Thursday Notebook: Defensive Ends, RBs, LBs

First-year defensive ends coach John Palermo is getting a better idea of who might be in line to start at defensive end. Running backs Malcolm Crockett and Rachid Ibrahim talk about being in the mix at running back; Bam Bradley also on his transition at linebacker.

First-year defensive ends coach John Palermo is looking to make an impact, bringing 37 years worth of coaching experience to Pittsburgh.

While he doesn't have to reinvent the wheel with this group, he is looking to see which players he's comfortable using, which players he will start, and how may players he might use.

To him, there's no set number of how many guys he'll use.

"Here is what I tell them," Palermo said. "If you do what you are supposed to do, then I am going to rotate a bunch of guys. If you don't do what you are supposed to, then you are going to stay in until your tongue is touching the ground. The bottom line is that we have guys that are trying to do what we ask them to do. It is more of a reward than anything else. How many guys are going to play? I couldn't tell you right now. You would like to have five defensive ends and have five guys that you can trust to go into a game and do what they are supposed to do. That is the goal."

David Durham--a converted fullback, who was initially recruited out of high school as a defensive player--seems to have a good hold on things. Junior Bryan Murphy looks to seize the other spot, after starting 12 games last year. Ejuan Price moves in from linebacker, where he too is pushing for a spot. At the very least, he could have a valuable role in the rotation.

Other defensive ends expected to be in the mix, or in consideration based on the number of reps they've seen in training camp, are Shakir Soto, Devin Cook, Jack Lippert and LaQuentin Smith.

Price has demonstrated a comfortable transition from linebacker, after sitting out last season and redshirting due to a pectoral injury.

""He has bought in to what we are trying to do," Palermo said of Price. "He started out as a second and long, third down guy at defensive end. He has worked himself up to possibly playing on first down. I am getting to the point of where I trust him."

Bradley IN THE MIX
One player who is being moved around, getting a look with the first and second team at linebacker, is redshirt freshman Bam Bradley.

Bradley came to Pitt from Trotwood-Madison (OH), where he led his team to a state championship as a senior. Bradley played safety in high school, where he finished with 60 tackles and five interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.

Having a knack for finding the ball, he's taking his talents to the linebacker position, where he's competing for a spot on the two-deep. The last two days, he's been given a look with the first-team. Today, we recovered a fumble after Tyrone Ezell stripped a ball carrier in the backfield.

Head coach Paul Chryst says the idea with Bradley, and several other true freshmen and redshirt freshmen, is to give them additional reps--some to see how they react to being on a first unit, some just for the sake of giving additional reps.

"There are a lot of things that go into that," Chryst said. "You want to make sure, for a lack of a better term, that there's a ‘pitch count' for some guys. We like to see how guys respond in different situations. You put a linebacker in with the first unit and see how he fits in with that. It ends up being a competition at a lot of different places.

"We hope [Bradley] is starting to realize his potential. Him and Nick [Grigsby] missed a little bit of time for their family. It's good to get him back. I thought he was doing some good stuff early in training camp, and now he's got to get back in the swing of things. We're looking forward to seeing what he can do."

Even though Malcolm Crockett, James Conner and Rachid Ibrahim were already in a competition with Isaac Bennett for reps at the running back, the opportunity for all three has increased as Bennett has been held out of practice due to injury, since Saturday.

Crockett, entering his third year, says he's had different types of competition each year that he's been in the program. He wants to see Bennett back on the field as soon as possible, because the two are close friends. In his absence, however, he's looking to take advantage of the additional reps.

"The competition has been very high," Crockett said. "Every year I keep fighting, keep working hard, keep studying and paying attention to details and try to do everything right. There is competition at every position and everybody wants to be a starter, so my goal is to keep working. Some days you get a lot of reps and some days you don't get as many, so when that happens you just have to stay mentally strong and keep working."

Crockett played in 12 games last year as a redshirt freshman, seeing his most extensive work in the Gardner-Webb (7 carries, 32 yards) and Ole Miss (5 carries, 18 yards) games.

Ibrahim initially came to Pitt as a safety. In high school, however, he set a school-record with with 4,835 yards, which included seven career games with 200 or more yards.

When he enrolled in summer classes, within his first week on campus, the Pitt coaching staff came to him with the idea of moving him to running back.

"It is more detail oriented over here," Ibrahim said in going from high school to college. "You have to hit specific gaps and pay attention to your landmarks and where you have to go, who you have to break off of. In high school you just kind of play off athleticism, you got the ball and you did whatever you do. Here you have to pay attention to the line. You have to know what the line is doing; you have to know what the defense is doing. Those are some of the things you have to pick up, and Coach Rudolph is helping me with that."

Both players, along with freshman James Conner, continue to get a fair share of reps in the rotation. Though Chryst hasn't indicated that anyone is in the lead at running back, all three will continue to compete regardless of Bennett's health status.

"Guys earn the right to be with the first unit, so that also takes place," Chryst said. "As we finish these morning practices, we also like to get the younger guys a lot of reps. We like the way the young group is approaching things. They need to be able to make mistakes and then correct them. We're trying to come up with a lot of different ways to help develop guys."

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