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Chryst becoming acquainted with his new squad

The Sports Xchange

Pittsburgh's new head coach Paul Chryst put his first -- and maybe most important -- spring behind him, learning his personnel and getting his system installed.

"We've grown a lot," running back Isaac Bennett said after gaining 121 yards on 23 carries in the spring game. "Everybody we've bought in."

The fact that Chyrst, the third head coach in three years, was accepted so quickly and easily is a sign that this is a team eager to find a way to reach its potential.

The Panthers enter what almost certainly is their final season in the Big East this fall before moving to the ACC and the goal is to have the team on schedule to compete in the new league.

The key to the season will be quarterback Tino Sunseri, who has shown flashes of ability over the past two seasons but who has been consistently inconsistent.

It was expected that Sunseri would have to win the job all over, but he established himself even before the spring game. Asked if he had separated himself from the competitors late in camp, Chryst answered:

"I think he has. I think he has made some strides but I still think there are areas where he can get better and that's a good thing."

Sunseri never sweated the situation.

"I wasn't even worried about that. I'm worried about being the best player I can possibly be," Sunseri said. "Whatever happens, happens and I'll let the tape show for that. All I can do is get better each day and whatever Coach Chryst decides is what goes."

The return in the fall of running back Ray Graham is much anticipated, for he had 958 yards through six games last year when he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Bennett gave the Panthers an option should Graham not return at 100 percent.

"Isaac worked this spring," Chryst said. "He's young and I think he had the chance to learn a lot and to grow. Each scrimmage, at least the last three or four times we've gone pretty hard, he's done some things that have been good."

Bennett should get plenty of playing time. In 2010 as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, Chryst missed having three 1,000-yard rushers.

The defense received a huge boost when senior linebacker Dan Mason came back healthy from a serious knee injury that cost him all of last year, adding not only a talented tackler but a leader on the defensive side of the ball.

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