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Pitt loaded with intriguing options at running back

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, April 16, 2017, 5:30 p.m.
Pitt defensive back Ryan Lewis works against Chawntez Moss during the team's spring game Saturday, April 16, 2016, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pitt defensive back Ryan Lewis works against Chawntez Moss during the team's spring game Saturday, April 16, 2016, at Heinz Field.
Pitt's Henry Miller puts a hit on running back Qadree Ollison during the spring game Saturday, April 15, 2017 at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt's Henry Miller puts a hit on running back Qadree Ollison during the spring game Saturday, April 15, 2017 at Heinz Field.

Pitt sophomore Chawntez Moss acted like the question confused him, but he and everyone else knew better.

After he averaged 7.1 yards per carry Saturday in the Blue-Gold game, Moss was asked about the competition at running back and how incoming freshmen A.J. Davis and Todd Sibley will impact it when they arrive this summer.

“What two freshmen?” he said.

Busted, he added, “I know what two freshmen, the running backs.”

Consider Pitt's crowded running back room:

• Moss was the leading rusher Saturday, totaling 59 yards on eight carries, with consecutive runs of 15, 23, 6 and 8 in the second half.

• Ollison, a junior, was the busiest with 18 attempts — more than the opposing team's total — for only 24 yards. Both backs ran behind offensive lines juggled to equalize talent on both sides.

• Darrin Hall, a junior, missed the spring with an injury, but he's been among Pitt's top three backs in each of the past two seasons.

• Mix Davis and Sibley with the rest, and running backs coach Andre Powell will have plenty of evaluating and sorting to do over the next 4½ months.

Moss said he welcomes the competition in what should be the best position battle of the summer.

“They are going to come in. We're going to take them under our wing,” he said. “They are going to learn the playbook. Hopefully, they bought it.

“We're not going to slow down for them. So, they have to come in ready.”

Moss said he has spoken to both players.

“I know they're ready,” he said. “They are both going to come and definitely push to play. (Pitt needs) as many playmakers with their hands on the ball as possible.”

That's true, but through coach Pat Narduzzi's two seasons, Pitt has had one back get significantly more carries than anyone else. Two years ago, it was Ollison, who became the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, with 212 runs for 1,121 yards. Hall and Chris James, who transferred to Wisconsin, totaled 120 and 510.

Last year, James Conner recorded 216 and 1,092 while Moss and Hall totaled 78 and 387.

It's a good possibility someone will step up and assume the prominent role, but perhaps not to Conner's extent.

For now, it's too early for Powell to think about naming a starter.

“If we had a real game today, I would probably lean more towards Ollison,” he said. “They are neck and neck right now, and I would probably tilt more towards experience.

“If one guy got hot, then we would feature that guy.”

He said Ollison and Moss started to exceed expectations last week.

“Prior to that, they were performing at a level that was below expectations,” he said, “and the last few days, they have performed like we need them to perform.

“I think they did some good things that they didn't think they could do. I think they're both quality backs. It will be good to get Hall back and get those freshmen in here.”

Powell said Pitt only showed one-third of its offense Saturday for fear of exposing too much to opponents' prying eyes.

“We have two quality backs,” Powell said, sounding satisfied for now. “We need to have five quality backs that can do everything that our offense asks them to do.”

NOTES: Pitt welcomed more than 100 former players to the spring game, including Tyler Boyd, a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, and defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who joined the Indianapolis Colts this year after winning a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots. Both served as honorary coaches. Boyd said a team's goal in a spring game is to leave it healthy. “Make sure you don't go out there and slaughter each other,” he said. “If a player catches the ball and is close to the end zone, let him score.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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