Rushel Shell is now the featured back for the University of Pittsburgh. There, I said it. This position does not need a lot of analysis.
Shell was a heralded recruit from the region, and all things are pointing to him continuing a strong running back legacy here at Pitt. In a reserve role last season, he showed glimpses of what Panther fans can expect from him the next few seasons. Shell rushed for 641 yards and four touchdowns. His breakout game was against Virginia Tech, in which he ran for 157 yards.
Shell has all the talent in the world, and it looks like he will flourish this season. He will not get overworked in any sort of preseason setting, so that means the race for the backup spot could be very interesting. The backups should get plenty of touches this spring.
As you recall last season, many thought Isaac Bennett would be a factor. He fell victim to Ray Graham and Rushel Shell having excellent seasons, and he lost his touches. Bennett seems like a capable guy, but will be pushed by Malcolm Crockett. Crockett did not play much last season, but got a chance in the bowl game - and he fared well. Both players have some talent, and the number two job is very important.
Gone are the days where one running back can take the full load. This backup spot will be an underrated position battle moving forward. Pitt only recruited one back to the program this season in James Conner, who put up good numbers for Erie McDowell High School. He will not come into the fold until Fall camp, but he figures to be in line for a redhsirt.
The fullback spot should be manned by Adam Lazenga or Mark Giubilato. David Durham transferred in from Ohio State, and he may push for playing time as well. Of all positions out there, I would label this one as a strength. Ray Graham was undoubtedly Pitt's best player last season, and his loss will mean a lot, but Shell seems ready to make that jump into the lead role. Bennett and Crockett have a chance to make an impact, and you have to figure one will rise to the challenge.
Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics.