Bennett not bothered at all as crowd forms in backfield
As the only healthy running back, Isaac Bennett had 121 yards on 23 carries in the Blue-Gold Game in April.
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When Pitt started fall camp last week, Isaac Bennett found the offensive backfield more crowded than he left it in the spring.
The sophomore essentially was Pitt's only healthy running back in spring practice, but now finds a bevy of talented backs competing for playing time, including All-Big East selection Ray Graham.
"It was tiring, I guess," Bennett joked about the spring. "I'm getting enough right now."
Graham missed all spring practices recovering from ACL surgery, and redshirt freshman Malcolm Crockett also was out due to injury. Bennett was coming off a freshman season in which he rushed for 237 yards on 58 carries with three touchdowns.
As the lone ball-carrier, Bennett had four rushes of longer than 50 yards in spring practices and 121 yards on 23 carries in the spring game.
Graham and Crockett have returned and are joined in the backfield by freshman Rushel Shell, who set the Pennsylvania state rushing record over his four-year career at Hopewell.
Still, Bennett said he wasn't turned off by added competition.
"I was just ready to play with them both," he said. "I was ready to see Ray out there again. Watching him last year was a sight to be seen, the human highlight. I heard so much about Rushel, and I was just looking forward to see how he would handle it."
So far, at least, Bennett hasn't missed a beat. Graham wears a red "no-contact" jersey, but is running most drills with the first team while insisting he will be 100 percent by the team's Sept. 1 opener. If he isn't, Bennett appears more than ready to step in.
"Ray was a gentleman who started last year, so, when he came back and got healthy, we put him back in that spot," running backs coach Desmond Robinson said. "But, I will tell you right now, Isaac is guaranteeing himself some playing time."
It's safe to assume that there will be plenty of carries to go around in Paul Chryst's pro-style offense. As Wisconsin's offensive coordinator in 2010, he was just 4 yards away from having three 1,000-yard rushers.
"I'm loving it," Bennett said of the new offense. "I'm loving the power.
"All my coaches say, 'Nothing better than just getting the ball handed to you and running down the field.'
"You put one [back] in, and one gets tired, so you put another one in. The defense gets tired, and they don't know what to do."
Bennett and Graham both said the running backs have a good relationship, in terms of helping one another in practice and watching film.
"I always try to share my knowledge with them because it's not about me, it's about this team and it's about us getting better," Graham said.
"You're never too good to know too much. I try to just teach them what I know and I always tell them, 'If you see something that I'm doing wrong, let me know. Critique me.' "
Chryst said Bennett still needs to improve his pass protection and mental consistency, noting a couple of times in practice when he leaned for what would have caused a 5-yard illegal procedure penalty.
Given the opportunity in the spring and carrying it over into this season, Bennett has shown he deserves to be on the field. No matter who else may be in the backfield.
NOTE -- The Big East named CBS executive vice president Mike Aresco its next commissioner Tuesday. While Pitt will leave the Big East after this season, the conference hopes that the hiring of Aresco will help it to negotiate a lucrative television contract that will stabilize the conference.
Game: Pitt vs. Youngstown State in the 2012 season opener, Heinz Field.
When: 6 p.m. Sept. 1.
First Published August 15, 2012 12:00 am