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Pitt Summer Primer: Taking Inventory of the Running Back Situation



Andre Powell likened college football more so to being a career than a job.

If you don’t put the work in when you clock out, you very likely aren’t ever going to get to where you really want to be.

“If you’re a postal worker, and there’s nothing wrong with being a postal worker, but when you go home at 5 o’clock, you’re done,” Powell said in March. “If you’re a doctor, that’s a career. When a doctor goes home at night, he’s researching, he’s talking to other doctors, so it’s your time outside of mandatory time that’s gonna speed up the process.”

So, it’s been a relief to see that the entire running backs room has been putting in the work on and off the field, in and out of the classroom since the 2022 season ended with a win in the Sun Bowl last December.

Izzy Abanikanda may be a New York Jet now, but there’s a stable of experienced veterans, rising underclassmen and a star in the making left for Powell to mold.

“Right now, I think we’re in a really, really good spot compared to last year,” C’Bo Flemister said in April. “Of course, we’d love to have Izzy here still, but now he’s gone, I don’t think there’s any drop-off. I think as a whole group, I think we took a step this spring and it’s still early.”

And Flemister is very certain that Pitt’s offense as a whole, not just the running backs, will be able to operate in many different ways.

“We can strike from anywhere, or we can get into those heavy packages and we can run that thing, line up mentality, establish the line of scrimmage, I’m talking 14, 15, 16 plays,” Flemister said. “We can do that, or we can, two plays, strike a big run. We got guys who can finish that run.”

Pittsburgh Panthers running back Rodney Hammond Jr. (6) November 19, 2022 David Hague/PSN

Rodney Hammond Jr. — Jr.

There were those who wanted Rodney Hammond Jr. to step in for Israel Abanikanda after the Backyard Brawl last season.

To be fair, Abanikanda acquitted himself quite well following the West Virginia game, and Hammond — who suffered a foot injury in the fourth quarter — missed a few games until he returned against Louisville.

But Hammond certainly flashed an exciting potential — in 2021, too. In three games where Hammond either took a majority of the carries or played without Abanikanda in the lineup last season, he racked up 69 carries for 292 yards (4.2 yards per attempt) and five touchdowns — along with four receptions for 67 yards.

Abanikanda and Hammond had a long talk just before Abanikanda announced he would be forgoing his college eligibility and entering the NFL Draft, and it was all in the pursuit of preparing Hammond to step into his shoes. To prepare him to be this season’s Izzy.

Hammond is a very good promising back, but he isn’t built in the same vein as Abanikanda. Where Abanikanda explodes vertically, Hammond explodes horizontally. His ability to cut vertically is fundamentally different from Abanikanda, and his power in a 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame is impressive.

“Rodney’s DNA is different than Izzy’s DNA,” Powell said. “I mean, Izzy is 217 pounds and ran a 4.3 40, I’m not for sure Rodney is that, but Rodney is a really talented back and he’s gotten a lot better.”

While he’s just entering his third season in the program, Hammond already boasts 211 carries for 965 yards (4.6 yards per) and 10 touchdowns and 14 receptions for 130 yards and two more touchdowns. And there’s a different expectation now that he’s expected to be the guy.

“I got a different mindset this year knowing I gotta lot to take on this year with me coming in being the starter, I got a lot on my back, gotta carry the team,” Hammond said. “I’m more prepared, extra studying time, learning the plays, learning the system even more.”

Powell has praised Hammond’s maturity this offseason, the way he’s approached his knowledge both offensively and defensively and immersing himself in Pitt’s offensive scheme. And he’s approached one area particularly hard.

“It was more on knowing who I got in pass protection, not just out there running but actually knowing who I’ve got,” Hammond said. “I’m trying to be an all-around, all-purpose back so I’m strong in every game right now, run, pass, block, but I know if I wanna play every down, I know I gotta do everything.”

Pittsburgh Panthers running back C’Bo Flemister (24) September 24, 2022 David Hague/PSN

C’Bo Flemister — Sixth

Pat Narduzzi loves C’Bo Flemister. And he’s not alone.

Flemister, a sixth-year senior who has spent four seasons at Notre Dame and one at Pitt, made the wise decision to return to Pitt for his COVID season, and I think he’s in line for some actual production.

Unlike last season when Abanikanda emerged as the lead back, and Hammond (and Vincent Davis, who is now at UNLV) was the clear second option, it’s not so clear this season. And when called upon last season, Flemister performed. He turned 40 carries into 221 yards (5.5 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns.

