Pitt's Cignetti looking for more in Year 2

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
1:42
PM ET
If there were an award for Big East coordinator of the year, Pitt's Frank Cignetti Jr. would likely have won it for the 2009 season.

[+] EnlargeFrank Cignetti, Jr.
George Gojkovich/Getty ImagesPitt's Frank Cignetti Jr. had an outstanding season in 2009, his first year guiding the Panthers offense.
In his first year guiding the Panthers offense, Cignetti developed Bill Stull into a confident decision-maker and top-flight quarterback while helping true freshman Dion Lewis become one of the nation's leading rushers. Cignetti also found a way to use Dorin Dickerson to the utmost effect at tight end while making Pitt the league's second-highest scoring team behind Cincinnati.

Now, entering his second season under Dave Wannstedt, Cignetti is looking for even better things.

"We were happy with last year but not satisfied," he said this week. "We're going to make it better. We want to go from good to great."

He will have a talented and experienced cast to work with when the Panthers open spring practice on Thursday. But there are still some question marks, beginning at quarterback. Tino Sunseri opens the spring listed atop the depth chart, with Pat Bostick behind him. But Cignetti insists it will be a healthy competition between the two to replace Stull.

Sunseri was Stull's backup last year and has long been a fan favorite.

"First of all, I like his mental makeup," Cignetti said of Sunseri. "He's competitive, he's tough, he's functionally intelligent, he expects to win. He's a very good passer who can make all the throws. He can throw the ball deep, he can throw the intermediate route. And I like his mobility -- not only can he play within the pocket, but he has good movement outside the pocket."

Bostick has won big games in his career already (at West Virginia in '07, at Notre Dame in '08) and spent last year honing his game while redshirting.

"He has made tremendous strides," Cignetti said. "When you talk about functional intelligence, he's got it. Pat can think and react as fast as anybody, and that's why probably why, in practice when I've been around, he completes so many balls. He's a decisive decision-maker and he has tremendous leadership skills and the respect of all his peers."

A good running game is the best friend of any quarterback, and Pitt has that with Lewis, who ran for a league-best 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Cignetti said he expects Ray Graham to step up and challenge Lewis this spring and that Lewis can still get better, though his numbers might not necessarily show it.

"As Dion progresses throughout his career, he'll make better run game reads, become a better pass protector and become a better receiver out of the backfield," Cignetti said.

Cignetti also has the luxury of working with receivers like the emerging Mike Shanahan and freak-of-nature Jonathan Baldwin, who could become an even bigger force this year as a junior.

"It's my job and my responsibility to make sure Jon gets his touches," Cignetti said. "He's legitimately as good a playmaker as there is in the country. We're looking forward to increasing his production."

One concern for the offense is the loss of Dickerson, who had 10 touchdown grabs last year, and his outstanding blocking tight end counterpart, Nate Byham. Cignetti said it's a big spring for Mike Cruz as he looks to step into the featured tight end role, and that there's nobody who really matches what Dickerson could do.

"Guy's like that don't come around too often at that position," he said. "[Dickerson] legitimately ran a 4.4 at the NFL combine and verticalled 43 [inches]. I just don't know how you replace that talent. But we've got to find ways to replace that production."

Pittsburgh needs to find a few answers on offense this spring. But the Panthers feel confident that they've got the right man in charge of that task.

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