Returning Ground Game a Benefit for Pitt Football in 2014

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

With quarterback Tom Savage, wide receiver Devin Street, and defensive tackle Aaron Donald all headed to the NFL, Pitt is facing some turnover in key areas next season. One such area where the Panthers aren't suffering any losses is running back.

ESPN recently featured the running backs in the ACC and at 76% Pitt easily returns the highest percentage of yardage from 2013. All of their running backs who logged even a single carry return next year. That number is actually 106% if you factor in all of the lost yardage from sacks that the team suffered.

Pitt returns all three of their top rushers from last season - James Conner, Isaac Bennett, and Rachid Ibrahim. All three showed some solid potential in 2013, but all three also struggled at times. There's still reason to be optimistic about the stable, though, despite some down games.

The Panthers likely know what they have in Bennett. After three seasons, I'm just not sure he's going to get any better this year. What he showed last year was that he was capable, but not dominant. It's hard to see much else from him at this stage in his career. The other two guys, Conner and Ibrahim, have plenty of upside, however. As true freshman, both were kind of thrust into the spotlight, playing right away. Each has great potential to get better.

Added to the mix are Qadree Ollison, Chris James, and Dennis Briggs. All three likely won't play barring injuries and who knows where Briggs will end up. But adding them to the mix just is better for business and makes for more competition. One has to think that out of those six backs, Pitt has a good chance at finding a couple of impact players there.

With the offensive line still being built up, I'm not sure 2014 is the year we see a complete running game. But with all of the key players from 2013 back as well as some great incoming talent, it's really one position where depth isn't an issue.

As long as everyone is healthy, that is.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

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