With Hammond in place as the guy, Flemister and Davis and Carter — and maybe even Harvison and Lloyd — will have their roles to play.

There is a lot of depth,” Flemister said. “I don’t really have control over where the ball goes, it’s up to the play call, whoever they put in, but just know whoever’s out there is gonna perform. Not gonna see much drop off. I’m not even gonna say much, you’re not gonna see any drop off.”

Flemister is a veteran leader in the room, someone who is beloved by the coaching staff and teammates alike, and he has a nice pop to his game.

Derrick Davis Jr. — R-So.

It’s finally time for Derrick Davis Jr. to be a running back. He wasn’t even a full-time running back when he starred at Gateway High.

Davis was a standout running back at Gateway, but he played on both sides of the ball. And when he went to LSU, he spent the first two years on the defensive side of the ball as a defensive back.

Well, almost. Davis took snaps at running back in two games at the end of the season for LSU — including the bowl game against Purdue.

With just 11 carries to his name at the college level, racking up 57 yards (5.2 yards per carry) and a touchdown, he’s not exactly a proven runner. But he is a natural, easy runner in a 6-foot, 210-pound frame. And he’s determined to come in and work.

“Derrick Davis looks good,” Narduzzi said in March. “We’re happy he’s here, I can tell you that. Coach Powell and coach Cignetti are awful excited just by what they’ve seen. We’ll see pass protection here as we go on and how he picks it up, but overall, after six practices, we’re pretty happy with where he is.”

Davis was ultra-productive at Gateway, especially during his junior season as he led the Tigers to a WPIAL Class-5A title. He ran for 1,507 yards, added 547 more yards through the air and racked up 28 touchdowns on the way to Heinz Field.

“In Derrick’s defense, he went to LSU and played defensive back, then went to running back the last three or four games of his sophomore year, so Derrick’s got a ways to go,” Powell said in March. “Is he talented? Yeah, he’s really talented, but he’s gotta learn.

“There’s a lot of moving parts in our offense. … He’s behind but we’re gonna try to get him up to speed.”

Pittsburgh Panthers running back Daniel Carter (4) September 1, 2022 David Hague PSN

Daniel Carter — R-Sr.

Daniel Carter is a very, very smart football player. He’s relied upon as a veteran presence in the running backs room, but he’s going to be a short-yardage back once again.

At 5-foot-10, 230 pounds, Carter is a bruiser who should be called upon when it’s 3rd-and-goal at the half-yard line. He’s an excellent blocker at full back or H-back, and he’s good for 15-20 carries next season and a couple of touchdowns. He’s a valuable guy to have in the room for more than one reason.

“Daniel is like an adjustable wrench,” Powell said in March. “He can do anything in the backfield and some things on the line that the tight ends do. He’s the smartest guy in the room … Daniel may be one of the smartest guys I’ve been around. He can do a lot of things, special teams, offense.”

T.J. Harvison — Fr.

T.J. Harvison arrived in January, and he immediately impressed with his physicality and eagerness to hit the gym, but he’s as a youngster, he’s still processing the mental side of the transition.

The guys on defense are bigger, stronger and faster than when he dominated at Bowdon High last season, so he won’t just be able to run them over, but Harvison is adapting well to the college game. And he’s a health nut, standing at a lean 6-foot-1, 190 pounds.

His first real taste of college football came in Pitt’s spring game, in which he racked up nine carries, and he’s hitting the books to learn how to most effectively play at the next level.

“His style kinda resembles mine, I feel like, he’s coming in raw — reminds me of myself — but he sees the cuts,” Flemister said in March. “He’s physical, he’s not scared of the contact, he’s working on his pad level right now because coming out of high school, you could just run through those guys.”

“But now we’re in college, you gotta get your pads down. So, that’s his one thing. He can see the cuts already, he’s not scared to stick his nose in there, and I’m just really excited for him.”

Montravius Lloyd — Fr.

Montravius Lloyd arrived at Pitt just last month, so I don’t envision a scenario where an inexperienced freshman sees the field in 2023.

But Lloyd does bring an intriguing skillset to Pitt. He was more of a running back as a junior at Lakewood High, and he was more of a wide receiver as a senior. He’s an excellent athlete, capable of dunking at 5-foot-10, with soft hands.

The future is bright for Lloyd.

Walk-ons: Caleb Williams

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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