Isaac Bennett and Malcolm Crockett know they have a golden opportunity.
With Rushel Shell's future with the Pitt football team up in the air, Bennett and Crockett have risen to Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on the Panthers' depth chart at running back.
Shell, who entered spring camp as the Panthers' unquestioned No. 1 running back, is taking some time away from football to contemplate a transfer. In his absence, Bennett and Crockett are focused on seizing the moment.
"It's something I've been preparing for," Crockett said. "I knew my time would come. Now it's here, so every rep, every second, I'm just going to go hard to the fullest and eventually try to start."
Both saw limited action in 2012. Bennett had 29 carries for 141 yards and three touchdowns. When Shell was suspended for the season opener against Youngstown State, Bennett ran for 42 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries backing up Ray Graham.
Crockett gained 50 yards on 12 carries last season and served as Shell's backup in the BBVA Compass Bowl, rushing five times for 18 yards.
Bennett and Crockett described themselves as similar running backs, hard runners with a little bit of speed.
"I'm trying to work on my quickness a little bit, and he's a little quicker right now," Bennett said. "But we're both competitors out there on the field."
Pitt coach Paul Chryst acknowledged the similarities, but appreciated the differences.
"I think each guy's different," he said. "I think the similarities are that they both run hard. I think they like the game.
"I think Malcolm, I think he can continue to learn to tempo his runs a little bit. I think he's sometimes just one speed. They just seem to have a little bit different style. I don't think I've got to figure out exactly what it is, so I don't spend a lot of time trying."
Bennett and Crockett originally were recruited to play in Todd Graham's spread offense, but they have found a comfort level in Chryst's pro-style attack. Crockett noted that his high school team ran both the spread and pro-style systems.
Heading into spring, it would have been easy for Crockett, seemingly third on the depth chart, to wonder if he would get his chance to show his talents.
"The message I give to younger players is even though you might not be in the spot you want, just keep fighting and never [get] your head down," he said. "Keep fighting because, when an opportunity opens, you've got to take advantage of it."
If Shell transfers, it would create a vacancy at No. 1 running back. Earning the starting job would be nice, but right now Bennett tries to focus on the present.
"Every play, you've just got to practice on perfecting that play," Bennett said. "Working on your reads, trusting your blocks and everything."
In Pitt's second scrimmage of the spring Friday, Bennett got 29 carries. Crockett (knee injury) took five. Walk-on Desmond Brown, younger brother of Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, led all backs with 30 carries.
"They did get work. I think guys like that," Chryst said. "They like going, especially when you get in a scrimmage where there's winners and losers. Competitors like that. That part you like seeing."
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published March 30, 2013 4:15 AM