New faces in Pitt’s backfield present challenges
Nowhere in Pitt’s lineup are the holes left behind by departing seniors larger than at running back.
The Panthers lost two 1,000-yard rushers, Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, who totaled 2,357 yards. Fullback George Aston, who bulldozed hopeful tacklers and scored touchdowns, is gone.
Coach Pat Narduzzi put every NFL team on alert Tuesday when he said of Aston, “I think that guy’s going to get drafted. If he doesn’t, there’s a lot of foolish NFL teams out there.
“That guy’s a football player. He’s a special teams player. He’s tough. The best thing he does is knock people on their tails. You’re not going to find (those players) on trees outside.”
At Pitt, the search is on, anyway, and it continued Tuesday during the sixth day of spring drills.
One of the more dramatic position shifts involved rising sophomore V’Lique Carter, who came to Pitt last year as a defensive back, switched to wide receiver and gained 137 yards and scored two touchdowns on seven carries one Saturday against Duke. After the season, Pitt’s coaches decided Carter needed to learn more than jet sweeps and become a running back.
After six practices, Carter, 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, admits the transition is overwhelming, but he’s eager to master it.
“It’s a big transition,” he said. “You have to learn a lot of stuff. I thought it was just get the ball, get up the field and hit the 3 hole or 2 hole. There’s a lot more to it. You have to read (the defense) way more.”
Running backs coach Andre Powell said the transition isn’t easy, especially with first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple installing a new system.
“What we called apples before we call oranges now,” Powell said.
Plus, Carter has to learn to avoid tackles, rather than focus on making them.
“Going from offense to offense is one thing,” Powell said. “Going from defense to offense is a different deal.
“He’s a little man. He probably won’t win the Heisman this year, but we’ll get a lot of mileage out of him.”
Carter has the type of uncommon, game-changing speed coaches can’t resist.
“You’re always looking for guys who have things you can’t coach,” Powell said.
With junior A.J. Davis and redshirt sophomore Todd Sibley also competing for touches, Carter probably won’t be asked to be the marquee running back. Powell pointed out Pitt hasn’t had one of those since James Conner left.
“All those guys understand their roles,” Powell said. “Even though they’re competing, they’re trying to complete each other. They will all have a role.”
That may include senior fullback Jim Medure.
“George was just naturally a mean dude,” Powell said. “I’m not going to say Jimmy is not naturally mean, but we just have to reach in there and find it and bring it out. He’s not as mean as you’d like to have him, but you don’t get any gold rings for winning the spring game.
“I don’t want to get bent out of whack because we’re losing the guys we lost. That happens. You coach the guys you got and keep rolling.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .