By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — Just in case someone actually believed the Pitt football team was conducting a competition to determine the starting quarterback this season, Panthers head coach Dave Wannstedt set the record straight when asked about it after the team’s initial intra-squad scrimmage Tuesday afternoon.
“No, Billy’s the starting quarterback,” Wannstedt said, referring to fifth-year senior Bill Stull. “(And) at this point in camp, we’re still trying to continue to work all three of them with the older and more-experienced players getting more, an equal opportunity. I think they all played very well, but none of them jumped off the charts in a great way or a bad way.”
The opportunities have been anything, but equal. Stull and redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri got some first-team reps during the scrimmage, while junior Pat Bostick continues to be relegated to basically second-team work.
Sunseri actually had the best day, completing 6 of 7 passes for 60 yards and one 22-yard touchdown pass to freshman walk-on tight end Jon Tisak.
“With the way Coach Cignetti has done it, it’s open competition,” Sunseri said. “And that’s an aspect where we’re trying to help each other every day. … So, we’re really trying to help each other improve, and we’re trying to do whatever we can to help the team. And whoever can do that the best is going to be able to play. Coach Cignetti is very into that about the competition.”
And if the coaches call for Sunseri to take the field, he’ll be ready.
“Yeah, you have to have that self-confidence as a quarterback, and you have to be that kind of guy,” Sunseri said. “If I’m going to get called in, of course I think I’m going to be able to do it because those guys believe in me and my coaches believe in me. But anybody on our (quarterback) staff can do it.”
Stull was 9-for-14 for 57 yards and no touchdowns, but one interception by redshirt freshman cornerback Jarred Holley that he returned for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage. Stull said that the defense put in a new scheme that he had not seen, and that led to the pick.
So, the key for him is to shake that off and move forward, which he did in a later drive — primarily runs by freshman tailback Dion Lewis — that ended with a Lewis touchdown.
“I feel that, obviously, if I don’t play well, then, I’m not going to play,” Stull said. “I feel that it is a competition. I know how it is around here, and I know how camp is around here. I definitely feel that it is a competition, and I’m always going to compete and do my best.
“And I know that the guys behind me are going to do the same. … It’s good to hear that (I’m the starter), but like I’ve said before, I have to prove them right. I have to do my job every single day. (And) the things I do mess up on, I have to check it out and not make the same mistake again.”
Bostick was not as sharp as the other two, completing just 5 of 10 passes for 18 yards. He was sacked once, and Sunseri was stopped twice behind the line.
“I thought we ran the ball pretty well,” Bostick said, “Maybe not as consistently as we wanted, but it was nice to come out here with the pads on and get some good work. We’ll have to see the tape, but I think we had some ups and downs. We’re playing against a great defense. That’s been well noted, but it’s just a matter of going out every day and trying to improve. And I think we did that.
“It’s not a matter of proving anything (to the quarterbacks). We have to go out there and put our best on the field, and then the coaches will make a decision. If you’re trying to go out there and prove something, you’ll probably push something. So, you try not to think about that stuff. Just try to move the chains and let everything else work itself out.”
Lewis continues to take the majority of first-team reps at running back, but redshirt freshman Chris Burns appears to have moved into the No. 2 spot and has run hard.
Freshman Ray Graham has picked up his pace since the pads came on, but he also has fumbled several times in camp, including two during the scrimmage.
Graham also led the backs with 42 yards and one touchdown on 12 attempts, but a lot of that yardage and the score came with Andrew Janocko at quarterback handing off on every play. Lewis had 41 yards on 13 carries with a power touchdown up the middle, running over Andrew Taglianetti.
“I thought the one who was most consistent doing everything was Dion Lewis,” Wannstedt said. Lewis agreed.
“I feel like I did pretty well,” Lewis said. “I probably only had two misreads, so I did pretty good. … We were able to put a touchdown drive together by staying focused and being ready to do something positive. Competition is great to have in practice so you can’t ever slack off.
“If you do, then you’re going home, and the guy behind you is going to get the opportunity. Just having the competition, staying level headed is going to make you keep working hard. So, competition is good for everybody.”
Burns ran nine times for 20 yards, but 10 came on one play. Redshirt sophomore Shariff Harris was out with an injury.
“I’m more relaxed now,” Burns said, “but I was thinking too much in the spring. I tried to make too many plays instead of letting the game come to me. So, that’s what I’m trying to do here. … Just play football.
“I just needed to learn the system better, but I also went back to watch some old high school tapes to see that I really could still do it. Maybe it was some self-confidence building a little bit. (But) I also had to learn all our reads, and when that happened it made everything a lot easier.”
Fifth-year senior Oderick Turner led all receivers with
four catches for 42 yards, while Burns and Caleb Wilson had three each. Tisak had the 22-yard touchdown catch for his only reception.
Dom DeCicco led all tacklers with nine stops, including five solo, while each field-goal kicker — Dan Hutchins (30) and Kevin Harper (36) — was one-for-one on 3-pointers.
There were more than a dozen on the walking-wounded list for the Panthers, but redshirt freshman tight end Mike Cruz returned from his three-day hiatus for personal reasons. And two players, tailback Jason Douglas and Cam Saddler were taken off the field late in the scrimmage with undisclosed injuries.
Those who missed the scrimmage included Tony Tucker (excused, personal reasons), Ty Tkach (foot surgery), Dorin Dickerson (foot), Nate Byham (headaches), Irvan Brown (calf), Cedric McGee (hamstring), Mike Shanahan (broken left hand), Marco Pecora (right ankle), Elijah Fields (right foot), Lucas Nix (left leg infection), Kolby Gray (shoulder surgery), Buddy Jackson (jaw), Harris (hamstring), Andrew Devlin (knee), Carl Fleming (headaches) and Wayne Jones (knee surgery).
Pitt has just one afternoon practice Wednesday and two again on Thursday. After a single practice Friday, the Panthers will scrimmage again Saturday at 10 a.m.