By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — If Dion Lewis already secured Pitt’s starting tailback position with his consistency during training camp, fellow freshman Ray Graham moved into the backup spot with his performance during Saturday’s scrimmage.
Graham ran for 128 yards with a 65-yard touchdown burst on 14 carries in the Panthers’ second intra-squad scrimmage to probably move past redshirt freshman Chris Burns. Graham also had one catch for a 24-yard score.
“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.
While Graham has shown brilliant flashes the past two weeks, he also has a half-dozen fumbles which have limited his progress.
“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.”
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.”
Pitt enters its final training camp practice week with Sunday’s workout beginning at 4:15 p.m. There are two practices each Monday and Wednesday, with the final scrimmage in the afternoon at midweek, and FanFest Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at Heinz Field.