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August 26, 2013

Running back questions for Week One

The status of junior running back Isaac Bennett for Pitt's season opener against Florida State next Monday is still uncertain, head coach Paul Chryst said Monday.

Bennett was poised to enter the 2013 season as the Panthers' top running back, but he suffered a knee injury at the end of the first week of training camp and did not participate in any contact drills for the remainder of camp. Chryst said Monday that Bennett has increased his practice workload in recent days.

"He did some stuff [Sunday] in practice," Chryst said at his weekly press conference. "He obviously missed quite a bit of time, so it's still a little too early to tell, but he was able to go through some things yesterday. We'll see how he comes back [Monday] with it. But certainly he was able to do some things, which was good. More than he's done before."

With the offseason departures of Ray Graham and Rushel Shell, Bennett came into training camp as Pitt's most experienced running back, having recorded 378 yards and five touchdowns on 87 carries over the last two seasons.

When Bennett was sidelined with the knee injury, freshman James Conner stepped in as the first-team back and looked like he grew more and more comfortable over the final two weeks of camp. But he suffered a shoulder injury of his own on the final day of training camp, and Chryst said that Conner's status is up in the air as well.

"He did some practice yesterday, so I think we'll just keep seeing," Chryst said Monday. "We're going to practice today and then we're off tomorrow, so we'll see. He did some things yesterday; we'll see how it feels today, and kind of go day-to-day on James as well."

After Bennett and Crockett, Pitt has redshirt sophomore Malcolm Crockett, freshman Rachid Ibrahim and redshirt senior Desmond Brown, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship this past spring.

Of that group, only Crockett has recorded a rushing attempt in a college game. Last season he carried the ball 12 times for 50 yards; seven of those carries came in Pitt's win over Gardner-Webb, and the other five came in the Panthers' loss to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Pitt will need all hands on deck for the season opener when it hosts No. 11 Florida State at Heinz Field on Labor Day night. The Seminoles ranked No. 3 in the nation and led the ACC in rushing defense last year, allowing opponents to gain less than 100 yards per game on the ground.

Conversely, Pitt's rushing attack in 2012 ranked No. 46 in the nation and No. 5 in the Big East, although those numbers for both teams are somewhat moot since the Panthers have a new stable of running backs and the Seminoles return just four starters on defense.

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