We continue on with our positional breakdowns here at Cardiac Hill. This time I will be discussing the running back position. Like with the quarterback article, I took some time to join Mark Rogers TV to discuss the position in detail. As always, give Mark a follow on Youtube and Twitter, he does a great job putting out year round college football videos and content. I join him frequently to talk all things Pitt, so be on the lookout for that.
Pitt may very well be Pitt's most stable and deepest position. They have the 2014 ACC Player of the Year and the 2015 ACC Rookie of the Year on the depth chart, along with some other talented and capable ball carriers. The way Pat Narduzzi, Matt Canada, and Andrew Powell splits the reps here will be one thing to monitor throughout Fall camp and the season for that matter.
Projected Starter - James Conner 6'2" 240 Junior
2014 Stats* (Injured in 2015) - 1,765 rushing yards, 26 rushing touchdowns
If 100% healthy, there is no doubt that James Conner is the best running back on the roster. Even if he is close to full health, that may be enough to be the best man for the starting job. Conner is a bruising runner that earned the 2014 ACC Player of the Year award for his sensational sophomore performance. Now we all know his backstory, and know there are some concerns heading into this season.
First of all, Conner had to beat cancer this offseason and while all are reporting he is fine, you just have to carry that in the back of your mind. It's been a remarkable ride, and I know we are all thrilled Conner has seemingly put that behind him. Secondly, he did tear his MCL and that got overshadowed a bit, rightfully so might I add. From a pure football mentality, that's an injury that can really linger. Conner is a hard worker and a very passionate person, we have every reason to believe he will be fine come September 3. Still, there are some questions.
If Pitt gets 2014 James Conner behind this offensive line? Watch out. Pitt will ultimately look to operate a run heavy, ball control offense and they would have the personnel to do it. While Pitt's reserve backs did an admirable job last season, Conner is a game breaking elite back. He showed that in 2015, and he can take the little runs and turn them into touchdowns. He is a power back by nature, but has a deceptive burst of speed as well.
Top Reserve - Qadree Ollison 6'2" 230 Sophomore
2015 Stats - 1,121 Rushing Yards, 11 Rushing Touchdowns, 14 Catches, 77 Receiving Yards, 1 Touchdown
OK, raise your hand if you had Qadree Ollison being the ACC offensive rookie of the year last season. OK, nobody - that's what I figured. Ollison came out of nowhere and emerged as the team's featured back when James Conner went down with his injury. Many of us figured Chris James would be the top man for this role, heck even some of us figured Darrin Hall might be next in line as they declared he would not redshirt. In the end it was Ollison who took the league by storm and earned the top honor for an offensive freshman in the conference.
Ollison did a fine job last season, but there were games where he was neutralized. There were also instances in the games where he failed to make a big play. He's a straight ahead runner, and not a speed demon. There is no fault in that, but sometimes you could feel Pitt lacking a James Conner type run that would extend a series or a drive in general. I think another year in the program should help Ollison get to that point. With Conner back, his role definitely shifts a bit, but he's still going to be a big part of this team.
The Rest - Rachid Ibrahim 6'1" 195 Junior // Darrin Hall 5'11" 215 Sophomore // Chawntez Moss 5'11" 210 Freshman
Running Back is arguably the deepest and most talented spot on the team. While Conner and Ollison are proven commodities with 1,000-yard seasons under their belts, there is still other options behind the two power backs, and each guy brings a little different element to the team. Rachid Ibrahim returns after missing last season with an injury. He is a change of pace back that should be able to contribute on third and long type situations with his pass catching ability.
Darrin Hall entered the program as a four-star recruit. It became clear rather quickly that the staff liked his ability, and decided he would not take a redshirt almost immediately after coming on campus. Hall had a big role early on in the 2015 campaign, but his usage changed throughout the year. He did have a breakout 100-yard game against Miami and scored a touchdown against the Hurricanes, in instances like that you can see the talent he possesses. He is listed as a co-backup with Ollison right now, and could pass up the reigning rookie of the year with a strong camp.
Finally Pitt has true freshman Chawntez Moss that the coaches seem pretty high on already. He made some noise by being the first back taken in the Spring football team draft and actually sat above Ibrahim on the preseason depth chart. Not that it means much, but it's notable his teammates thought highly enough of him to take him first. Moss is buried at the moment, but as we saw with Ollison last year - things happen. He may need to be used sooner rather than later.
1. George Aston 6'0" 245 Sophomore
2. Colton Lively 6'0" 240 Junior
George Aston returns as a starter at fullback. He did a fine job as a lead blocker in 2015. Aston also showed some pass catching ability ability out of the backfield with a pair of touchdowns in the Louisville game. His role won't change much this season, but he at least Pitt has the security valve if needed.