Football: Spring practice, search for quarterback begins for Panthers

By Alex Oltmanns

The Pitt basketball season might have just ended, but Pitt football is already back to work… The Pitt basketball season might have just ended, but Pitt football is already back to work for its spring practice season.

The Panthers return six starters on defense and five on offense and might be a pre-season Top 15 pick as well as the preseason favorite in the Big East. But even with all the early hype, there is still plenty of competition for starting jobs early this spring.

While starting jobs probably won’t be decided until training camp in August, impressive performances this spring will go a long way to determining who will have an edge heading into the summer.

The most anticipated competition is at quarterback. Redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri has been taking all of the first-team reps so far this spring, but redshirt sophomore Pat Bostick has been pushing him for the top spot.

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Both quarterbacks are open to the competition, though. They feel that it’s good for them and the team as a whole.

“It only makes you better and, from a program standpoint, you can identify the fact that you have multiple players at positions that can win for you,” Bostick said. “You have to be able to have depth, and competition’s a huge part of that.”

With the loss of senior tight ends Nate Byham and Dorin Dickerson, the tight end position also suddenly became an area with little returning experience. But the Panthers have several players who can step up to fill the spots left by the seniors.

Sophomore Mike Cruz has the edge on a starters spot, but freshman Brock DeCicco and Andrew Devlin, a transfer from Virginia, are in the mix as well.

“We have different guys who have special abilities,” Head Coach Dave Wannstedt said. “One might be a better receiver; the other might be a better blocker. We’re going to need them all.”

The Panthers also lost two starters at cornerback with the departure of Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel. Ricky Gary and Antwuan Reed are thought to be the starters going into this year.

But with Gary suffering an injury that might force him to miss the entire spring, junior college transfer Saheed Imoru has been practicing with the first team defense and making the most of this opportunity.

Imoru has shown great speed and reflexes with his best practice on Saturday when he broke up an out-route intended for receiver Cam Saddler as well as an impressive deflection on a deep flea-flicker intended for All-Big East receiver Jon Baldwin.

“The positive is that everything we saw him do on tape at the junior college he’s done here,” Wannstedt said. “He’s been physical, he showed speed, he knocked down a couple passes and, most importantly, just making the transition.”

One player who is not fighting for a starting spot is Baldwin. He has been the most impressive player in camp thus far — reeling in one-handed catches and deep passes as well as refining intermediate routes.

Early on it looks like he and running back Dion Lewis could be two of the top candidates for the title of Big East Player of the Year this season.

The team practiced without pads twice last week before playing with full gear on Tuesday, but the Panthers will have to play without pads one more time before the end of the spring because of NCAA regulations.

Pitt will hold 15 practices over the course of the next month, which will culminate in the annual Blue-Gold game at Heinz Field on April 17 at 2 p.m..