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Qadree Ollison throws hat in ring of crowded running back rotation

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

My first look at Qadree Ollison came before most people had a chance to see him. I attended a scrimmage last year during training camp and remember seeing him then. In my recap afterwards, I noted that while Chris James was the more heralded of the two recruits that Ollison actually had the better game.

Fast forward to the 2014 season and Ollison went on to a redshirt year while James was an effective backup for starter James Conner. It was starting to look as if he was going to have trouble getting onto the field with Conner, James, and the emergence of Darrin Hall, who had a strong training camp this year. I even began to wonder if Ollison would stick around if he was passed up by Hall. After all, part of the reason Ollison chose Pitt was because he felt the backfield was thin at the time.

To be fair to him, those comments about there being a lot of opportunity, though, came when there were a lot more questions about the running back rotation. Conner had not yet turned into a beast of a running back and Isaac Bennett wasn't a star, either. Chris James also was not yet on board and while top recruit Shai McKenzie was still a consideration for Pitt, he ultimately chose to go to Virginia Tech. Based on all of that, a big opportunity seemed to exist for Ollison at the time.

Ollison's break came the way it does for many others in sports - through an injury. Rather, injuries, as backup Chris James was reportedly a little banged up as well as Conner. The season-ending injury to Rachid Ibrahim was also a big part of Ollison getting on the field. To say that he made the most of it would be an understatement has his 207 yards were the most all-time for any Pitt player in their debut. Ollison did all that on only 16 carries averaging just under 13 yards per attempt.

Some context has to be given here, though. Ollison came in fresh against an undermatched defense that had been playing in very hot conditions. Both teams were probably having some conditioning issues on defense, which is why I think we saw so many big plays. Also, it's not as if Ollison was alone in having success against the Penguins. Conner started off extremely well, racking up 77 yards and two touchdowns in less than two quarters of play. Even James was having a solid day, averaging 4.6 yards per carry before being taken out of the game. All of the running backs played well when in there, with the exception of Hall who had very limited action getting only three carries.

Still, what Ollison did was a tremendous achievement and he had the biggest day of anyone on the field. Some fans probably even think he should catapult over James for the backup role. I'm not in that crowd and I don't think that will happen based on one week. But if nothing else, he will get more opportunities and if he keeps producing at a high rate, you never know where it could lead.

I'd expect to see more of Ollison this weekend against Akron. Conner may be fine as Narduzzi said afterwards, but they are being very careful with him at this point and likely want to ensure he's completely ready to go against some of the team's bigger opponents. While the Akron game is not an automatic win by any stretch of the imagination (I mean, duh), the Panthers should be able to get by with James (assuming he is ready to play) and Ollison. I've got to think Ollison will get plenty of carries on Saturday as the coaches try to determine just how much they can get from him.

The crowded backfield got even more crowded with his big game - and that's a good thing.

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