Pitt’s stable of running backs gives Narduzzi hope, options
So much has been said, written and projected of Pitt’s loaded stable of running backs that you wonder if Pat Narduzzi ought to just go to the single wing.
That’s a poor attempt at humor, of course, but Pitt’s coach and his staff have shown a remarkable ability to find top high school backs and get them to come to Pitt. Six are expected to crowd into running backs coach Andre Powell’s meeting room this summer. None are seniors and two more — Henry Parrish Jr. of Miami and Israel Abanikanda of Brooklyn, N.Y. — have verbally committed to enroll in 2020.
Does quantity equal quality? Not necessarily, but it does offer alternatives.
One of those this season may be rising sophomore Mychale Salahuddin, a highly touted back from Washington D.C. — that area’s best in 2017 — who was rarely used (four carries, 37 yards) before hurting his leg last season. He was leaning on crutches on the Pitt sideline during the Sun Bowl.
But Salahuddin recently tweeted that he’s healthy now, and he was one of the Pitt players helping out last Saturday at Aaron Donald’s camp at Penn Hills High School.
Pitt running back @DeRealHoudini told me that he’s ready for a big season for both his team and himself. Here he is with one of the young kids at the Aaron Donald Camp. @210ths pic.twitter.com/qcZEGhq5sn
— EdOBrien247 (@EdOBrien247) June 25, 2019
Salahuddin, 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, will compete for carries with junior A.J. Davis and sophomores Todd Sibley and V’Lique Carter.
Back healthy and ready to add a new name to Pitts RBU tradition …
— Mychale Salahuddin🤹🏾♂️ (@DeRealHoudini) June 26, 2019
Freshmen Daniel Carter and Vincent Davis may have to wait their turn, but they didn’t arrive on campus recently thinking that way.
A.J. Davis, 6-foot, 215 pounds, has the most experience of the group in terms of career carries (48 for 174 yards), but Carter, 5-9, 180, totaled 202 yards on 25 attempts (8.1), thanks his astounding 137-yard effort against Duke last season when he suddenly switched from defensive back to offense. In six other games (enough to burn his redshirt), Carter totaled 65 yards.
Sibley, who was once committed to Ohio State, had only one carry last season for a loss of 1 yard at a robust 5-9, 220, but none of what happened among Pitt’s returning backs in the past is an absolute indicator of what can happen now.
Of Pitt’s 571 rushing attempts, 347 were gobbled up by 1,000-yard backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall (now departed). Throw in gadget plays for wide receivers and quarterback scrambles (designed or not) and the fact the team was playing from behind in many games and the opportunities for the backup running backs were severely limited.
That won’t be the case for those guys this season. At least two, perhaps three, of the six will earn significant carries.
“We’ve established that we can throw it (in the spring), but I think the big question everyone wants to know is, ‘Will Pitt be able to run the ball?’ ” Sibley said.
“We’re trying to answer that question. We’ve taken that to heart. Coach (Andre) Powell has taken that to heart, too.”
Perhaps Davis and Sibley will have an early advantage, if only because they’ve been with the team longer (this is their third season) and Salahuddin missed spring ball while recovering from his leg injury.
“A.J. turns a 2-yard run into 12,” Narduzzi said, “and Sibley is a physical dude. They’re both good in pass protection. They both know what they’re doing.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .