By all indications, James Conner will be the starter at running back for the Pitt football team in 2016. We all pretty much knew that, but backup Darrin Hall confirmed in at training camp on Thursday:
"Right now I'm fighting to get that number two spot. I'm really focusing on playing as much as I can, so I've just been going into each scrimmage making sure I do the best I can to make plays."
With that said, the other guy who wants that spot is last year's starter in Conner's absence, Qadree Ollison. Pitt coaches tinkered quite a bit with the lineup last year and with injuries, both Ollison and Hall actually got starts in the season. Ollison is ready to go and has slimmed down a bit to help him.
"I've gotten a little leaner and lost some weight—about 16 pounds. I'm faster. I worked on my route running and hands. That's pretty much it. I wanted to get leaner and faster to try to put myself in situations to succeed."
Back to Hall, briefly. Ollison was expected to sit ahead of Hall on the preseason depth chart. It just seemed to make the most sense after a 1,000-yard season, which led to him being named as the ACC's Offensive Rookie of the Year. But alas, it was Hall who was ahead of him, coming in second just behind Conner. Hall talked a little about that, too:
On what he did well in spring practice to move up the depth chart:
"I've just focused on the fundamentals, the little stuff, like staying low and carrying the ball high and tight. I'm trying to do that now because that's what really matters. I used this offseason to make sure my jump cuts are right and that my routes are going smooth. I'm just trying to make plays."
How this turns out is anybody's guess, but it's clear from his standing on the depth chart that the coaches are not incredibly high on Ollison right now despite him being last year's starter.
Looking back at last year, Ollison wasn't lights out. He struggled against Notre Dame (12 carries for 32 yards), Miami (10 for 37 yards), and was also under a 4.0 yard-per-carry average against Georgia Tech, Virginia, and and Akron. But overall, he was solid and Hall also had his problems as well. On the season, Ollison rushed for a full 1.3 yards per carry more than Hall did. In short, seeing him third on the depth chart was mind-boggling.
But I trust that the coaches will play the best guys and, to be honest, carries are going to be sort of limited behind Conner, anyway. Even if Conner doesn't take on the load he did in 2014, assuming he stays healthy, there will be much less opportunity than there was last season without him on the field.
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