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Pitt rushing game won't be a one-man show

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By Pat Mitsch
Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dion Lewis isn't the only Pitt running back making eye-catching runs this spring.

Lewis, the 5-foot-8, 195-pound sophomore has certainly flashed his ability during Pitt's five spring practices thus far, and no one can ignore the 1,799 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns Lewis produced last season.

But when Lewis subs out, Pitt's other running backs — sophomore Ray Graham, redshirt sophomore Chris Burns and redshirt freshman Jason Douglas — have been earning their own attention.

"We all know Dion had a lot of success last season. We know he did a great job," said Pitt running backs coach David Walker. "But Ray Graham's trying to win a job. Jason Douglas is trying to win the starting tailback job. Chris Burns is trying to win the starting tailback job. So, those guys are working hard, and they're not going to concede anything to Dion."

That seems to be just fine with Lewis, who says the friendly competition between the four running backs has been fun so far. He also noted that having a back like Graham, who rushed for 349 yards and four touchdowns last season, is good to keep opposing defenses from focusing on just one type of runner.

Walker added that Graham has gotten better with his reads and protection concepts, upping the coaching staff's confidence in giving Graham more playing time.

"Having a great, phenomenal back like (Lewis), it just pushes you," Graham said. "With two good backs — actually, four good backs — it makes you want to go extra hard. That's all I try to do is give that extra effort."

Coach Dave Wannstedt said Saturday that both Lewis and Graham "hadn't missed a beat," and gave Douglas some praise for his performance yesterday, too. Burns, the tallest of the four at 5-foot-11, also ran hard.

"We've got a lot of depth right now," Lewis said. "We've got a lot of good running backs, so everybody's out there competing, congratulating each other and having fun."

Notes : Pitt was short at receiver yesterday for several reasons: redshirt freshman Ed Tinker broke some bones in his hand and had surgery Friday, Wannstedt said; Jon Baldwin twisted his ankle during practice and sat out most of the team drills; Mike Shanahan was still recovering from mononucleosis; and Devin Street was one of a "half-dozen" players missing from practice, Wannstedt said, while attending a make-up class from February's snowstorms. ... Aside from Douglas, Wannstedt mentioned linebacker Dan Mason and defensive tackle Chas Alecxih as those who stood out yesterday as the Panthers installed their red zone offense and defense. "I'm very encouraged with the progress we're making," Wannstedt said.

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