Pitt's top RB taking 'time away from football'

Pitt running back Rushel Shell, who was expected to be the Panthers' starting running back this fall, is taking time away from football, according to a statement released today from coach Paul Chryst.

“Like many college freshmen, Rushel is working through some challenges right now," Chryst said. "As it is for all members of our team, my most important concern is his personal well-being. Rushel and his family have our full support. We are giving him time away from football to work through this situation, but he very much remains a part of our family on a daily basis. We want to be sensitive and respectful of Rushel, and I would ask others to do the same.”

There have been several reports that Shell is considering transferring, but hasn't formally requested the paperwork to do so.

Expectations are high for Shell heading into this season, as Pitt is looking for a replacement for Ray Graham, one of the most productive running backs in school history. Graham finished his four-year career with 3,271 rushing yards, second only to Tony Dorsett.

Shell entered this spring as the leading candidate to step in for Graham, but Chryst has been looking for more consistency from him. Shell was less productive in the final five games of the season than he was through the first seven. As a true freshman, Shell was the team’s second-leading rusher with 641 yards and four touchdowns on 141 carries (4.5 avg.). In a 35-17 upset of No. 13 Virginia Tech, he ran for 157 yards.

His commitment to the team will be critical for Pitt's offensive success this fall, but there are others waiting for their shot.

Junior Isaac Bennett, sophomore Malcolm Crockett and senior Desmond Brown all have some experience, but Bennett has the most career production with 378 yards and five touchdowns on 87 carries (4.3 avg.). Crockett had 50 yards on 12 carries (4.2 avg.) as a redshirt freshman last season, and Brown’s contributions came on special teams.