Pitt's season depends so much on having Ray Graham ready. When he was injured last season, the thought of him missing time this year was thrown out there, but put on the back burner due to other pressing issues with Todd Graham's poor first season.
But now that 'next year' is officially here with practices kicking off next week, Graham's injury is back again at the forefront. Lots of positive catchphrases are being thrown out there, but as I wrote in the Big East Media Day recap this week, I'm more worried about the injury by the day.
"I’d much rather err on playing him a day later in some drills than a day too soon," he said.
"He has been able to go back-to-back workouts, but I don’t know back-to-back practices. What will that be like compared to the workouts?"
He said he will treat others returning from knee injuries, including guard Chris Jacobson and linebacker Todd Thomas, the same way.
"Let’s also make sure we have them for the long haul," Chryst said.
The bottom line is that Chryst will play him when he's convinced he's healthy - and rightfully so. I expect he may even be a bit more cautious than normal if only because a healthy Graham will mean so much to his offense.
Chryst also outlined a similar scenario while he was at Wisconsin:
"It takes time," Chryst said. "I say that because guys I've been around that have had it, Joe Thomas (at Wisconsin), wasn't until the fourth game where he told me he felt like for the first time he could go out and play. I think it does take time, and it will be interesting how it goes for him."
Well, that's true. But Thomas tore his ACL in a bowl game after the regular season the year before, a bit later than Graham suffered his injury. So it's not exactly the same thing. If anything, you could actually prove that Graham should be ready by the time the season rolls around based on Joe Thomas' timeline.
Personally, I can see a chance that Graham starts the season, but since Joe Schad recently tweeted that he won't see contact until the end of camp, he's got a while to go. The problem is that Pitt's season really gets off to a fast start with a conference game early on. Sure, Chryst could sit him in the opener against Youngstown State as Pitt should win that game, anyway. But it would also be nice to get him some reps in that game as Pitt has a huge contest in their second game against Cincinnati.
Whatever the outcome, the one thing I do expect to see is Chryst taking it easy with Graham. The one thing he can't do is rush him back and have him miss more time. Even if he plays early on, his carries will almost surely be limited.