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Q&A with Pitt coach Todd Graham, Part II

Here is the second part of my interview with Pittsburgh head coach Todd Graham. You can read Part I here.

How likely are position changes and a lot of depth-chart juggling once you see the guys on the field for the first time?

Todd Graham: We've been seeing guys on film and watching them in a different system. Luckily [former defensive coordinator] Phil Bennett and I are very close friends, so I've been able to visit with him and talk to him about stuff and evaluate on film. Especially at Panther linebacker, outside linebacker, we definitely don't have things in stone at all. We feel we've got a pretty good idea what guys can do out in space. Speed at linebacker is an issue for us, as is not giving up big plays in the back end. We feel really good about [safety] Jason Hendricks. We think he's a young guy who's got a great chance to come in and be really good in this system at our bandit safety position.

What about cornerback, a position that struggled at times last year?

TG: K'Waun Williams has impressed me. As a freshman last year, he had a good bowl game and he is a guy who's extremely fast and extremely quick. The way we play corner, we like to press up and put our hands on guys and stuff like that. Antwuan Reed is recuperating from a concussion, but he started all last year so we feel good there. Buddy Jackson is a senior and a tremendous athlete -- he's just got to buy into our way of doing it.

Then we've got some young guys. Lafayette Pitts is a kid who's coming in, and I think that's where we helped ourselves in recruiting, at the corner spot. Brandon Ifill is another guy we feel really good about at safety or corner.

How much of a concern is depth?

TG: No question, I think depth at safety is an issue. Our linebackers, we've got to get faster there because we want to attack a lot more. That's something we've been focusing on in training, and I think it's something you can develop, and we're also going to recruit it. We'll know a lot more in the spring, but Max Gruder, Tristan Roberts and Shane Gordon are all guys on film I'm impressed with. Kevin Adams is a guy who could be an outside linebacker, away from the Panther.

We've got some guys that are athletic. The main thing at many positions is, depth is a major issue. At defensive back, the tailback position and then the receiver psoition. We want 11 or 12 guys on scholarship [at receiver] and we've got seven. We've got three receivers coming in this fall, so that will give us 10, but we'll still be one or two shy. It's hard to make up the numbers that fast.

And then some of the big changes will be in how we use the fullback/tight end/three-back type position. I've been impressed with Mike Cruz and Hubie Graham, a transfer at that position. All this stuff is based on what I've seen off film. I've naturally done a lot of research, but seeing them in person and seeing how they react to our system is going to be critical. I'm very pleased what I've seen so far and think we can make a smooth transition.

Who's playing center for you?

TG: Brandon Sacco is there. Greg Gaskins is another guy. Both those guys will be getting a look going into spring. We've got Jordan Gibbs and Chris Jacobson and Lucas Nix returning, and those are guys I feel really good about. Those guys are big and physical. They've got some mean, nasty in them, and they're tough. The biggest thing for them is getting them to understand how fast we're going to go and get them in shape to handle it.

Is Gibbs moving to left tackle to take over for Jason Pinkston?

TG: He has played left tackle. It depends on how things work out. But I think he is a very good tackle and we'll start him off at left. He's a big, tough kid.

In your previous experience, how long did it take the players to grasp the system and pace you want to play?

TG: When I took the job at Rice, we had a very young offensive staff. Major Applewhite had been coaching one year, and we put this offense in. They were running a wishbone, so we were going from a wishbone to a spread no-huddle. It was ugly in the spring. The spring game was kind of ugly. But then they caught on. Early in the season we struggled, but we played UCLA, Florida State and Texas back-to-back-to-back. We ended up winning seven football games and going to our first bowl game since [1961]. So they caught on really quickly.

Then going to Tulsa, they ran more of the style of offense that Pitt ran last year. They were a little bit deficient at wide receiver, so we played a lot of young receivers. We had a good tailback, some returning offensive linemen and a fifth-year senior quarterback. And we won 10 football games. And then 11 the next year.

I feel like the transition can be smooth. The key for us is what we focus on every day. I tell them, don't try to go from A to Z. Let's go from A to G, or A to M. Let's adapt what we're doing to the skills and talents of the players we have. At Tulsa, what we looked like offensively in '07 was very different than what we looked like in 2010. Both were very productive, just different. Our personnel last year was pretty darn good. We got faster every year. Once you recruit to the system, it does change.

The key to the system, like any other system, is having a quarterback that can manage the game and disperse that football. It does require above-average speed, and we feel like we have a good group of guys to work with there. We want to be able to run the football and run about 84 snaps on offense, and under 70 snaps defensively. If you start throwing the ball every down in a no-huddle and not making first downs, the clock stops. If you're playing 75-plus plays on defense, then good luck. You're not going to play very good defense.

How anxious are you to get started?

TG: I can't wait. I know coach [Mike] Norvell and coach [Calvin] Magee are so excited to see how the guys respond and how they move. This spring and this summer's training regiment will be very, very critical.