Ray Graham might be on the sideline this spring for Pitt, but the running game has looked outstanding anyway.
Isaac Bennett has taken charge.
Given all the headlines he has made, he has to be a real candidate for spring MVP for the Panthers headed into their spring game Saturday. During practice Thursday, Bennett busted another 70-yard score -- his third this spring that went for 50 or more yards.
Bennett, ever humble, insisted on giving all the credit to his linemen and fullbacks during a phone conversation earlier this spring -- as grateful running backs tend to do.
"My position is just to play the game, do what I can, do what I'm coached to do and go from there," he said. "I just want to show Coach [Paul] Chryst he can trust me."
There is plenty to trust about Bennett, a tough back who rarely goes down on first contact. He got game experience last season after Graham went down with a torn ACL. The initial plan was to redshirt him, but he still traveled with the team.
When the time came to lift his redshirt, at least Bennett had an idea of the routine on the road and what should be expected out of a featured back. He did admirably filling in, with 58 carries for 237 yards and two touchdowns.
"I am glad I got experience that early," Bennett said. "I went from still studying the plays to getting more work during practice so I could get up to speed quickly."
This spring he has seemed like a natural, especially with the scheme change and the way Chryst is emphasizing the run. That did not go unnoticed in the running backs room. Bennett also has noticed a change in the mind-set of his offensive linemen as well.
"I've seen them have a greater passion this year," Bennett said. "I just see the looks in their eyes when they line up for the huddle. Everybody is getting up there properly, they have a new motivation. That is the vibe I'm getting from them."
Though Graham is on the sideline, he has still been able to help Bennett, who is working on his speed, agility and reading defenses this spring.
"I always tell Ray to watch me, to see what I'm doing wrong," Bennett said. "Sometimes he just comes up and tells me you should have read the play a different way, or just to follow my instincts, or make a different cut. He has been a real big help."
Whenever Graham does come back, you can bet the two will be a big help to the Pitt offense.