The Pitt Panthers already faced questions in their running game next season as they looked to replace outgoing running back Ray Graham, who was one of the most productive backs in school history. Following the news that Rushel Shell, the leading candidate to replace Graham in 2013, will transfer, those questions have become full-blown concern. So, without their top two rushers from 2012 on the roster, where will Paul Chryst find production in the running game?
It may take a group effort to get it done next fall. The leading candidates to get touches next season will be junior Isaac Bennett, sophomore Malcolm Crockett and senior Desmond Brown. Combined, they have fewer than 500 career rushing yards and less than 100 career carries, so inexperience will be a major factor especially for Brown who has contributed exclusively on special teams. As a true freshman last season, Shell rushed for 641 yards on 141 carries for contrast.
Bennett has had the most productive career with Pitt of the three, rushing for 378 yards and five touchdowns on 87 carries during his career, averaging a nice 4.3 yards per rush average. Last season, he carried the ball just 29 times for 141 yards and scored three touchdowns. He’s never been able to differentiate himself and move up past No. 3 in the running back depth chart and got passed by Shell last season, but could see an expanded role next fall by default.
Crockett has very little experience, carrying the ball just 12 times for 50 yards during his redshirt freshman season last year, but is relishing the opportunity to step and fill a major void in 2013. He told reporters that this is something he has mentally prepared himself for since coming to Pitt and will be hitting every rep at practice with the intent on earning the starting job.
Chryst seems likely to go with some combination of the two backs, as neither has shown themselves to be a complete running back that can handle being the featured runner just yet. Both are strong in many areas, however, and are strong runners, so the coaching staff will work to play to the runner’s strengths in their substitution and play-calling strategy next season.
Will the combination of Bennett and Crockett be able to get the Pitt running game off the ground in 2013 or will the loss of Graham and Shell be too much lost talent to offset next season? Time will tell, but you can bet that Paul Chryst will be worrying about it all summer long.