Pitt's RB Committee

When the Pitt coaching staff began working on this year's recruiting class, they didn't know for sure that talented tailback LeSean McCoy would declare for the NFL Draft this spring, but they knew it would only be a matter of time.

So, Pittsburgh football coach Dave Wannstedt and his assistants brought in four running backs for 2009. They are Dion Lewis from Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J.; Raymond Graham from Elizabeth, N.J. High School; Kevin Adams from St. Joseph Regional HS in Montvale, N.J. and Jason Douglas from Cypress Bay HS in Weston, Fla. Adams actually has projected to be a safety.

Lewis already is enrolled in classes and will compete for playing time this spring with redshirt sophomore Shariff Harris, redshirt freshman Chris Burns and redshirt junior Kevin Collier. Graham will arrive sometime during the summer and be available for the fall. Douglas' initial impact will be as a return specialist.

"I don't know who will help us right away,'' Wannstedt said. "I imagine that the running backs will help us the most. When we recruit, we project progress two years down the road.

"We try to keep the recruiting board stacked and balanced. ... All three running backs committed early and from the conversations that we've had with those guys, we had some anticipation of LeSean McCoy leaving early.''

Pitt running backs coach David Walker believed that McCoy's decision to "move forward with his football career just gave other guys opportunities.'' So, Harris, Burns and Collier, along with the freshmen, will compete for carries.

"We'll need to work with them until we kick off in September,'' Walker said, "and they need to work hard to get ready for that day. So, we'll miss LeSean, but at the same time we're going to move on as well and keep moving forward. We'll keep working with all those guys until one of them shows that he wants to be the guy, and he deserves to be the guy.

"Until then, it very well may be running back by committee. But we kind of had that the past couple years with LeSean and LaRod. So, that's a lot of yardage and leadership to replace, but we're going to do our best to be productive. Even at fullback, losing Conredge Collins is huge, but we have Henry Hynoski ready to step right in. It's the nature of the game.

"So, we're going to try to keep moving forward the best that we can,'' Walker added. "I'd be real worried if we didn't think that we have the right pieces. We recruited the running back position pretty hard this year, and we feel that Ray, Jason and Dion all bring explosiveness, toughness and productivity to our team. All of our backs will get an opportunity.''

McCoy and LaRod Stephens-Howling combined for nearly 1,700 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns. The remaining Pitt backs had three touchdowns on the ground, so they have a lot of ground to make up.

Collier is the most experienced with 37 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns in 10 career games, but he hasn't played much the past two seasons. He had just four carries for 25 yards last fall and redshirted in 2007 and breaking his wrist in the final preseason scrimmage.

Harris redshirted as a freshman in 2007 and had just 12 carries for 21 yards last fall. Burns was a freshman and redshirted in 2008. Lewis, Graham and Douglas have impressive scholastic accomplishments, but it remains to be seen how well they'll do at the next level.

"Each of these backs bring explosiveness to the table,'' Walker said. "They're similar in the way that they change direction and have a burst of speed to LaRod of LeSean. We like that about all these guys. You'd just like to see guys who are productive and have a certain skill set.

"That's what I'm looking for and evaluating film to see if they have that. All three of these kids do. I don't get hung up on size. You can't get to the point where you have so many of the same kind of kid. In my opinion, you like to have your LaRod type of kids: quick, shifty kids. You also need your bigger kids, your Shariff. You need to have both types, and we have that.''

Now, all they have to do is take advantage of their opportunity.

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