By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — For those who wanted a different quarterback to play for the Pitt football team this season you got your wish.
Redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri will play as much as possible, but as the backup to starter Bill Stull at least at the outset this fall. A fifth-year senior, Stull is the opening-game starter for the third straight season.
“I sat down with (offensive coordinator) Frank Cignetti, and we talked with all three quarterbacks,” Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. “The plan is, as we know, is that Billy is the starter. And Tino is the No. 2. They will get the work in practice. I told Tino that the wish list is to get him playing time.
“How much and when is in as many games as we can, but we’ll take it one game at a time. (Junior) Pat Bostick’s status is that we would like to redshirt Pat if we could, and he is all for that unless we obviously would need him. So, we’ll go into it with Billy being the starter, (and) Tino being his backup.”
Apparently, unless there is an injury, Bostick will be redshirted.
“Tino’s the guy, and we’re going to try to get Tino (playing time),” Wannstedt added. “Tino’s going to be an outstanding quarterback for us. He had a very good camp. He knows that, but the big thing is to get him some playing time and get him into the action a little bit (and) let him learn.
“And I believe he’ll progress. (But) nothing is scripted out (for playing time). He’s prepared to play, which he should do and will do anyway. So, we’ll see how things unfold.”
It’s fairly clear that Wannstedt did not want to open the season with two sophomores on the offensive line, a redshirt sophomore fullback and three freshmen tailbacks in the backfield to go with second-year freshman Sunseri.
So, Stull will start at quarterback, and senior Joe Thomas will open at left offensive guard ahead of redshirt sophomore Chris Jacobson.
Sophomore Lucas Nix gets the start at right guard. Redshirt sophomore Henry Hynoski is the fullback, while freshmen Dion Lewis and Ray Graham are the starter and backup at tailback. And redshirt frosh Chris Burns is the No. 3 back.
“We don’t have a plan to get Ray into the game, but I think he needs to play just from the standpoint that he’s a freshman,” Wannstedt said. “Both those kids are freshmen, (and) there’s no easy way to get them playing time without just doing it. … We’ll have three freshmen who I know will play for sure.
“Dion Lewis, Ray Graham and Danny Mason. Those three guys will play. All the other freshmen, we would like to redshirt them if we could, but it’s too early to make any decisions. So, we’re just going to take it week by week there, but it’ll all be predicated on injuries.
“You’d like not to be in that scenario, playing freshmen, but these two kids came out of camp and had the most productive camps,” Wannstedt added, when asked about the tailbacks. “(But) you want to play your best players who give you a chance to win.”
Experience, Wannstedt noted, was the only thing that made Thomas a starter ahead of Jacobson at this point.
“(Jacobson) is going to play in the games,” Wannstedt said. “We’re going to play Chris. Joe Thomas was working at right guard (Sunday), so if something happens to Malecki he could go there and Jacobson would be the left guard.
“It really was not the physical part, but just experience. In the early games, you don’t know what to expect, so Joe’s experience could make a difference. But Chris had a very good camp.”
Redshirt junior Dan Hutchins will handle both the punting and place-kicking duties for the Panthers, and he was awarded a scholarship as a reward. Redshirt freshman Kevin Harper is the backup to Hutchins for field goals and to redshirt junior Lucas Briggs on kickoffs. Redshirt sophomore Andrew Janocko will be the holder for the second straight season. He also was awarded a scholarship.
“That’s how we’re going to start off (kicking),” Wannstedt said. “In a perfect world, Hutch would punt, and Harper would kick the field goals. And Briggs would kick off. But Hutch really won the field-goal competition.
“I would love to get Kevin Harper in a game to kick extra points, field goals and kick off some. But at this point, it’s similar to the other positions where we felt it was best to do this to make us successful today.”
One other starting spot still in contention apparently is at free safety where sophomore Andrew Taglianetti and redshirt junior Elijah Fields were listed as co-starters on the two-deep.
“Fields and Taglianetti will both play in the game,” Wannstedt said. “Elijah has had two really good days, and we have little packages with both in there. Taglianetti also is on every special team, so Elijah will get a lot of opportunities that way.”