Running back rotation and other week one notes

Written by Sam Werner on .

We're just two days away from Pitt playing a real, live football game against an actual opponent (and the party really gets going tonight with Texas A&M/South Carolina, Ole Miss/Boise State, among other games). In case you missed it, here's a link to my story from today's PG on James Conner looking to become a two-way threat for the Panthers this season. Now, here are a few more notes from head coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph as the Panthers prepare for Delaware...

- One of the things I'm most interested to see Saturday is how the running back snaps and carries are divided. Rudolph said this week that Conner and freshman Chris James will likely get most of the first- and second-down work, with senior Isaac Bennett and sophomore Rachid Ibrahim coming on for third downs and passing situations. Conner will be the first back on the field, but I'm looking forward to seeing how they use James. The most likely scenario is probably giving him a series or two early in the game where he's "the guy" at running back, seeing how he does and adjusting the carry load from there. Bennett is also a guy that's obviously capable of handling a full load, so the coaches will very likely ride whichever guy appears to be the hot hand in the game.
"I think you have a plan going in based on the series and the feel of the game," Rudolph said. "I think some of that comes from the reps they have early in the game. We've gone with kind of the hot hand before. I think it kind of divvies up pretty good. I think they understand their roles and I think certain series we'll designate to certain backs, but beyond that I think the guys understand what situations they're the lead on."
Chryst said there wasn't any specific workload split heading into the game, but noted that he liked the way James has come on in camp to earn the right to be a first- and second-down back on a given series.
"You feel like you can trust him," Chryst said. "I feel like he's a little bit different than James or Isaac, Rachid. I think guys have a chance to kind of have their roles and we were talking about that as a staff."

- Chryst also spoke about another highly-touted freshman, receiver Adonis Jennings. Jennings was on the "wait-and-see" list of freshmen Chryst game Monday, as guys who could possibly play this year, but could also redshirt. Jennings' biggest issue is that a groin injury kept him out of most of training camp, so he just hasn't gotten the reps he needed to be ready to go. Other "wait-and-see" guys like quarterback Adam Bertke and offensive lineman Alex Bookser would need a starter or even multiple players to go down with injuries before they saw the field, whereas Jennings' potential playing time is almost entirely up to him.
"There's nothing that's changed in our viewpoint of how talented he is and we're really excited that he's here, but he just has to play and so I think that is a little bit different," Chryst said. "We'd like to redshirt Adam and only circumstances out of his control would you play him, where Adonis is [in control]. The light will come on and he'll feel comfortable. It just takes guys time and he lost some valuable reps and time in camp, so you just keep progressing."
Now, Chryst did add that it's probably too early to expect to see Jennings on the field this weekend. There also comes a point in the season where, even if he's ready to help the team, it's not worth burning his redshirt to get him on the field.
"There's a point where you say, 'You know what, he's redshirting' and you find a way to get through," Chryst said. "We were going to do that in the bowl game last year, we were one player away from [defensive lineman] Ty Ezell being our next offensive lineman. You're not going to take someone's redshirt year for something like that. If they're ready, and it's only going to help them grow, then they're in the discussion and then it's if they'll get enough snaps that it's worthwhile."

- It sounds like Kevin Weatherspoon has pretty much locked down the third receiver spot. When Pitt does go three wide, it'll be him in the slot with Tyler Boyd and Manasseh Garner on the outside. I do think there will be times when Boyd or Garner flexes in, though, and that'll open up a chance for guys like Chris WuestnerDontez Ford and Zach Challingsworth to get in on the outside. Rudolph classified Wuestner as an 'X' receiver and Challingsworth and Ford as 'Z' receivers. He said that, while there's some overlap between positions, it's also good to keep guys in one spot.
"I think as you come out of camp, especially with young guys, you want to help them kind of find a role and really have ownership of the role," Rudolph said. "If you're the fourth guy and you can play all of them and try and get you going because you are the next best at any given position, I think each of those guys possess skill sets within those roles that can shine. I think it helps them, being young guys, to kind of lock in to one or the other."

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