When Rushel Shell picked up a few more carries over backup Isaac Bennett against Cincinnati a few weeks ago, it wasn't seen as a big deal. But Paul Chryst made it pretty clear with Shell's monster game against Virginia Tech on Saturday -- Shell is the backup to Ray Graham.
Bennett registered just two carries in that game against the Hokies. Shell, meanwhile, rumbled for 157 yards on 23 attempts, racking up nearly seven yards per carry. With Ray Graham picking up 24 carries in that contest, there simply wasn't much left for Bennett.
Bennett, of course, was the big star in Pitt's spring practices. The thought was that he could conceivably have a bigger year than Graham if he wasn't healthy enough to handle the load. And after a strong fall training camp, there was little reason to think that would change. But Shell has now apparently surpassed him on the depth chart faster than he shed opposing would-be Virginia Tech tacklers this weekend.
So with Shell pretty entrenched as the backup to Graham, where does that leave Bennett? Well, his Pitt career is far from over.
Bennett is only a true sophomore and even if he doesn't contribute much this season, he should enter next year in a bit of competition with Shell. If Shell continues to gain steam and plow over defenders the way he did on Saturday, it will be nearly impossible to surpass him. But Graham is a senior this year and won't be around in 2013 barring some kind of freak injury that gives him another year of eligibility. And that means Bennett could still get a good deal of carries as the backup.
The other thing to keep in mind is that Bennett could be needed at a moment's notice this year. Suspensions happen with great regularity in college football, as Shell found out for Pitt's opener against Youngstown State. And as Pitt fans well know from last year, even more likely are injuries. If either Graham or Shell goes down, Bennett will need to be available.
Further, if either player struggles, Chryst will surely go to his third back for a spark. Graham has a pretty strong track record, but there's no guarantee that Shell will be as dominant as he was this past weekend. And if that's the case, Bennett will get his shot.
He hasn't played very much this year so far, but don't write Bennett off just yet.
For more on Pitt football, check out Cardiac Hill.