<
>

Pittsburgh Panthers spring wrap

2010 overall record: 8-5

2010 conference record: 5-2, T-1st in Big East

Returning starters:

Offense: 6, defense: 8, punter/kicker: 0

Top returners:

DE Brandon Lindsey, RB Ray Graham, QB Tino Sunseri, WR Mike Shanahan, DT Chas Alexcih, DT Myles Caragein, S Jarred Holley

Key losses:

WR Jon Baldwin, RB Dion Lewis, DE Jabaal Sheard, OT Jason Pinkston, S Dom DeCicco

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Dion Lewis (1,061 yards)

Passing: Tino Sunseri* (2,572 yards)

Receiving: Jon Baldwin (822 yards)

Tackles: Dom DeCicco (94 tackles)

Sacks: Brandon Lindsey* (10 sacks)

Interceptions: DeCicco and Jarred Holley* (5 interceptions)

Spring answers

1. Depth on the defensive line: New head coach Todd Graham seemed most excited this spring about the depth he has to work with on the defensive line. Starting tackles Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih return, along with Brandon Lindsey, who will play the new linebacker/defensive end hybrid position. The Panthers also got strong contributions this spring from guys like Bryan Murphy, Aaron Donald, Tyrone Ezell and Khaynin Mosley-Smith. Graham feels like he's blessed with a terrific rotation up front that might be the overall strength of the team.

2. New center of attention: Pitt played a former walk-on at center last season and had no heir apparent ready. A mid-spring switch to center for guard Chris Jacobson appeared to pay dividends. The senior had some trouble with snapping early on as expected for someone who had never played the position. But he grew more comfortable as the spring wore on, and the Pitt coaches liked the way his move there improved the overall line. Jacobson will spend the rest of the summer getting a crash-course at center school.

3. Still Sunseri: There were questions coming into spring whether Tino Sunseri would hold onto his starting quarterback job, or whether he'd be surpassed by talented redshirt freshmen Mark Myers and Anthony Gonzalez in a new offensive system. But Sunseri made it clear early on that he would not be supplanted, and he provided a steady hand at the most important position. His 400-yard passing day in the spring game indicated what he can do in this no-huddle offense, and coaches raved about his preparation and understanding of the game.

Fall questions

1. Linebacker mix: Linebacker was not a strong position for Pitt last season, and now the team needs four of them in the 3-4 scheme. The Panthers played around with different combos there this spring while trying to find ways to hide their limitations. Two players who could contribute, Dan Mason and Todd Thomas, missed the spring because of injuries. Graham hopes to get more out of Greg Williams, who's fast but inconsistent. The depth chart could change a couple of times between now and the start of the season.

2. Corner concerns: The good news is, sophomore K'Waun Williams and fifth-year senior Buddy Jackson had nice springs and established themselves as leaders at cornerback. The bad news is, Williams is still inexperienced, while Jackson has never lived up to his physical talent in games. Antwuan Reed missed the spring because of injury, so it's unknown how much he'll improve on an up-and-down 2010. Incoming freshman Lafayette Pitts could get a look here this summer as well. Pitt feels like it has some good candidates to improve last season's play at cornerback, but a lot must still be proved on Saturdays in the fall.

3. Punting progress: The Panthers must replace All-Big East punter Dan Hutchins, who also handled field goals for them last season. They feel like Kevin Harper will do a solid job in place-kicking; he's got a huge leg and can connect from beyond 50 yards if he can maintain accuracy. At punter, walk-on sophomore Matt Yoklic had the edge this spring. He boomed some punts, but also lacked consistency. You never know with kickers until the lights come on for real.