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Pitt practice notes, captains named

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• Pitt coach Todd Graham announced the 2011 team captains today and there were a couple surprises.

First, here are the new captains, who will serve for the entire season.

On offense – junior quarterback Tino Sunseri, junior wide receiver Mike Shanahan and senior guard Chris Jacobson.

On defense – senior nose guard Myles Caragein, senior cornerback Antwuan Reed and junior safety Jarred Holley.

On special teams – junior safety/linebacker Andrew Taglianetti.

Coach Todd Graham said the captains were selected based input of selected players and coaches – “people that have merit,” he said – and that the voting was not a popularity contest.

Caragein, Shanahan and Jacobson were unanimous choices.

“It’s a great honor,” Jacobson said. “All your teammates and peers look up to you and respect you. I’m thankful for that.”

• Graham gave special notice to Sunseri, who, he said, probably wouldn’t have earned the captain’s honor prior to the summer training camp.

“I told Tino that if we had voted on that in the spring, I don’t think that would have happened,” Graham said. “He has made great strides. It means he has the respect of this team and that’s exciting for me.”

Graham said his quarterback didn’t become really vocal – that’s never been Tino’s style – but won his teammates’ respect with his work ethic.

“I think you have to be genuinely who you are,” Graham said. “I think what Tino has done is not say a word. He’s just become one of the hardest-working guys out there. He’s just kept his mouth shut and worked. I think that’s what a leader is. That is what people follow.”

• As far as vocal leaders go, Lucas Nix is among the most respected on the team and I was surprised he wasn’t named a team captain. To me, the leaders are Nix, along with Caragein, on offense or defense. Graham confirmed that during his daily media briefing today.

“No question when things get tough at practice, one guys steps to the middle and gets vocal, and that’s Nix,” Graham said. “A lot of guys don’t see themselves as leaders. There is different ways to lead. I think our emotional leader is Nix.”

I also admit to being a bit surprised that Reed was selected as a team captain over someone like Chas Alecxih or Brandon Lindsey. But Graham said the team’s starting cornerback “has a very special rapport with his teammates and you can tell that. That’s something that was impressive to me.”

Good for Reed. He’s had a strong summer and it’s paying off.

• Nix was one of seven players named to the unity or leadership council, which Graham called similar to co-captains.

On offense, it’s Nix, Jordan Gibbs and Ray Graham. On defense, it’s Chas Alecxih, Max Gruder, Jason Hendricks, Brandon Lindsey

The sophomore leaders are cornerback K’Waun Williams and wide receiver Devin Street, while the freshmen leaders are linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, who has missed a lot of time with an injury, and a pair of Woodland Hills products, defensive back Lafayette Pitts and linebacker Ejuan Price.

It’s safe to say that even though Pitt is more high-octane, fast-paced offense under coach Graham, the big guys up front remain the team’s leader with Jacobson, Nix and Gibbs. “It’s the most votes I’ve ever seen three offensive linemen get,” coach Graham said.

• Nix (6-6, 310) and Jacobson (6-3, 295) are more than leaders. They form one of the best guard tandems in the Big East, if not the nation. Graham said Pitt is a much better offensive unit with Nix at guard.

“I think he’s got a chance to be one of the best guards in the country,” Graham said. “It makes us a better football team because I think we are stronger inside and the things that we do pulling with our run game and our pass game protections. It makes us so much more sound from the inside out, having him and Jacobson at guard.”

Nix, a fifth-year senior, had shuffled back and forth between tackle and guard on the right side. He is graded as a second- or third-round pick at guard in the 2012 NFL Draft.

“If you ask me personally, I do think he’s a better guard than a tackle,” Graham said, “and he’s really good at both.”

• Pitt has 14 seniors who will be beginning their final season on Saturday against Buffalo. Some, like Wisconsin transfer Zach Brown, just got here. Others, like Caragein, Lindsey, Jacobson and Gibbs, are fifth-year seniors.

The veterans have not lost the importance of their final season in careers that have been dotted with mainly disappointment and underachievement.

“We want to make it count,” Jacobson said. “We have to do everything right every day.”

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