2013 Preview: Running Backs

Pitt is replacing Ray Graham and Rushel Shell who combined for 1,682 of Pitt's 1,730 rushing yards last year.

While much of the running back talk this offseason has been about Rushel leaving, then wanting to come back, then ending up at West Virginia, the reality of the situation is finding a way to replace Ray Graham's 1,042 rushing yards a year ago.

Shell did have a monster game against Virginia Tech, and together, he and Graham rushed for 1,682 of Pitt's 1,730 yards.

With their departures, Pitt is left with Isaac Bennett, Desmond Brown, Malcolm Crockett and true freshman James Conner.

Bennett would appear to be the favorite. Despite handling a significant number of carries in the spring, and in training camp last year, Shell began to take the bulk of the carries behind Graham. He did appear in all 12 regular season games, before being held out of the bowl game due to a shoulder injury.

In the first four games, Bennett carried the ball 23 times. In the last eight, he ran the ball a collective six times.

After Shell left the program during spring drills, Bennett took over the workload. The question for him going in to this camp, is if he takes the majority of the snaps at running back, will that carry over in to the regular season?

And if not, how will the running back position work? Will we see a running back by committee? If there was a returning starter at quarterback, we'd have a better understanding, but that position is also up for grabs.

Desmond Brown, a former walk-on, had a good enough spring to earn himself a scholarship for his final year of eligibility. Sophomore Malcolm Crockett has waited his turn. When Shell left, he was bothered by injuries, which limited the amount of reps he took in the second half of spring. However, he did see his most significant action in the bowl game.

Conner is a nice addition to the position. He rushed for 1,680 yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging 10.8 yards a carry in Quad-A.

The competition is wide open in training camp for anyone to make a move on the depth chart. However, the rotation or set starter might not be determined until the first few games. If we learned anything about the way last year's position was determined, it was about who had the hot hand--often the case for any running back.

Bennett has looked good in the last two offseasons. He carried the ball virtually every time in the spring of 2012, and a significant part of last year's training camp when Graham and Shell were forced to miss time. Crockett also battled minor injuries, here and there. From a practice standpoint, Bennett has practiced the most since Chryst has been here. However, it's only resulted in 29 total carries.

Bennett will be given every chance to be the feature back. However, he'll have to prove it in the first few games. If he does well, the battle will then fall to whoever is going to supplement Bennett, or if there will be multiple backs in those situations.

At fullback, there is more stability. Mark Giubilato has such a lock on the fullback spot, that the staff was comfortable in moving David Durham to the defensive line. Behind him is former walk-on Adam Lazenga, a junior who earned a scholarship after the first three games. Anthony Rippole, another walk-on, redshirted as a freshman last year. Jaymar Parrish is also added to the mix.

One thing we may see out of the fullback position this year, particularly with Giubilato, is having that spot double as an H-back for blocking purposes. Parrish was recruited for the same role.

There is just as big a question mark on who the starting running back will be, just as there is at quarterback. However, there's some game experience with some of the combattents--not much, but some. If it's based on previous experience, Bennett has the edge, but that didn't benefit him too much last year.

If the starting job is based on training camp performance, the job is truly open to anyone. Or, at the very least, training camp may show us how many running backs could be used if it's going to be done by committee.

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