Exactly 22 days after he was hired, Todd Graham announced his first recruiting class. Graham signed 20 players on Wednesday. Of those 20, only five were previously Pitt commits when Graham took over. He added 15 players out of a possible 25 players that he hosted over two official visit weekends.
In two press conferences as Pitt head coach—his hiring, and today for signing day—Graham has used the words ‘speed,' ‘explosiveness,' and ‘high-octane.' Those words can be used to describe this staff's recruiting efforts over the last three weeks since they were put in place.
"I've been in 24 homes in two weeks," Graham said. "Some of those players joined our family, and we're very, very excited. Also, we want to wish the ones that did not join our family the very best. I'm very, very pleased with the group we've put together."
Out of the 20 signees Graham added to the program on Wednesday, he signed four running backs and six defensive backs. He added that all 20 players will stay at the positions they are at, for at least their first year with the program.
"The running back position was a big focus for us, the defensive back was a focus for us as well." Graham said. "Some of those guys were tailbacks and quarterbacks in high school. Speed and explosive power were the focus of those two areas."
Isaac Bennett (5-11, 190), who was recruited some as a free safety, is being listed as a running back. In addition to Bennett, Jeremiah Bryson (5-10, 180), Malcolm Crockett (5-10, 180) and Corey Davis (5-11, 180) join the team. Interestingly, they are all around the same size. With Ray Graham as the only returning running back with any type of experience, there's certainly room for one of them to make a move in camp and possibly contribute. The only problem is that none will be here for spring ball. Derrick Burns practiced with the team at running back for the bowl game, meaning he might take a fair amount of reps in the spring. Graham has two different roles for the running backs. Bennett is a guy he feels can play either role. The other three are in more of the traditional tailback mode. Graham got in to his terminology for the tailback position.
"We play with what we call a four-back, which most people call a tailback, and a three-back," Graham said. "(Bennett) is a guy that can play both positions for us, one of the best players in the state of Oklahoma."
Then there's the defensive back position. Though all six players are listed as defensive backs, there's nobody on the fence as to what position they are going to play. The players they signed at corner, will be corners. The players they signed at safety, will be safeties. Lloyd Carrington (6-0, 180), Jason Frimpong (5-10, 180) and Lafayette Pitts (5-11, 180) are the corners. Jevonte Pitts (5-10, 175), Roderick Ryles (6-1, 185) and Steve Williams (6-2, 200) are the safeties.
In fact, Graham expects very few of these players to switch positions; at least not right away. That's all part in his philosophy.
"So many factors are involved with that," Graham said. "This group is very, very quality; very fast,very explosive group by position. All those running backs are guys that we feel have an opportunity to fit in to what we do. We do a lot of different things when it comes to the backfield and how we go about running the football."
He cited a specific example of a former player he had at Tulsa who came in as a wide receiver, that ended up at defensive end. His philosophy is to simply recruit speed—a word he used on a number of occasions when describing this class. He looks for a player that could have multiple tendencies, but one where they are best suited to start off at right away. Graham used Jason Frimpong as an example, citing the fact that Frimpong has played quarterback, running back and corner in his prep career. For now, his best abilities are as a corner.
Frimpong could grow out of those abilities and move to another position, but for now he's at corner. Graham has seen other examples in his coaching history of other players making similar transitions.
"Our philosophy has been to recruit speed," Graham said. "You'll see a lot of guys like a Jason Frimpong that played quarterback, that played tailback, that played defensive back. He's going to play defensive back for us. We like guys that are projected in multiple positions; athletic tight ends, running backs, quarterbacks. Our whole thing is athleticism and speed. We've had guys in our system, defensively, that play wide receiver that ended up playing defensive end."
One player that Graham said could be in the mix for a starting job, or at least some early playing time, is JUCO offensive lineman Zenel Demhasaj (6-7, 320). Quickly, though, the talk shifted to how impressed Graham has been with the offensive line so far in some of the early workouts.
"We feel like that he will be," Graham said. "We feel real good about that from an offensive line standpoint. That's one of the areas where I really like the things that I've seen from that group. That group will be indicative of how successful we're going to be. Your leaders have got to come from up front. Coach (Shawn) Griswold, in starting to work with them in the strength program, has been very, very impressed with what we have to work with there; very big, very explosive guys up there. We feel good about the depth and where we're at."