hosted by former Panthers Torrie Cox, Kris Wilson and Lousaka Polite and always seems to be a fan favorite. Here is a link to an article about it.
You can go to the web-site to order tickets and get more information. The web-site is http://desserttastingforacause.com/ I spoke with former Panther Shawn Robinson at practice about it Tuesday and he is heavily invested in doing the legwork to try and make it a success, so if you aren't busy that night, it may be a nice event to take your wife/significant other to. There is also a pre-tasting event Friday night at the Wine Loft in the SouthSide.
** Now, onto the quarterbacks -who I wrote about for today's paper - the one thing that would qualify as sort of "news" (though not surprising and not really news to anyone whose been around and paying attention) is that unless Chad Voytik comes in and is so good that coaches have no choice but to start him or there is an injury, your 2012 starting quarterback is going to be Tino Sunseri.
Simply put, he has been the best quarterback in camp, on some days by a lot, and the expected competition from Mark Myers never materialized as he finds himself in a fight with Trey Anderson just to hold on as the back-up.
Again, none of this is surprising but Paul Chryst said yesterday that Sunseri has "separated" himself from the others so it is clear that the staff has begun to move on from the "competition" and are going to focus on getting Sunseri ready to play while figuring out who the back-up is going to be.
Bollinger, however, is clearly not ready to declare any of the quarterbacks as being ready to play and he said he has been a little frustrated with the lack of consistency by all of them. He said there are flashes but the peaks and then valleys by them are still too frequent and while they have done a good job of learning the system and learning some of the nuances of the system, their actual performance has been too erratic for him to get excited about it.
"I'm a positive guy," Bollinger said, "but we have a long way to go."
Here is what he said about the progress that the quarterbacks have made in learning the offense:
"I think it has been a process. They came in day one and we put in the base pass concepts versus the base defenses and we got a feel for that and then the defense started adding blitz packages and different coverages and we throw in more pass routes. So there was a dip in production a little bit but then we move forward and you have to work your way up to handling the whole plate.
Right now, I don't think we have seen the whole plate but we've seen a ton of different coverages and we have a bunch of plays in and so now it is matter for our guys to get a consistency. There are times when it looks good and there some concepts that we feel really good with and there are some that we need more reps to understand."
He said that the thing he hopes to have by the time training camp comes around is a group that "he knows what to expect from every single day."
Bollinger said that he expected the group to be a little more consistent than they are by this point in the spring but he is not surprised by the fact that there have been struggles because they are being asked to do a lot of things in this pro-style offense that they didn't do last year in the high octane spread.
So the footwork is different, the fact that they are under center now is different, the drops are different and therefore a lot of the fundamentals of playing the position are different. That's why if you watch practice, you see some highs and lows - there are still times when the quarterbacks revert back to some of the things they were strained and trained to do last year.
"It is new for all of us but we've gotten better," Bollinger said of his quarterbacks. "They are coming from that spread offense, the footwork is different, the timing is different, the routes of the receivers are different - there are 1,000 things and that's what makes this the greatest team sport there is, just because it takes all 11 guys. I've seen progress but I know how much further we have to go. We have to make substantial more progress."
Bollinger hopes that the quarterbacks continue to work on the basics and work on their fundamenals as a group on their own over the next few months so that when they come in for training camp they will be further along and able to focus on getting ready for the season. He seems to be happy with the progress overall but he also seems to understand some of the limitations of the quarterbacks.
That being said, Tino Sunseri had an excellent day throwing yesterday - until late in the practice when he really struggled. So again, it is a process for all involved.
** I also talked at length with Tino Sunseri and while he didn't say anything earth shattering, he did say that he was never worried about the starting job nor did he focus on it. He just focused on learning the offense, on trying to get better each day and then let the coaches decide who was going to be the starter. He said he has always been the type to focus on what he can control and not worry about the other stuff. So he remains the calm and cool Sunseri, at least when he is not in the pocket.
Obviously, we will see if he is able to maintain his confidence and calm demeanor once the games begin but for now, he is clearly in control of this offense and so he will almost assuredly become the first Pitt quarterback to start for three seasons since Tyler Palko (though it should be noted that Bill Stull technically did open up the season as the starter three seasons in a row, he was injured in the first game of 2007 and thus took a redshirt. Had he not gotten hurt, he would have been out of eligibility in 2008 and would not have started in 2009....)
