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Aug. 8, 2011

By Pat Bostick

Football season is here. The Pitt Panthers open training camp this week under the direction of new head coach Todd Graham. Since Graham arrived in January, the Panthers have been hard at work. Their transition to Graham's "high-octane" philosophies has been well-documented. They have had 15 spring practices and a grueling summer conditioning regimen to acclimate themselves to a more fast-tempo, high-energy style of play.

With Graham's arrival and his team's ability to adjust to his staff and their unique philosophies, I see many reasons for the Panther Nation to be excited for the 2011 season. Here are just five of them:

Reason #1: Senior leadership
Pitt returns 17 seniors; five more than were on the roster in 2010. Of those 17, 14 are Pitt lettermen and transfer running back Zach Brown lettered three times at Wisconsin. Ten of Pitt's seniors are returning starters.

Reason #2: Experienced and talented defense
Defense wins championships. If this statement holds true, then Pitt fans have reason to be confident. Pitt's defense is laden with talent and experience. Its defensive line has stalwart run-stoppers and dynamic pass rushers. Its linebacking corps is seasoned and its secondary is solid.

The unquestioned leader of the Panther defense is nose tackle Myles Caragein. Caragein is a tough, physical and disciplined interior lineman who is a brute against the run and is lethal with his hands and quickness as a pass rusher.

Joining him on the defensive front is a pair of highly touted seniors in end Brandon Lindsey and tackle Chas Alecxih. Both are standout pass rushers who promise to carry out Graham's wish to "impact the quarterback." Senior linebackers Max Gruder and Tristan Roberts, along with newly minted "Panther" Greg Williams, bring additional experience to the Pitt defense. Seniors Buddy Jackson and Antwuan Reed will surely help solidify Pitt's secondary along with a pair of returning starters at safety in Jarred Holley and Jason Hendricks and standout sophomore cornerback K'Waun Williams.

Reason #3: It starts up front
The Panthers return three seasoned veterans on an offensive line that is tasked with protecting second-year starting quarterback Tino Sunseri and paving the way for junior running back Ray Graham. After starting 13 games at guard last season, Chris Jacobson made a successful transition to center this spring. Returning starters Lucas Nix and Jordan Gibbs will occupy Pitt's tackle spots.

Co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee is no stranger to prolific rushing attacks. His offenses have always been committed to running the pill. This bodes well for running backs Ray Graham, Desmond Brown and Zach Brown.

Reason #4: Year two for Tino
Redshirt junior Tino Sunseri enters his second season as Pitt's starting quarterback. With a year under his belt, and a new offense which promises to showcase his talents, Sunseri should show significant improvement in 2011. Quarterbacks thrive on getting into a rhythm, and Pitt's no-huddle attack will surely afford Tino that advantage. In addition, the Panthers' spread formations will open up throwing lanes for Sunseri to find the likes of wideouts Mike Shanahan, Cam Saddler and Devin Street, along with tight end Brock DeCicco, H-back Hubie Graham and the multi-talented Ray Graham.

Reason #5: Eight Home Games
The Panthers host eight home games this year at Heinz Field. With games against Notre Dame, Utah, USF and Cincinnati, the Panthers will surely benefit from the Heinz Field home crowd's energy.

Get ready, Pitt fans, the 2011 season is here and September 3 is coming fast!

Pitt Football: 5 reasons to be excited for 2011