How hurt is George Aston, Pitt’s starting fullback and resident pancake-block-GIF and 3-yard touchdown run specialist?
No one is saying on the record, but here’s what I can report. Aston hasn’t been at the portion of the practices available to the media and I haven’t seen him at the team’s facility since rumors surfaced on Monday that he had injured his ankle and would be out for the season.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi said on Tuesday during media day that the injury to Aston, as well as cornerback Phillipie Motley, were still being evaluated and that he would provide an update if the injuries were significant. Motley also has not been seen since Monday.
Friday morning, Narduzzi said that he wasn’t going to further discuss injuries per his longstanding policy, but he did clarify that none of the injuries suffered to players in camp this season are considered to be season-ending.
So the team isn’t ruling out a return for Aston, but they’re also taking steps to plan for his replacement, and it doesn’t sound like it’ll be with another playing sliding into the fullback role. The only other fullback on the roster, walk-on senior Colton Lively, also has not been a full participant in practice recently.
Instead, the team appears to be using more one tight end and three wide-receiver sets. Sophomore wide receiver and cornerback Maurice Ffrench has been working with the first team offense as the third wide receiver, bumping Quadree Henderson back to the slot.
Quarterback Max Browne spoke on Friday about the offense becoming more tight-end oriented without Aston in the mix.
“The first impression is probably more tight-end emphasis, which is good,” Browne said. “When we have guys like Dev (Devon Edwards), Matt (Flanagan) and Chris (Clark) to go out there, they can get the job done easily. It’s just a new look. Not every team in the country has a fullback. We were fortunate to have one. Without that, it’ll be a little different, but hopefully, we can get him back at some point in the year and utilize his a little bit.”
Clearly, the team wouldn’t have made serious changes to the offense if Aston was only going to miss a game or two, so it seems that his injury is fairly significant, but not one that’s expected to keep him out for the entire year.
Last season, Elijah Zeise went down with a traumatic ankle injury in the season opener on Sept 3 and returned in time for the Pinstripe Bowl Dec. 26. It could be that a similar return for Aston is on the mind of Narduzzi when declaring that his fullback is not yet done for the season.