Pitt's Graham running straight ahead, dancing less
An elementary lesson in geometry teaches us the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.
The equation might serve Pitt well through its final five games, with senior running back Ray Graham gaining nearly 25 percent fewer yards per carry than his career average.
Coaches have been asking Graham to stutter-step less as he approaches the line of scrimmage and run in a more direct, north/south direction.
“It's something we really stress,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “It's something he did do better (last Saturday against Buffalo). He hit a couple things vertical.”
Graham has no problem with the change in running style, pointing out he ran that way in 2009-10, when Pitt had future NFL offensive linemen John Malecki, Jason Pinkston and Lucas Nix.
“It's good to add a different style to my game to keep the defense honest,” Graham said. “They don't know what they are getting sometimes.”
Graham and Rudolph agree running straight ahead may turn modest gains into big ones.
“That's where you are going to get yards,” Rudolph said. “I think he is gaining confidence with it. He made some plays that really bailed us out a little bit (against Buffalo).”
Graham and backup Rushel Shell have distinct running styles, with Graham the more elusive and Shell unafraid to take on defenders. The two learn from each other.
“You are never too old to learn and never too young to get better,” Graham said.
Beginning Saturday against Temple at Heinz Field, Graham has a chance to make a historic leap up the school's rushing chart.
He has gained 2,742 yards and needs 451 in the final five games to finish second to Pro Football Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett.
Graham would need to average of 90.2 yards per game after he recorded 73.3 in the first seven games. He is gaining 4.5 yards per carry — well below his career average entering the season (5.9) — after returning to the lineup only 10 months removed from knee injury.
“I feel we definitely can be better, from the running backs to the line,” he said. “Everybody can contribute more.”
Help is on the way, with tight end Hubie Graham and fullback Mark Giubilato returning from injuries.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.