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Pitt’s Qadree Ollison hopes finesse can help hammer down RB job

Jerry DiPaola
gtrpitt01080317
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt running back Qadree Ollison goes through drills during the first day of camp Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
gtrpitt02080317
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt running back Qadree Ollison goes through drills during the first day of camp Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017 at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

You would have a difficult time finding a Pitt football player with a warmer smile or a more cheery demeanor than junior running back Qadree Ollison.

What a teammate, too. He spent part of the weekend reveling in the success of former Pitt players in the NFL — Dontez Ford scored a touchdown for the Detroit Lions — and he even offered some advice to Buffalo Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman.

“Get a winter jacket,” said Ollison, a Niagara Falls, N.Y., native, who added this in the event Peterman, a Floridian, is looking for the best wings in Buffalo: “I guess the President has been to the Anchor Bar, but I’m a personal fan of Duff’s.”

That’s one side of Ollison. The other — a 230-pound tailback who rushed for 1,123 yards two years ago — is locked in a position battle with four other running backs that probably won’t be resolved anytime soon.

He already has told running backs coach Andre Powell to give him his best shot.

“You want a coach to be hard on you,” Ollison said. “I don’t want a coach who’s going to baby me. I told Coach Powell to tell me when I’m wrong. Don’t let me slide because that’s what’s going to make me the best player I can possibly be. He has high expectations, not just for me, but for all of us.”

Powell, a coach who sweats the details, is happy to oblige. A year ago, Powell said Ollison had a “lousy” spring. This year, he placed Ollison atop the depth chart, but he wants him to justify that standing

“Ollison is a big guy with skill,” Powell said, “and he has to get into his mind that, ‘I cannot run over every safety in the ACC.’ That does not happen.”

Powell’s point is that sledge hammers can be effective, but there’s more than one way to pound a nail (or a safety).

“There are some times when you catch a guy off-balance or catch a guy out of position, then yeah, you can do that,” Powell said. “But when you get to that safety, that’s going to be the guy that’s going to be unblocked. That’s when you have to put a little finesse in your game, and we’ve really been working on that.”

True to his nature, Ollison accepts Powell’s criticism and shoulders the expectations. He said he refuses to merely try to match what he did in 2015 when he was chosen ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year by league coaches and media.

“If I match that, that’s kind of a down year,” he said. “I set really, really high goals for myself.”

Toward that end, Ollison proudly recounted a period in practice Tuesday when the offense ran 10 consecutive plays, with no substitutions.

“Tired, to say the least,” Ollison said, describing how he felt at the end. “It’s OK to be tired, but we recover really fast. Nobody was tapping out.

“If you play football, you know 10 straight plays is lot of plays. We have a lot of guys with high motors.”

The running back competition will continue Wednesday with the 14th practice of the summer, and it probably won’t conclude before the end of the season. With five capable running backs — Ollison, Chawntez Moss, Darrin Hall and freshmen Todd Sibley and A.J. Davis — Powell could change his mind several times during the season on a starter.

“It all comes down to when we get to the guy that we didn’t block or couldn’t block. What do we do?” Powell said. “So, we try to track post-contact yards, and if you make a guy miss, we count that as a post-contact yard.”

The mental part of the game is important, too, and Powell said that’s where Moss excels.

“Now, Moss has really good football intelligence, and that’s critical in a guy that can do a lot of things,” he said. “For example, getting the information from the defense before the snap, knowing what they are going to do based on how they are lined up and collecting the tips. He’s really good at that.

“I’m trying to get the younger guys up to speed on that, and they are getting better.

“But Moss, he’s a talented guy and I like Moss, so he’ll get plenty of work this year.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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