Ask A Blogger Series: PittScript Talks Pittsburgh Spring Football

Well we finally get to talk a little with our friends from Pitt. It’s time to get with familiar with them.

Good evening from @HokieGuru.  I’m here today to discuss the University of Pittsburgh Panthers spring football practice.  Virginia Tech plays at Pittsburgh on Saturday, September 15, 2012 and this will be a good early season road test for the Hokies.  Bryan, a.k.a. @PittScript,  is ⅓ of the PittScript Blog.  The other writers are FearTheStache and @VictoryLights.  Without further ado, here’s our interview below:

@HokieGuru:  Tell us about your spring game – how was the turnout?  Was the team well received?

@PittScript: Turnout was, well, disappointing. There were several reasons for this. The weather continues to be the biggest attendance boogeyman for Pitt’s spring game. The 2008 and 2009 game drew pretty big crowds, but Pitt has been cursed with rain or snow each year since then. That the administration decided to play the game in a suburban high school stadium as part of a community outreach program didn’t help either. For me, a big part of the fun is getting to go back to Heinz Field, drinking in the parking lot and maybe buying some new merchandise. Tough to replicate that elsewhere.

But ultimately, what hurts Pitt’s fan enthusiasm is the same thing that always does: the inability to win consistently. When Pitt can put together a respectable season, they can draw pretty well. Back-to-back BBVA Compass Bowl appearances and as many head coaches as wins in a year have really dampened enthusiasm.

@HokieGuru: What are some of the major strengths coming out of spring practice?

@PittScript: Even without Ray Graham or incoming-freshmen Rushel Shell, Pitt’s running game seems as if it will be very good again this season. Sophomore Isaac Bennett ran well as freshman last season when Graham went down with a major injury. He’s more of a bruising, between-the-tackles runner and should fit in well with Paul Chryst’s system. There seems to be some optimism that Graham will be ready to go to start the season and Rushel Shell is expected to contribute as a true freshman.

Defensively, the secondary seems as if it will be a strength after being a traditional weakness under Dave Wannstedt. At corner, Pitt returns starter K’Wuan Williams and adds former four-star recruit and Michigan transfer Cullen Christian. At safety, Pitt has remarkable depth with returning starters Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks, special teams standout Andrew Taglianetti and (another) Michigan transfer Ray Vinopal. Vinopal was reportedly stellar on last year’s practice squad during his redshirt season and should push Hendricks for the starting job.

 @HokieGuru: What are some of the major weaknesses coming out of spring practice?  In other words, what do you think Pittsburgh will be working on in August before the first game?  What are the questions that you think have to be resolved?

@PittScript:  Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. Tino Sunseri must play significantly better than last season for Pitt to have a respectable season. Sunseri was clearly ill-suited in Todd Graham’s hurry-up offense and his decision-making regressed significantly from his first year as the starter. Theoretically, he should be more comfortable with the return of a pro-style offense, he’s severely limited by his lack of height and arm-strength.

He won’t be helped out by an iffy receiving corp and a poor pass blocking offensive line. But if Ray Graham can return to form, he should be able to follow in the footsteps of Dion Lewis and LeSean McCoy to take the pressure off Sunseri.

@HokieGuru: Fall will be here before we know it – what position concerns you the most?

@PittScript: After quarterback, the offensive line is probably the next biggest concern. Last year, the line suffered from a rash of injuries and the unit never really got to gel. The flip side of that, however, is that some younger guys got some critical starts and should be better for it this year. Inside, guard Chris Jacobson will return after missing most of last season and returning senior center Ryan Turnley should be somewhere between solid and very good. Tackle is a huge question mark and should be a source of stress all summer long.

@HokieGuru: Who are the new recruits that you are impressed with the most?  Are there any that you think will get some major playing time right away?

@PittScript:   Pitt’s biggest recruits this year were quarterback Chad Voytik and running back Rushel Shell. Voytik seems to have everything you want in a future leader and was instrumental in keeping the class together after Todd Graham fled to Tempe. Voytik was selected for the Army All-American game even starred in a NBC Sports high school football series called “The Ride.”

But the biggest player for Pitt in 2012 was without doubt Rushel Shell. Shell’s ability has been known in Western Pennsylvania since his freshman year when he took his first carry for a 70 yard touchdown. He was MaxPreps’ freshman of the year and was twice named the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s high school athlete of the year. He’s just not the leading rusher in WPIAL history or Pennsylvania history: he broke the national high school rushing record for consecutive 100 yard games with 39. And that includes his 25 200 yard games. And how’s this for symbolism: he played his high school career in Tony Dorsett Stadium, having played for Dorsett’s alma mater.

Shell wanted to stay close to home for family reasons and picked Pitt over virtually every program in the country, including Alabama, Ohio State, Florida and Oregon.

@HokieGuru: Based on what you saw/read from spring practice, do you think Pittsburgh will be better than last year?  Why or why not?

@PittScript: It would be tough to be worse. Pitt’s 6-7 record and return trip to the Compass Bowl was a complete disaster. Every time they looked like they put it together, they blew it (a blown 17 point lead in fourth at Iowa, holding WVU’s offense to 21 points, failing to score an offensive touchdown against an average Utah team). I think this team will more fundamentally sound, but eventually average recruiting over the past two seasons due to coaching changes will catch up with the Panthers.

The good news is the Big East sucks. Louisville and Rutgers should be pretty good, but there’s no real roadblock team or depth. Pitt could surprise everyone this season, but I doubt it. Unfortunately for Pitt, that’s been the case for several years now and the Panthers have never been able to take advantage of it.

@HokieGuru: Give us the pulse of the Pittsburgh football program – what are are the Panthers bloggers/fans thinking right now on the status of the program?

@PittScript:  Morale is low. The move to the ACC helps, but this season is yet another season of transition after firing Dave Wannstedt in December of 2010. With the exception of Virginia Tech, the home schedule is pretty weak. Notre Dame is on the road this year and the Backyard Brawl has been replaced with Temple. I expect a lot more excitement in Pitt’s first ACC in 2013, but for now, there’s been too much instability and disappointment for Pitt fans to be overly excited or optimistic for 2012.

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