Pitt will be without sophomore outside linebacker Bryan Murphy this season, as Todd Graham announced on Monday that the Don Bosco Prep product is academically ineligible. Murphy will be able to practice with the team but will not be eligible to play in games.
"Bryan Murphy will redshirt because he's academically ineligible," Graham said. "It's very disappointing for him and for our team. But he'll redshirt and go to work and help our team.
"We'd like to have him, but we're moving forward and I feel good about the guys we've got."
Murphy is the second Pitt player from Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey to run into academic problems in the last year. Center Brandon Sacco, who enrolled at Pitt with Murphy, was ineligible after his first semester and did not travel with the team to Birmingham for the BBVA Compass Bowl in January. Sacco has since left the team.
"We have quite a few guys who have to sit out, whether it's for transfers or circumstances that they've had academically or otherwise, and there's no such thing as sitting out," Graham said. "You're either getting better or you're getting worse every single day."
Cullen Christian, Ray Vinopal, Brendon Felder and E.J. Banks all have to sit out 2011 due to NCAA transfer eligibility rules.
Additionally, redshirt freshman Derrick Burns (shoulder) and redshirt sophomore Dan Mason (knee) will not practice in training camp. Freshman Steve Williams (shoulder) will not be medically cleared for the season, and he will take a redshirt.
Redshirt sophomore Kevin Adams has moved from outside linebacker to the three-back position on offense. Todd Graham added that redshirt senior Greg Williams will compete with redshirt freshman Todd Thomas at the Spur linebacker position, and redshirt senior Brandon Lindsey will work at the Panther linebacker.
But those linebacker designations are subject to change, according to Graham, since the coaches will continue to look for matchup advantages.
"We'll move Brandon around to try to get our best guy on their less guy. Our goal is to adapt to what our guys can do, and Brandon's one of those guys that is stronger and faster than he's ever been, so we're excited about what he can do to impact the quarterback.
"What we've tried to do is go back and spend a lot of time and watch the things that they do extremely well and make sure that they're in the right position and adapt what we're doing to their skills. I think that's the key."
Todd Graham is generally a positive person, but on Monday, he spoke quite highly of the state of the Pitt football program.
"I feel really good about our team, I feel good about the commitment that the players have made and I feel great about the incoming freshmen. It's exciting for me: it's the best opportunity that I've had in my life, and the best group of people I've been around.
"Of all the times I've had an opportunity to take on a new challenge, I have more confidence in this group, by far. I really feel good about them buying-in and their character and their work ethic.
"There are a lot of things already in place. The guys have some toughness about them, they understand football, and it's not starting from Point A. We have a lot of things that we've been able to build upon."
Graham said earlier this year that it generally takes three years to get players conditioned the point he and strength coach Shawn Griswold are aiming for. That may still be the target time, but Graham said Monday that things are moving along well.
"In our conditioning, what we were doing in our last year at Tulsa, we were able to do in one year here, which tells you that these guys really made a big commitment," Graham said.
"There isn't one kid in our program who I don't think has gotten better since the spring."
Pitt held split practices on Monday, with the freshmen practicing in the morning and most of the veterans practicing at night. After the morning practice, Graham said he was "very, very impressed with our receivers speed-wise, and they made some acrobatic catches." He also mentioned the running backs and walk-on quarterback Trey Anderson.
On defense, Graham pointed out the linebackers and the defensive backs, specifically identifying Lafayette Pitts and Lloyd Carrington.
Still, that doesn't mean Graham is guaranteeing that a freshman will see the field this season.
"I made a commitment to our seniors that we'll do what we have to do to win football games this year. If a young man can help us win football games, we're going to do what's best for the team first. But you also have to smart and not have a kid burn his redshirt on two plays.
"I feel good about the nucleus of this team. So for a guy to come in and play for this team, he's going to have to be really special."
The running back situation
One player who will play in his first season at Pitt is running back Zach Brown. The redshirt senior transfer from Wisconsin will be eligible to play this season, and Graham is looking forward to some of the things Brown will bring to the team.
"The best thing that Zach brings us is the type of person he is, the leadership and character he brings here," Graham said. "He's a very special guy, and a young man that's got a very strong faith. He's got a lot of leadership abilities."
Graham added that Brown has a few quality on-field abilities as well.
"He is a downhill power back, and we're excited about that. And that's something, in our system, that we want."
Still, the running back situation has some questions. Junior Ray Graham was the only scholarship back on the roster during spring camp, and while he has been joined by Brown and three freshmen, Graham remains the team's best option in the backfield.
But that doesn't mean the head coach plans to take it easy on Pitt's top offensive weapon.
"I'm not one of those people who believe in (lessening a star's workload). We're going to be smart; we're not going to be tackling their legs and all of that stuff. But this is football. If you're running around scared of contact and scared of getting people hurt, you obviously can't be a physical football team and worry about that.
"We'll be smart about what we're doing as we progress forward. But if you're going to be a physical team, you've got to practice physical. So we're going to practice physical and be smart about what we're going to do."
To execute an effective running game, though, Pitt will need its offensive line to be effective as well. Todd Graham said Monday that several positions appear to be in good shape, although questions remain.
"The battle is probably inside. [Left tackle Jordan] Gibbs and [right tackle Lucas] Nix have a chance to be really special on the outside, and [Juantez] Hollins and [Greg] Gaskins and Zenel [Demhasaj] need to push to make those guys better at the tackle positions.
"Inside, I think the deal is the center position. I have a lot of confidence in [Chris] Jacobson to do that. If [Ryan] Turnley comes along, we'll put Jacobson back out to guard. If [Matt] Rotheram comes on at guard, we'll move Jacobson back to center.
"[Cory] King has had a tremendous summer; we have a lot of confidence in him. We basically have to develop more up front. That's going to be key for us."
On Monday night, Turnley spent all of practice with the first-team offensive line at center with Jacobson at left guard. Gaskins was the backup at center.