Running back Graham a perfect fit for Pitt's new spread offense
April 10, 2011 8:00 AM
Pitt running back Ray Graham ran for 922 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
By Ray Fittipaldo Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Junior running back Ray Graham had a lot of personal success in the pro-style offense former coach Dave Wannstedt ran during Graham's first two seasons at Pitt. A reserve behind Dion Lewis in 2009 and '10, he rushed for 922 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
Those are impressive numbers for someone with a limited role, but Graham expects to be more productive in new coach Todd Graham's spread offense.
"I like this offense because you have a lot of options," said Graham, who will be the starting running back in the fall. "Now the defense can't key on one person because of the offensive scheme. The offensive scheme we have is for everybody. It's not based around me. It's based around everyone. You have Cam Saddler, you have Devin Street, Mike Shanahan. Tino [Sunseri] is doing a good job of sharing the ball. I think we're going to do great. In years past, you knew in some games teams were going to have nine in the box. You can't do that with this offense. I think that will be the main key."
Graham has made a seamless transition to the spread offense, which will take advantage of his running and pass catching abilities. In addition to his 922 yards rushing last season, Graham also had 24 receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns.
This spring, Graham has been equally impressive with his hands and his feet. Catching a pass is a skill that comes naturally to him, but he also worked at it for the past couple of years when he would stay after practice and do receiving drills along with former Panthers receiver Jon Baldwin.
"In high school we used to go to a lot of 7-on-7 camps," he said. "I'm used to catching the ball. I try to work hard at it. I don't want to be somebody they throw it to once in a while and they hope I catch it. I want them to throw me the ball, and I want coach to trust me."
Sunseri, who is entering his second season as the starting quarterback, believes the spread offense is ideal for Graham.
"I think it's perfect for Ray," Sunseri said. "He's a downhill, one-cut runner, and he's able to see that cut. I feel bad for the safeties that are going to have to try to tackle him."
Graham said he does not feel any different now that Lewis is gone and he is the starter.
"It's still the same to me," he said.
"I just like to have fun. I didn't look at it as I was the second man. I looked at it like we were both playing out there. We were both competitive. At game time, we made it easy. We just went out and played. It's the same thing now. I just go out and have fun."
Pitt held its final scrimmage before the annual spring game Saturday morning, and the defense had a dominating performance, registering 12 sacks and nine tackles for losses. That was the unofficial count by defensive coordinator Keith Patterson before reviewing the scrimmage on tape.
Todd Graham said he wanted to put the offense in some adverse situations, so that was part of the reason for the defense's good showing.
"It was the first time we really game planned for each other," Graham said. "The defense dominated. It was the opposite of last Saturday."
Some of the standouts on defense included defensive tackles Myles Caragein and Aaron Donald and linebacker Tristan Roberts. "I think our defensive line has a chance to be special," Graham said.
Graham did not have much good to say about the first-team offense, but he singled out reserve quarterback Anthony Gonzalez, calling him the offensive MVP for the scrimmage.
Graham's starting offensive line was: Lucas Nix at right tackle, Cory King at right guard, Chris Jacobson at center, Greg Gaskins at left guard and Jordan Gibbs at left tackle.