Running back Brown adds depth in Pitt backfield

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The Pitt football team got some much-needed depth for its offensive backfield Thursday with the addition of Zach Brown, a transfer from Wisconsin.

Brown, a fifth-year senior, has graduated from Wisconsin and is eligible to play for the Panthers this season.

The addition of Brown could be critical for Pitt, which would have entered the season with no experienced running backs behind junior Ray Graham.

"You can't go through a season with just one main guy," offensive coordinator and running backs coach Calvin Magee said Thursday.

Brown rushed for 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns during his first three seasons with the Badgers before sitting out the 2010 season as a redshirt. His 568 rushing yards in 2007 were the fifth most by a Wisconsin freshman.

The Royal Palm Beach, Fla., native said he was also considering Miami (Ohio) and Miami (Fla.) as possible transfer destinations. Brown, who considered attending Pitt out of high school, said the school is the best all-around fit for him.

"It's a great opportunity to play there and showcase my talents," he said. "Plus it's a great school academic-wise." Brown has a degree in history.

Brown, who likely would have started the season no higher than third on Wisconsin's depth chart, said the ability to play right away at Pitt appealed to him. He has one year of eligibility remaining.

Graham was the only scholarship running back on the spring roster, and Brown can provide him with some much-needed breaks. Graham rushed for 922 yards on 148 carries in 2010 while sharing time with Dion Lewis, who was taken by the Philadelphia Eagles in the April NFL draft.

Brown said he talked extensively with Magee about his offensive system, which Brown described as a run-based spread attack.

Magee called Brown a "complete back," saying he was a powerful runner, but also praising his ability in the open field. Brown agreed with his new coach's assessment.

"I like to say I'm a versatile back," he said. "I can take it inside, I can take it outside."

While Brown is listed at 220 pounds, 25 pounds heavier than Graham, Magee said he would not be used exclusively as a short-yardage back.

"We're not limiting his role," Magee said. "He's going to come in and compete."

Adding Brown to the mix also takes pressure off the quartet of incoming freshman running backs. Isaac Bennett, Jeremiah Bryson, Malcolm Crockett and Corey Davis will join the team for fall camp. Magee said the addition of another veteran running back will likely prevent the freshmen from seeing action before they're ready.

Brown is the fifth transfer to move to Pitt this offseason, joining former Michigan safeties Cullen Christian and Ray Vinopal and wide receivers Brandon Felder, from North Carolina, and Josh Brinson, who played at El Camino (Calif.) Community College. Of those four, only Brinson is eligible for the 2011 season, though Felder is petitioning the NCAA for an exemption.

Pitt opens its 2011 season Sept. 3 at home against Buffalo.


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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