Share This Page

Pitt has no shortage of talented running backs heading into season

| Sunday, Aug. 17, 2014, 9:33 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt running back Rachid Ibrahim runs during practice Tuesday, April 8, 2014, in the South Side.

If he could, Pitt coach Paul Chryst would extend training camp beyond what NCAA rules allow.

Not just because he thinks his team needs the extra work — the young group surely does — but because he is in a comfort zone on the practice field, wearing a pair of shorts, a whistle around his neck, instructing players on the finer points of the game.

But Chryst admits the time is approaching when decisions must be made. And the time to make them is running out. Camp concludes Thursday, classes resume next Monday and the opener is Aug. 30 against Delaware at Heinz Field.

Meanwhile, backups such as offensive tackle Jaryd Jones-Smith and defensive backs Reggie Mitchell and Avonte Maddox are challenging starters for playing time while a definite third wide receiver has yet to emerge.

At running back, a deep stable of as many as five players look like they can help the team this season.

“(This week) we have to narrow it down,” Chryst said.

Sophomore running back Rachid Ibrahim has stepped into the heat of the competition after a freshman season when he totaled 343 all-purpose yards and scored a touchdown. During the first two weeks of camp, he has been the coaches' choice for the third-down back, showing skills in the passing game and — with 10 pounds of added weight — some ability to run inside.

In the scrimmage Saturday, Ibrahim ran for a touchdown in the red zone and took a swing pass from quarterback Chad Voytik and sprinted 60 yards down the sideline. He also admitted that he ran right instead of left on a screen play, missing a blitz pickup.

“We are still learning,” he said.

Ibrahim said he was most proud of his shorter run because it developed through traffic inside the tackles.

“That's what I've been trying to work on, being a complete back,” said Ibrahim, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds. “I've been trying to show the coaches I can go not just on third down, but first and second if they need me.”

Finding enough carries for everyone could prove to be difficult. After starter James Conner, Ibrahim is competing with freshmen Chris James (210 pounds) and Qadree Ollison (230), who are stouter than he but less experienced. All three players appear capable of spelling Conner, who continues to work both sides of the ball.

Then, there is the case of senior Isaac Bennett, who is limited after undergoing shoulder surgery four months ago. If Chryst continues to be cautious with Bennett, it decreases his chance of starting the season on time.

But even without Bennett, that leaves four running backs. Last season, Pitt used only Conner, Bennett and Ibrahim.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.