Injuries provide Pitt RB Ibrahim an opportunity to impress
Pitt football practice resumes Thursday, with coach Paul Chryst hitting the home stretch of spring drills while keeping a watchful eye on the injury list.
At least 11 players are on it, including two starters, a valuable backup running back and two others who could ease a personnel shortage at defensive end.
The injured player causing the most buzz is running back James Conner, who sprained his left knee Friday when the defense forced him out of bounds on a sweep. Also lost that day was Conner's backup Isaac Bennett, a rising senior who gives Pitt the one-two punch coaches seek at that position.
Those mishaps are on top of the largely lost springs of starting left offensive tackle Adam Bisnowaty (back) and ends Devin Cook (knee) and Ejuan Price (back). Chances are minimal that any of those five players will receive significant practice time over the final four days of drills.
Rising sophomore running back Rachid Ibrahim — also known as the last man standing — said losing two backs plus fullback Adam Lazenga (foot) on the same day was “weird.”
“James goes down, and it's just me and Isaac,” Ibrahim said. “And Isaac goes down. They are going to be all right (when the next leg of conditioning starts next month), but if I'm the guy, I have to be ready.
“It's definitely an opportunity to excel and showcase what I can do.”
Chryst allowed his team to take off the pads Tuesday. NCAA rules mandate three such sessions in the spring, with the third at the coach's discretion. Tuesday was the third, but Chryst might order more.
“I thought we did a good job of being physical (up to that point),” he said.
Chryst said he has thought about putting red jerseys on some players other than quarterbacks to remind teammates to be careful.
“You think about that all the time,” he said. “(On Tuesday), the guys were doing a pretty good of staying off bodies. The bottom line is you have to learn how to practice and there are some things that happen. No one likes to see it, but those are hard to control.
“You just have to keep educating and say a prayer that every guy leaves the field like they came on.”
All of the injured players, with the exception of walk-on defensive end Trent Neavin, are expected to recover in time for summer camp, Chryst said.
Ibrahim, who ran for 136 yards and caught eight passes as a freshman last season, hopes to impress first-year running backs coach John Settle before the team reconvenes in August when three freshmen will join the fray.
“Rachid has gotten better each week,” Settle said. “He's a smart football player, just what I like. They are the better players.”
Settle said Ibrahim has improved his footwork and pass protection, but he wants him to reduce the number of dropped passes.
“I've seen him catch the ball early in camp,” Settle said. “I've seen him catch the ball last year in game situations. I know he can catch it.
“I want him to rebuild his confidence level and come out and play like he is capable of playing.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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