Something strange happened at Pitt football practice Thursday: No one asked coach Paul Chryst about Ray Graham.
Oh, there were plenty of questions about other injured guys — I guess, because there are plenty of injured guys — but Chryst got away without having to explain why Graham missed practice.
I’m sure Chryst didn’t mind. The answer was obvious, anyway: Graham doesn’t need to put undue stress on his surgically repaired right knee.
Actually, Chryst can end all the questions about Graham by shutting him down, not only for the rest of preseason camp, which ends next Thursday, but also for the first few games of the season.
I can’t imagine a good reason to allow Graham, who still walks with a slight limp, to play Sept. 1 against Youngstown State or five days later at Cincinnati — not with sophomore Isaac Bennett running with a purpose. Malcolm Crockett also looks good, and he drew praise from coaches Thursday with a good blitz pickup of linebacker Nicholas Grigsby.
With that kind of depth at running back, why play Graham before he’s ready?
If he’s ready, by all means, give him the ball 25 times, because when he’s healthy, he may be the best running back in the nation. But Pitt has a chance to have the deepest running back stable in the Big East. Why risk having Graham suffer a setback early in the season when there are able replacements?
Graham hasn’t practiced much this week, and I’m sure that’s by design to give his knee time to heal. He proved last season he knows how to play the position; he need practice, obviously, but not at the expense of his knee.
– Freshman running back Rushel Shell has a slight back problem, and he also missed practice Thursday. Shell is having trouble adjusting to the speed of the college game, but he’ll adjust, believe me.
He has a thick upper body, a big lower body that should give him power to plow into the line and speed to run away from defenders when he finds a hole.
I wonder if it might be in Pitt’s and Shell’s best interest to give him a redshirt. Again, Pitt has depth at the position, and Chryst has a lot of options.
– Wednesday and Thursday were busy days for senior safety Andrew Taglianetti. He intercepted two passes, batted away throws intended for tight ends J.P. Holtz and Drew Carswell and picked up a fumble and returned it a long way down the sideline.
He seems to be a lock to secure one of the starting spots being contested by three safeties, including Ray Vinopal and Jarred Holley. Jason Hendricks was in the middle of the competition, too, before missing the past several days with an injury.
But Taglianetti should be on the field all the time. He and nose tackle Aaron Donald are the most reliable big-play defenders on the team
– Redshirt junior Jack Lippert, who replaced K.K. Mosley-Smith at defensive tackle, remains high on the depth chart — even after Mosley-Smith’s return.
Chryst likes what he has seen of Lippert, who came to Pitt as a four-star recruit from Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg in 2009.
“He came to camp in great shape, with a little bit of an edge, in a good way,” Chryst said.
– Speaking of the line, the return of Mosley-Smith puts Tyrone Ezell, 6-4, 300, back at end. Pair Ezell with end T.J. Clemmings, 6-6, 290, on the other side and opposing quarterbacks will feel like they are in a forest of tall trees.
– Wide receiver Salath Williams, who left the team last week, has enrolled at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and is practicing with the football team.