PITTSBURGH -- The No. 2 running back spot behind LaRod Stephens-Howling was up in the air going into the University of Pittsburgh's final intrasquad football scrimmage Wednesday at the UPMC Sports Complex, and redshirt freshman Shane Brooks ran away with it.
* With Stephens-Howling on the sideline resting, Brooks ran 13 times for 92 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Panthers running attack. He also caught one swing pass for a big 26-yard gain down the left sideline, was Pitt's key short-yardage and goal-line back and secured the backup spot.
"If we're playing tomorrow, (Brooks) is second team behind LaRod,'' second-year Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "And he might be as good a short-yardage or goal-line runner as we have.''
* Several times against the watered-down defense that was minus starters Darrelle Revis (hamstring), Mike Phillips (ankle), H.B. Blades and Clint Session (resting), Brooks slammed into the line for a first down on third-and-short. He had a 25-yard run, but he did most of his damage inside.
"If we need a yard, then I can get the yard,'' Brooks said. "And when we're on the goal line, I can punch it in. So, I think I pretty much solidified myself in that position. And on Saturday night (against Virginia), when it's third-and-one, I want to go in there.''
* Sure, Brooks got a lot of carries because Pitt rested returning rushing leader Stephens-Howling, but freshmen Kevin Collier (13 carries, 16 yards, 2 TDs) and Dorin Dickerson (five carries, 16 yards) also lugged it.
"They're all going to play, and we'll need 'em all before the year's out,'' Wannstedt said. "(Brooks) has good hands, but that's an area where all of our running backs have to improve on because if we're going to be the team that we want to be we'll need to get the ball out quickly to them.''
* Brooks believed the Panthers have a big advantage with their backs.
"I think we can be a real good running team, but it all depends on the guys up front,'' Brooks said. "If they have a good game, then we can be a good running team. And I think we'll be pretty good. ... We have a good variety of runners. I can go in and run people over.
"LaRod can go in and show his moves, shake people, make them miss, catch the ball out of the backfield. Kevin, he's a shifty back with nice cuts. And even Dickerson can get in there. We have a nice, mixed backfield for other teams to prepare for in a game.''
* And nobody is happier about that than quarterback Tyler Palko.
"Hopefully, he'll keep doing what he's doing, and we'll move the ball,'' Palko said. "When you get a guy like Shane, who can run the ball with power and speed and gives you a little changeup from what LaRod has. ... You really don't have one featured back.
"You've got playmakers, and wherever you can get them on the field you should get them on the field. And Shane showed that he's a playmaker, and we've just got to find a place to put him in the offense.
"He showed that he can run with power in between the tackles, bounce it outside and score when he gets into the red zone,'' Palko added. "So, that was really exciting for the offense, and it gets the offensive line going.''
* Palko was 9-for-11 for 66 yards, while Bill Stuff was 5-for-9 for 67 yards. There were no touchdown passes. But the key to the offense Wednesday was the running game.
* Even though some top defensive players were absent, several others were able to shine. Sophomore defensive tackle Gus Mustakas made some plays early, including dropping Collier behind the line and sacking Palko for lost yardage, while sophomore Tommy Campbell continued to show improvement at weak-side linebacker with a forced fumble and a recovery, as well as several big solo tackles.
* And redshirt freshman defensive end Doug Fulmer consistently harassed the quarterbacks from the right side.
"(Fulmer) has gotten comfortable with that right defensive end spot,'' Wannstedt said. "He made some big plays. Even one or two of the passes that Tyler threw away at the end, he was right there in his face.''
* Wannstedt appears to be settled on Mustakas at the nose tackle spot and Fulmer at right end, but the left end and defensive tackle spots on defense are not yet settled. On offense, the left tackle spot is up for grabs between John Bachman and Jeff Otah.
Notes: Freshman Dan Hutchins was 1-for-2 in field-goal kicking as redshirt sophomore Conor Lee rested his sore right hamstring. Hutchins made a 22-yarder, but missed from 42. Lee will kick Thursday night at the annual FanFest festivities.