Graham Goes The Distance

Less than one day after Pitt football coach Dave Wannstedt said that freshman Dion Lewis was the starting tailback if the Panthers opened the regular season right then, classmate Ray Graham made his case for that position.

Unfortunately for Raymond Graham, rushing for 128 yards with a 65-yard touchdown burst on 14 carries in the second Pittsburgh scrimmage Saturday probably just moved him into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart ahead of redshirt freshman Chris Burns. Graham also had one catch for a 24-yard score.

However, a half-dozen fumbles earlier in camp held him back, while Dion Lewis has been consistent since he arrived on campus in January. Graham, though, certainly should get some touches as well.

"He had a good day today, and he's had a pretty good camp,'' Pitt running backs coach David Walker said. "He has shown us why we recruited him. He makes people miss. Toughness. So, we're pleased with Ray's performance.''

Graham also played a strong role in another scoring drive where he had 44 yards rushing on nine carries to get to the goal line. He couldn't punch it in, but redshirt freshman quarterback Tino Sunseri did from the 1 to cap the drive.

"The first scrimmage, I had to get my jitters out, but ever since I fumbled I've been practicing to hold on to the ball,'' Graham said. "So, this second scrimmage out here today, I wanted to do the same thing. And it felt good to come out here and not fumble and have the game that I had.

"In high school, I probably fumbled once my senior year, and twice as a sophomore. But Coach (Chet) Parlavechio told me that if I fumbled again, I wouldn't be playing for him. ... And that's how it was here. Coach Wannstedt told me the same thing, and Coach Walker said I needed to hold onto the ball to play for him. So, I worked hard every day to hold onto that rock.''

With redshirt sophomore Shariff Harris out of the mix for a couple weeks due to a disciplinary suspension, one might believe the Panthers will alter their thoughts a bit on the running backs situation. Walker said that isn't the case.

"Chris, Ray, Dion, they'll just get more reps,'' Walker said. "That's all. Dion has been the most consistent in training camp so far, and he was the most consistent in the spring. So, he's ahead of the other guys right now. A day like today, hopefully, helps puts some order into the rest of the group. But the thing that you see is that we can be productive doing some things.

"So, I'm happy with that, and we'll keep up with the evaluation process. (But) there's a lot that goes into it. It's also what they do in meetings, the pass game and protections, as well as the running game. Ray's made some plays in the run game, but he has a long way to go in the other areas. He's a work in progress. (So), we know we're going to need all three, and we'll keep pushing on.''

This scrimmage primarily was run-oriented with four main backs being used. Along with Graham, Lewis had 30 yards on 10 carries. Freshman Jason Douglas added 28 yards on 16 runs, and Burns added 27 yards on 14 carries. The passing game wasn't nearly as effective.

Fifth-year senior Bill Stull was 2-for-7 for three measly yards, a long toss for four yards and one sack. Junior Pat Bostick was 3-for-4 for 64 yards with a 51-yard scoring toss to freshman Devin Street and two sacks. And Sunseri was 4-for-10 for 36 yards with the 24-yard toss in the flat that Graham blew open for a touchdown.

"I think all the quarterbacks, nobody really did anything bad, but I don't think anybody really did anything to make you jump up and down today,'' Wannstedt said. "It partially was due to the limited number of passes that we threw today and with the emphasis being on the running game.''

That put the pressure on Pitt's offensive line and the spotlight on the left guard where redshirt sophomore Chris Jacobson and senior Joe Thomas are battling it out for the starting job. Thomas opened as the starter, and Jacobson alternated in a little later with the first team. But it's too close to call right now.

"It's real tight,'' Wannstedt said. "Joe Thomas took the first two series with the ones, and Lumpy took the next two. So, we'll watch the tape and see if anybody separated himself. (But) I think we've got two guys that can play. Not at the level we want them to right now, but we're moving in the right direction.''

The leading tackler in the scrimmage was freshman middle linebacker Dan Mason, who basically took every second-team rep with fifth-year senior Steve Dell being held out of the workout. Mason had six tackles with two behind the line. Sixth-year senior Adam Gunn is the starting middle linebacker.

"I think I improved from the last scrimmage that we had, but I still have a lot to work on,'' Mason said. "I just looked at all the mistakes I made in the first one and tried not to make them again, and I only made a couple. But no mistakes are good, so I have to keep working on that.

"(But) people see you if you just work hard, so I'm going to keep doing that. And if they want to play me, I've got no problem with that. So, I think I'm getting it down mentally now, and I think I should (play). ... There are so many athletes with the same ability as me, but that mental part gives an edge.''

Other players who missed the scrimmage included OT Lucas Nix (left leg), TE Nate Byham (concussion), TE Dorin Dickerson (ankle), WR Mike Shanahan (left hand) and OLB Tristan Roberts (left shoulder). Wannstedt said that only Roberts will be out for an extended period. Shanahan could be back in a couple weeks, and all the other guys are day to day with a return likely before camp ends.

The only injury in the scrimmage was defensive end Justin Hargrove (ankle).

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