Lewis, who graduated from high school only 3 1/2 months ago, may be pulling away in the race to succeed LeSean McCoy as the starting running back in Pitt's offense. McCoy surpassed many of Tony Dorsett's freshman and sophomore statistics at Pitt, but left school after two seasons to enter the NFL draft.
Coach Dave Wannstedt's biggest challenge this spring was sorting out how to replace all those yards McCoy produced - 1,488 yards rushing last season alone (he had 1,328 yards as a freshman). Nobody at Pitt is yet comparing Lewis to McCoy, but first impressions are favorable.
p the middle for 19 yards on a touchdown run during a scrimmage last week, when Lewis simply outran the defenders on a second-and-9. He also had an impressive 10-yard run to the 1 that led to a touchdown.
Those were the kind of plays McCoy made frequently as Pitt went 9-4 last season, and seeing similar flashes from Lewis so early in his career is encouraging to Wannstedt.
``Dion Lewis is in the mix for 30 carries (a game during the season), in my mind,'' Wannstedt said. ``Dion, he's come in here and probably had as good a grasp of what we're doing as any of the backs. And he's done it in a short period of time.''
Short isn't exactly Lewis' favorite word - at 5-foot-7 1/2, he usually is the smallest player on the field. He makes up for his lack of height with excellent acceleration, the kind that enabled him to average 14.1 yards per carry during his final season at Blair Academy in New Jersey last fall.
Lewis finished with 1,243 yards on only 88 carries and had four games of 250 yards or more in 2008, following a junior season in which he split time at the position yet averaged 12.4 yards per carry and gained 979 yards.
me Saturday at Heinz Field.
Redshirt freshman Chris Burns, a former western Pennsylvania high school star who was impressive during summer camp last year, and redshirt sophomore Shariff Harris are Lewis' primary competitors at running back. Harris also is getting some carries at fullback.
Right now, their biggest challenge might be preventing the 190-pound Lewis from running away from the competition.
While Lewis had 14 carries for 56 yards during last week's scrimmage, Burns had 14 yards on 18 carries and Harris had 8 yards on six carries.
New offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti also is impressed by Lewis' speed and ability to find the open field, saying such assets force a coach to find enough carries for him.
``He's made plays every day,'' Wannstedt said. ``It's very promising, and it tells you that he's much more mature than the average freshman. To come in here early and be able to handle the academics, as well as come out there and compete on the football field ... he has responded extremely well.''
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