Sunseri said he loves the pro-style system run by Chryst and company and said that he felt comfortable in it almost immediately because it was familiar to him since that was the system he played in high school as well as during his first two years at Pitt under Dave Wannstedt.
"I love this system, it is what I came in for, it was the system I was recruited to play, it is what I ran my first year playing," Sunseri said. "I can definitely use the first year of experience to relate it to now though obviously it is two different systems but you can take those same patterns and working of your feet and translate it over so I have really been liking this system so far."
Sunseri said he believes that the system will play to the strengths of the Panthers and he said that the offensive line in front of him as steadily improved over the course of the spring and he is excited to see how good they will once the season begins. He said that although the team is replacing three starting linemen, there are a lot of guys who got to play a lot last year so the line is very experienced.
As for how the rest of the offense has picked things up, Sunseri said there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic and the progress has been steady and that's been encouraging.
"The defensive guys are a little bit ahead at the start of spring because it is not as hard, they can drop into zones and sort of feel out receivers," Sunseri said. "But as a receiving corps, you have to make sure everyone is on the same page and everyone understands the route depths and things and you can tell over spring, the receivers have done a great job of understanding the route depths and understanding what the defense is giving them and understanding how to run the right routes.
"And up front, those guys have gotten better and better each day, they have done a great job of picking up the blitzes and you can't give them enough credit."
Sunseri said that one thing which has really helped the offense is how multiple the Panthers defense is under Dave Huxtable. He said the defense has been able to show so many different looks that the offense has already seen a number of situations they may face during games.
So it appears as if the offense is on the way.
** Bollinger spoke of Myers and Anderson also and the thing he said about both is that their consistency is not close to where it needs to be. He likes Anderson's intangibles and the way that Anderson approaches things but Anderson was trained in the spread system and his talents seem to fit that system much better than the pro system. So he is learning but he has a significantly long ways to go to really settle into this system. As for Myers, Bollinger said the same thing that every coach who has worked with him over the past couple of years has said - he has ability, he has potential, he has not yet tapped that potential.
It has to be a little bit frustrating that Myers wasn't more of a factor in this competition but I'd say this - he still has an entire offseason, all summer basically, to try and work his way into becoming the player that people think he should be. I've seen this happen before - a guy who struggled in the spring came back in the fall a completely different player and I think it could happen with Myers given his ability, but if ever there was a guy whose time was running short, it is him and so he needs to become a football junkie over the next few months in order to give himself a chance to become a factor for this program.
** Finally, that leaves Anthony Gonzalez, who is a man without a position at this point. It has made little sense that he has remained at quarterback - especially given some of the lack of depth at tight end - the entire spring because he has almost been like a wasted player. He does very little during team drills because there just aren't enough reps to get all four guys enough work and he probably could help at a different position if he spent the past five weeks learning a position. I am surprised he is still a quarterback and I would think at some point he will be an H-back/tight end but at this late of date (there is only one practice and then the spring game left) I'm thinking it won't happen until the fall. But I asked Bollinger about Gonzalez and it is clear he isn't exactly sure what Gonzalez's role ultimately will be.
"I know what you are asking," he said to me when I asked where Gonzalez fit in, "but I'd ask Paul [Chryst] and just see where he ends up, time will tell but there are only so many reps to go around. But Anthony is certainly a great kid and very talented athlete."
** One last thing - the Blue-Gold spring game (in case you missed it, it will be Saturday at North Hills Martorelli Stadium) will be offense vs. defense format, so it won't be a true game. I'm not sure if they will have some goofy scoring system for the defense but I would presume there will be. Some teams split the teams up into two squads, Pitt's format as of late has been basically to have the first team play the first team and second team play the second team and at the end come up with some score like Blue 97 Gold 89 or something.
As soon as I know the scoring format I'll share it in case some of you degenerates out there are hoping to set a line on the game...
Here are the rest of the particulars:
A) Admission is free, parking is free, though the parking situation at Martorelli is not ideal and you may want to get there early in order to get a good spot.
B) The youth clinic for kids who are in 8th grade or younger begins at 11:30 and this is the part where the players run some drills and whatnot on the field and interact with the kids. It is a fun time for all and seems to be a fan favorite, especially for the kids.
C) The game starts at 1 p.m and when it is over, there will be a “Meet the Panthers” session right on the field so this will be your chance to meet the players and coaches. No word on whether or not Chris Ferris will be signing autographs but if he is, you should get one as it will certainly be worth money some day.....
Wait a minute - no chalk talk? Where's the chalk talk? Gotta have a chalk talk......