Fall Camp Preview: Running Backs

This is the second in a series of articles reviewing the Panthers units going into fall camp. This article features the running backs and fullbacks. Offense, defense, and special teams will be covered. Returning players and incoming freshmen will be included.

Although the running backs position lacks the numbers you would ideally like to have, this unit has more experience and talent than Pittsburgh has had for some time. Last year, our running backs struggled until mid-season.

Senior Brandon Miree (6-0/235) didn't play for almost two years after transferring from Alabama, and then suffered a knee injury in fall camp. After shaking off the rust, he was outstanding in several of our biggest games. After out-rushing higher profile running backs in games against Virginia Tech, West Virginia, and Oregon State, Brandon finished the season with 943 yards on 214 carries for a 4.4-yard per carry average. He also rushed for 4 touchdowns. Brandon has an excellent combination of size, speed, and strength, which is tough to stop. After a full season under his belt in the Panthers offense, Brandon should be considered one of the best running backs in the Big East, if not the country, this season.

The battle for the backup running back position this fall will be a fierce battle. The good news is both athletes are more than capable to fill the position. The leading candidates are sophomore Jawan Walker (5-10/190) and junior Raymond Kirkley (5-10/215).

Jawan Walker actually had pulled even with the other running backs for the starting position in fall camp last season before suffering a knee injury. He saw only limited action in three games last year and probably should have been redshirted. Jawan has the size, speed, cutting ability, and vision to be a star player in time.

Raymond Kirkley rushed for 161 yards on 45 carries for a 3.4 yards per carry average last season. He had a very good true freshman season, but struggled last year as a sophomore. Kirkley rush for 645 yards and a 4.2 yards per carry average as a true freshman. He also had 19 receptions for 127 yards in his first year as a Panther. Kirkley hopes to put his sophomore struggles behind him and return to form this season.

Redshirt sophomore Darren McCray (5-9/195) made a successful move from safety back to running back this spring. He had a strong performance in the Blue/Gold game. McCray was a standout running back at Lakewood Senior High School in Florida. He rushed for 2,136 yards and 16 touchdowns over his final two seasons. Darren has very good speed to go with his muscular frame. He is a north and south runner, but he has enough shake and bake to push the other running backs for playing time this season.

Redshirt sophomore Abdur Abdullah (6-0/235) also looks to provide depth.

At fullback, Pitt has returning senior Lousaka Polite (6-0/240), who is widely considered one of the top 10 fullbacks in the country. Polite has been the heart and soul of the Panthers offense the last few seasons and should be NFL-bound after another strong season. He is an outstanding blocker, has very good hands, and is an effective runner. Polite rushed for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns last season and had a 4.1 yards per carry average. Polite also made 9 catches for 76 yards as a junior.

Redshirt sophomore Tim Murphy (5-10/230) looks to backup Polite this season and also see increased playing time. Murphy is a former high school star running back and has shown flashes of his excellent running ability. Murphy had a long run of 52 yards last season and is a threat to break one on any given play. Tim has struggled through shoulder problems his first two seasons and looks to put those problems behind him this season.

Providing depth at fullback are incoming freshmen Mike Hull (5-11/245) and Mark Yezovich (6-1/230). Hull is recovering from a serious automobile accident that nearly cost him his life. He has made a remarkable recovery and he says he will be ready for fall camp. Hull was an All-State performer as a junior and rushed for nearly 1,300 yards. Yezovich is a tough, hard nosed athlete who was a standout two-way performer from a proven Pitt pipeline, Woodland Hills High School.

The Panthers signed only one running back recruit last year and that was (6-1/195) Windell Brown. Brown will first get a shot at running back, but he will most likely end up at wide receiver or cornerback. Brown has excellent speed and dangerous moves in the open field. He rushed for over 2,000 yards as a senior at Duquense High School.

Pitt should have a strong two-deep at running back and fullback this season, and the only concern at this point looks to be whether Tim Murphy can fully recover from his past shoulder injuries.

Brian Gold

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