Pittsburgh Panthers fans have been holding out what little bit of hope that they could this past week that the rumors of their starting running back Rushel Shell leaving the program would be proven untrue. Unfortunately, those hopes were crushed today when head coach Paul Chryst indeed confirmed that the sophomore running back would be taking his talents elsewhere.
Chryst alerted the Pitt faithful that he had met with Shell early Tuesday morning and was notified that the Pittsburgh-area native would be leaving.
Speculation as to where the back will end up will certainly be running rampant in the next few weeks. Since the rumors first started floating around last week, conspiracy theorists immediately pointed to the possibility of Shell becoming an Arizona State Sun Devil. Should that wind up being the case, he would be joining his former head coach, and the man that recruited him to Pittsburgh, Todd Graham.
Wherever the talented tailback ends up, that’s ultimately up to him. But, one thing is for certain, and that is that this is a major blow to the development of a transitioning Pitt offense.
Although only a sophomore, Shell saw more than enough time behind senior Ray Graham last season to make him a leader on offense in 2013. Having to break in a new quarterback this season, the offense would more than likely have relied on Shell to carry a heavy load while the unit gelled. Well, that luxury is now gone and the Panthers have to figure out where they go from here in the backfield.
Pitt essentially has three options to replace the void that’s left. Junior Isaac Bennett, sophomore Malcolm Crockett, and senior Desmond Brown will probably all see time carrying the pigskin. Bennett has been the most productive out of the three, rushing for 378 career yards and five touchdowns. Crockett has just 50 yards and Brown has merely been a special teams contributor throughout his Pitt career.
While all three are more than capable running backs, the fact remains that their impact probably will not come close to matching what Shell’s would have. With the opening game for the Panthers exactly five months away, a good amount of that time will now be used to figure out which one gives them the best chance for offensive fluidity.
As unfortunate as this situation is for a Pitt program that has been dealt its share of blows the last few seasons, this is also a natural part of the game. Be it injury or transfer, when one man goes down, it’s another man’s responsibility to rise up.