Even though Pitt is going to be without Jon Baldwin, Dion Lewis, Jabaal Sheard, and Greg Romeus in 2011, there are still possibly some candidates for conference Player of the Year.
ESPN.com's Brian Bennett says pegs Brandon Lindsey as the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. Lindsey was one of the league's dominant defenders last year with Jabaal Sheard around, so that could be a good pick. He, of course, will be playing linebacker this year, though, so not sure he'll put up the numbers needed to win the award.
Bennett also has Ray Graham as one of the top offensive players in the league. I wouldn't disagree with that either, but I think Player of the Year may be a bit too much. Graham should get plenty of carries in the offense as one of the few running backs on the team that will get playing time, though. He's the clear number one back and will have a heavy workload:
Graham spoke of his excitement when he said "It's very exciting to go out there and be that No. 1 guy, but I'm trying to stay humble and work hard. I'm getting lots of reps this spring, and the more reps I get, the better I feel out there."
Graham should also be involved in a lot of screen passes and with a new offense, I expect him to be utilized quite a bit as a safety blanket for quarterback Tino Sunseri. Defenses will no doubt be keying on him a bit, but he's fast enough that he should still be able to break plays from time to time. And as scary as the whole shotgun thing is to me (especially with a new center this season), I'm perhaps the most excited about the open space the new offense will give guys like Graham:
"It's a lot of shotgun, a lot of spread, and I'll get to showcase my hands out of the backfield," he said. "There are also a lot of zone reads, and I think I'll get a lot of one-on-ones aganst defenders in open space. Sometimes we go out of the I-formation, too, which gives me some flashbacks to the old ways."
Graham one-on-one in the open field against a linebacker? Yeah, I like those odds.
And going back to Graham (Todd, that is), he says Ray can be as good as any player he's ever had in his system:
Graham says that running back Ray Graham "in our system, can be as good as we've ever had. He's got all the tools -- he's fast, explosive, can take it to the house, is a great inside runner, great outside runner."
Scary, scary, scary.