Pitt

4-1-Zoo: Previewing Pitt’s Running Backs

Ray Graham

(AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — It’s day two of season previews for the Pitt Panthers here at Area 4-1-Zoo and today I take a look at the running backs.

The Panthers are led by Ray Graham at the position and, much like at quarterback, have a big lack of experience behind him. A couple transfers and incoming freshmen will have to get the job done.

Here’s how the Pitt running backs will look in 2011…

Ray Graham — 5-foot-9, 195-pound junior

Graham started just two games in 2010, but was considered the feature back over Dion Lewis by many. He rushed for 922 yards and eight touchdowns with a 6.2 yards per carry average. He also caught 42 balls for 213 yards and two touchdowns and averaged 21.8 yards per kick return.

All told, Graham was third in the Big East in all-purpose yards per game, averaging 136.3.

Quite honestly, the way Dave Wannstedt and staff chose to utilize Graham was bizarre. Graham was rarely the starter, unless Lewis was injured, and the coaching staff refused to string either running back along with a long set of possessions. They even pulled Graham in the fourth quarter against Florida International with 277 rushing yards and a shot at breaking Tony Dorsett’s single-game rushing record of 303 yards.

That shouldn’t be an issue this year, as Todd Graham and staff know that Ray is the feature back and plan on utilizing him accordingly. He proved last season that he has a lot of tools, and that’s music to “high-octane” football’s ears. His mixture of running and catching ability seems to be a perfect fit in Pitt’s offense.

I’d expect to see Graham on the field a ton in 2011. He, maybe more so than quarterback Tino Sunseri, will be the focal point of the offense.

Zach Brown — 5-foot-10, 220-pound redshirt senior

Brown transfers to Pitt at a much needed time. Without Brown, there is absolutely no playing experience behind Graham. Brown comes from Wisconsin and will have immediate eligibility.

Brown played in 36 career games for the Badgers, totaling 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns with a 4.8 yards per carry average. He’s a big body — thicker than Graham, at 220 pounds — that can spell Graham for periods of time in the backfield.

While Graham has proven he’s durable so far in his career (he’s played in all but one game the past two seasons), his smaller frame hasn’t experienced the battering of a full season of football because he and Lewis split time between each other.

Brown can provide that breather, and he can also be a strong option inside the tackles.

Corey Davis — 5-foot-11, 180 pound freshman

Davis played high school ball in Texas and followed Todd Graham north to Pittsburgh. He rushed for 1,745 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior, adding seven catches for 84 yards and a TD. He also had two returns for touchdowns.

This kid looks like a play maker on paper, but time will tell through training camp if he gets to see any time in the backfield this season. One thing’s for sure, a freshman or two will have to fore go a redshirt and step in to the depth chart immediately.

Steve Williams — 6-foot-2, 200-pound freshman

Williams is easily the tallest back in the depth chart. He’s from Georgia and rushed for 1,691 yards and 22 touchdowns while averaging 10.8 yards per carry as a senior in high school.

In his final two high school seasons he totaled nearly 2,400 yards, spending time at cornerback on the defensive side of the ball as well.

Isaac Bennett — 5-foot-11, 190-pound freshman

Bennett rushed for 1,372 yards and 14 touchdowns in his senior high school season depsite missing four games because of an ankle injury. He averaged 9.6 yards a carry, which is a ridiculous average.

Malcolm Crockett — 5-foot-10, 180-pound freshman

Crockett rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and 20 TDs in his final two high school seasons in Maryland. Of that, 810 yards and five touchdowns came in his senior season, missing seven games because of an ankle sprain.

Desmond Brown — 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior

Brown is a junior walk-on and, as far as I know, he hasn’t played organized football since high school. He is the brother of Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.

POSITION GRADE — B-minus

Just like in my quarterback preview, this position is scary if Ray Graham gets hurt. But that’s impossible to predict and he’s healthy, so I’d say Pitt is in good shape, as he could be one of the biggest play makers in college football this season.

It almost seems like people are finally fed up with crediting Pitt players too much in the preseason any more. While Graham’s been named to a few preseason watch lists, he won’t get nearly the same type of preseason hype Dion Lewis received last year.

In my opinion, that might be for the best. Pitt isn’t nationally ranked to start the year, nor are the Panthers picked to win the Big East. In the past that’s seemingly only been a bad thing.

In Graham’s case, I think he’s going to jump up on a lot of people. Todd Graham’s offense seems like a perfect fit for Ray, and if he stays healthy it could be a special year.

If not, well … let’s worry about that if it happens.

Chris Gates | Area 4-1-Zoo Blog
Twitter.com/Chris_Gates
Chris.Gates@cbsradio.com

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