It’s not exactly concerning that Rodney Hammond Jr. has only received 11 carries through two games as much as it is perplexing.
He’s being out carried by Daniel Carter and C’Bo Flemister at this point in the season, and yeah, Pitt fell behind against Cincinnati, which took away rushing opportunities, but that’s simply not a statistic that bodes well for the offense.
Well, Frank Cignetti Jr. said Wednesday that he “absolutely” wants to get Hammond more involved in the offense.
“I take a critical look at myself in terms of the game plan and play-calling,” Cignetti said after practice. “You know, after the fact, yeah, I’d like to get Rodney more touches. I’d like to get the entire running backs crew more touches.”
It’s not as if Hammond is coming out and mucking up his opportunities either. He dropped a pass against Wofford, sure, but he’s turned 11 carries into 46 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He simply hasn’t gotten enough carries to get into any sort of groove.
And that’s surprising considering Hammond’s workload when Israel Abanikanda missed time last season. In games at Abanikanda didn’t play (including the Backyard Brawl), Hammond racked up 69 carries for 292 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and five touchdowns — adding six receptions for 63 yards.
In two true starts, against Syracuse and UCLA, Hammond showcased an ability to be a bell cow, dominating rush attempts (67% of rush attempts against Syracuse and 69% of rush attempts against UCLA) and serving as the engine of the offense. Both of which were Pitt wins, too.
Hammond’s ability to cut and make defenders miss is hard to replicate. He’s a very different runner from Abanikanda, but he has the potential to make a very similar impact on the football field. Where Abanikanda was vertical, Hammond’s is lateral.
“Rodney has good vision,” Andre Powell said last week. “I think part of that is understanding the line block, and I think a lot of that is eye discipline. When you have eye discipline and know what you’re supposed to be looking at and where the line’s going, it makes it look like your vision is fantastic. Rodney is one of those guys who has all those things.”
— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) September 2, 2023
But when Pat Narduzzi was asked about the potential of getting Hammond more involved in the offense after the loss to Cincinnati over the weekend, he was far more reserved in his response.
“Maybe,” Narduzzi said. “We’ll look at the tape and find out who was being effective back there, but again, it comes down to you get behind and you’re throwing the ball, there’s no guys getting hand-offs, period.”
I know Pitt wants to spread the wealth with the running backs, and Daniel Carter and C’Bo Flemister are certainly serviceable running backs, but Hammond is your best running back. Six touches weren’t enough against Cincinnati. And six touches very likely won’t be enough against West Virginia this weekend.
All three of Pitt’s running backs have value, and with Abanikanda in the picture as that established No. 1 back, it made sense to spread the wealth a bit more. I mean, Abanikanda, Hammond, Flemister, and Carter received touches last season.
Pitt sets its running back rotations before each game, with flexibility in the event of how play on the field unfolds. It’s all planned out to incorporate the three lead running backs in the room. It’s resulted in a relatively even distribution of carries this season, ranging from 11 to 17 between the three, but it’s still been low for Pitt’s standards.
And now it’s time for Hammond to slide more into that feature running back role. Even Phil Jurkovec has more carries than Hammond at this point in the season.