Pitt

4-1-Zoo: Previewing Pitt’s Quarterbacks

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Tino Sunseri

Pittsburgh quarterback Tino Sunseri throws against Syracuse during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010. Pittsburgh won 45-14. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — Exactly one year ago I started this blog with some pretty concrete opinions and high hopes for Pitt football.

Nothing has changed a year later. After hundreds of posts, interviews and observations I still, like any diehard Pitt fan, believe this team can be as successful as any in the country in 2011.

With a new coaching staff implementing a style of play we’ve never seen before from the Panthers, I can’t wait to see what happens.

Pitt opens its season exactly one month from today against Buffalo at Heinz Field, so it’s time to start previewing the Panthers and the rest of the Big East. For the next two weeks I’ll be breaking down each position, labeling the strengths and weaknesses. First we’ll start with the offense and take a look at the quarterbacks.

The depth chart is pretty easy to figure out here. Your starter is Tino Sunseri, followed by two inexperienced backups in redshirt freshmen Mark Myers and Anthony Gonzalez.

Tino Sunseri — 6-foot-2, 215-pound redshirt junior

Sunseri had his share of ups and downs last season, as did the entire team. He never seemed to find a comfort zone in Frank Cignetti’s offense. The hopes in Oakland are that Sunseri finds his niche under co-offensive coordinators Calvin Magee and Mike Norvell and quarterbacks coach Todd Dodge.

Sunseri threw for 2,572 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2010 — not bad numbers by any means for a first-year starter in a BCS conference. However, Pitt’s lofty preseason rankings — ranked No. 15 in both the AP Poll and USA Today Poll — put a ton of pressure on Sunseri and the rest of the team, deserved or not.

The learning curve he went through frustrated fans that were expecting the Panthers to win the Big East and play in a BCS game for the first time since 2004. Such was not the case.

Pitt was 3-4 in the regular season when Sunseri threw at least one interception and 4-1 without throwing a pick. While those numbers aren’t a direct result of Pitt’s success, they can point to how the offense never really clicked on a consistent basis.

They can also point to fans’ frustration — at times it cost the Panthers wins.

Now he enters a new era of Pitt football and is still the team’s starting quarterback. Only time will tell, but the idea of Sunseri in this self-proclaimed “high-octane” offense seems to make sense.

Sunseri struggled with going through his progressions in his first year under center. More often than not, it seemed like he immediately checked down to running back Ray Graham or fullback Henry Hynoski when his primary option was covered.

That was the safe, conservative style of offense that drove fans mad. I’m confident in believing we won’t go through those same frustrations this season.

I expect Sunseri will be acting and reacting quickly in Graham’s system — a point-and-shoot style of quarterbacking, if you will. It seems like he’ll have short drop backs out of the shotgun, getting the ball to his wide receivers quickly before the defense can react.

He’ll also be able to use his legs, which I think he was hesitant to do under Wannstedt — feeling like he had to play a certain way, no questions. I assume he’ll have more freedom in this offense to use his athletic abilities across the board, which will hopefully allow for a more confident Panthers quarterback.

Mark Myers — 6-foot-4, 230 pound redshirt freshman

Myers likely comes in as Pitt’s No. 2 quarterback, but kind of by default. He’ll slip in behind Sunseri on the depth chart largely because Anthony Gonzalez had off-field issues that got him suspended from the team for the opening two games of the season.

Don’t let that fool you, though. Myers is a legitimate talent and came out of high school with a ton of hype. He’s a pro-style quarterback with one of the best arms in the country coming out of high school.

While he lacks the athletic ability that Sunseri and Gonzalez possess, he’s probably a better pure passer. He’s an intriguing player and still very much a work in progress. Hopefully he can learn a lot as Sunseri’s backup and isn’t thrust in to too much action.

Anthony Gonzalez — 6-foot-3, 215 pound redshirt freshman

Gonzalez, like Myers, is also very inexperienced. His off-field issues are even more troubling. Gonzalez was involved in an incident involving marijuana and underage drinking in his home town of Bethlehem.

But what we do know is that Gonzalez had a good spring and earned the backup job behind Sunseri — that is, until his arrest.

He possesses a nice combination of passing and scrambling that are attractive in Graham’s offense and had some success in the Pitt spring game at Heinz Field. Myers wasn’t able to participate because of an injury, seemingly further cementing Gonzalez as the No. 2 quarterback.

Whether Gonzalez is No. 2 or No. 3 isn’t set in stone, but it seems like his suspension and absence early in the season will force him to the bottom of the depth chart.

My take:

Like I noted above, I think Sunseri has the chance to do great things in this offense. In fact, I think he will do great things in this system. He’s not the perfect quarterback to run Graham’s offense, but he’s a good fit.

What worries me more is what happens if Sunseri goes down.

One thing is for sure: Pitt needs Sunseri to stay healthy. There’s basically no playing experience behind him and that inexperience is in a brand new system.

Things could get pretty ugly if Pitt suffers through health issues at quarterback. Here’s to hoping we don’t have to find out how that plays out.

Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog
Twitter.com/Chris_Gates
Chris.Gates@cbsradio.com

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