Pitt Football: Could Depth at Running Back Lead to Redshirt for Rushel Shell?

Jeff Bender@JBonBRContributor IIJuly 6, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 03:  Runningback Rushel Shell #1 of the East Team during the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl against the West Team at Chase Field on January 3, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Pitt football nation is highly anticipating the arrival of Rushel Shell to campus­, but the excitement could be halted if head coach Paul Chryst decides to redshirt this 4-star recruit for the 2012 season.

No one knows for sure how Shell will be treated upon his arrival to Pittsburgh. It would make sense for the running back, who is often compared to Tony Dorsett, to start immediately, but there may not be an available spot for Shell to fill in his first season.

I’ll break down both sides of the redshirt dilemma. 


New offense

Paul Chryst will bring a new offense to Pitt for the 2012 season. 

Chryst, the former offensive coordinator for Wisconsin, loves to run offenses with large running backs and two tight ends. He will rely on play-action passes to throw the ball downfield.

Watch the video to the right to see the Big Ten Network crew break down the Wisconsin offense from a few years ago. The inside zone is the primary weapon for Chryst’s offense. Most of their other plays feed off of defensive reactions to inside runs. 

One of the major questions regarding Shell is if he can fit into the offense. While in high school, Shell’s offense revolved around him. Most of the plays Hopewell High School ran were out of double-tight end formations. They would hand the ball off to Shell and let him shred defenses up the middle before breaking out to the sidelines.

Shell looks like he will fit in nicely to Pitt football’s new offense.

Another factor that may get Shell on the field immediately is that Chryst likes to play three running backs during the course of a game. Last season at Wisconsin, Montee Ball carried the ball 307 times. James White had 141 carries and Jeffrey Lewis had 33 carries. Quarterback Russell Wilson also rushed the ball 79 times. 

Shell may fill the third running back position nicely for Pitt and would gain a wealth of experience from carrying the ball around 90 times in 2012.

Bottom line: If Shell can get a handful of carries next season, it may make sense to play him immediately. He can grow into the featured running back role and seems to fit in to Paul Chryst’s offense.

Redshirt: 0 

Play immediately: 1



Shell is a compact, powerful running back. At 5’11’’ and 215 lbs., Shell is smaller than the typical running backs Paul Chryst had at Wisconsin, and Chryst’s offensive scheme relies on inside zone running plays that wear down on the running backs' physical stamina.

Shell may benefit from a redshirted season where he can focus on getting stronger and more explosive. With a year of training, he could develop into a dream running back for this new Pitt football offense.

With that said, senior Ray Graham will be the featured back in Chryst’s first year as head coach. Graham is a small running back that makes quick cuts to get through holes in the line. Some sort of offensive adjustment will be needed to suit his running style.

Bottom line: With a solid group of running backs in place, the program may benefit in the long run from a stronger Rushel Shell. A year in the weight room and working on foot skills with collegiate trainers could make Shell a nightmare for opponents.

Redshirt: 1

Play immediately: 1


Depth at position

It is hard to find an available roster spot for Shell on a running back-crazed team. 

Senior Ray Graham leads the position and rushed for nearly 130 yards per game last season before injuring his knee. Graham was on pace to shatter numerous rushing records at Pitt before his injury and could be a sleeper Heisman Trophy candidate in 2012.

Although Chryst expects Graham to be ready for fall football camp, will he be at full strength by time the season starts?

With Graham sidelined last year and Pitt’s second-string running back out with a shoulder injury, freshman Isaac Bennett took over the ground attack. Bennett rushed for 228 yards in 56 attempts last season and showed signs of being a great runner.

If Shell is redshirted for the 2012 season, who fills that third spot in case Graham goes down again? 

Senior Desmond Brown has not had a carry in his entire career and neither have a handful of sophomores from last year’s freshman class.

Bottom line: Shell is needed to fill that third running back spot and compete with Bennett for the second position on the depth chart.

Redshirt: 1 

Play immediately: 2


Training camp and maturity

Many of the nation’s top football recruits now decide to graduate high school early and enroll in college in January. Shell will not follow this trend.

Shell will be on campus this summer when “fall” camp begins. Giving a freshman running back only a few months to prepare for games is a difficult task to endeavor. He will have to learn new play names, blocking schemes and pass routes.

Don’t forget about getting used to the speed of the game, fitting in with teammates and dealing with the pressure of being a top recruit. 

Then there is the personal side of life. Shell must be able to keep decent grades, be his best at practice and still find time to share with his recently born twin daughters.

This could be a difficult transition period for Shell.

One thing to consider is the maturity level of Rushel Shell. As one of the most prolific running back to ever play in Western Pennsylvania, Shell has endured more pressure than most high school players.

He has given numerous interviews throughout his high school career and has lived up to the hype of being compared to Tony Dorsett. He even became a Pitt football fan favorite when he chose to stay in Pittsburgh over Alabama and other elite football programs.

When run-and-gun coach Todd Graham left Pitt after one year as head coach, Shell made numerous phone calls to other recruits and influenced many of them to stay at Pitt.

Bottom line: True freshmen can have an amazing impact on teams. They can also struggle to stay afloat in their first year of college life. While Pitt is not desperate for a running back in 2012, Shell could be a great complement to Ray Graham. He already has dealt with pressure, media and that hype that comes with a starter. His aid in keeping the recruiting class together during a difficult time makes me believe that Shell is a true team player.

There is no doubt that Shell should play immediately.

Redshirt: 1 

Play immediately: 3


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