Share This Page

Pitt football notebook: Freshman getting long look at RB

| Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, 5:03 p.m.

Pitt running back James Conner is a humble, 18-year-old freshman who knows his place in the pecking order of the team.

With those thoughts always at the fore, he'll tell you he received most of the work with the first team Saturday largely due to starter Isaac Bennett's knee injury.

That's true, but coaches kept Conner busy all week — before Bennett got hurt — and have plans to use him this season when it counts.

“Coaches told me, ‘You need to be ready because you are going to be getting the ball this year,' ” he said after practice. When asked if he expects to be redshirted, he said, “No, I don't believe so.”

Conner is a physically imposing running back (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) who played defensive end at a Pitt camp last summer before his senior year at Erie McDowell High School. But after Conner was named all-state at both positions by Pennsylvania Football News (end as a junior, running back as a senior), Pitt coaches decided to use him on offense.

Pitt needed help at running back even before Bennett's injury, with only sophomore Malcolm Crockett (12 career carries), senior and former walk-on Desmond Brown and 185-pound freshman Rachid Ibrahim providing depth.

Conner ran for 1,680 yards and a 10.8-yards-per-carry average in Class AAAA last season, but he knows that carries no weight in college.

“I'm still young,” he said. “I'm trying to get my grown-man strength.”

Coach Paul Chryst will make sure he sees more of Conner in the upcoming weeks.

“He certainly earned the right to get more reps,” Chryst said.

Injury update

On Saturday, the first significant injuries of training camp struck Bennett, safety Jason Hendricks and cornerback K'Waun Williams — all starters.

Bennett suffered what appears to be a right knee injury. Medical personnel strapped an ice bag to Bennett's knee, but he didn't wear it long and watched the rest of practice while standing behind the action.

Hendricks and Williams suited up but did not participate.

“They had a couple things, hopefully nothing serious,” Chryst said. “We knew (Williams) wasn't going to go today. Jason, we kind of wanted to take care of him a little bit. Hopefully we are all right and (will) have good day (Sunday).”

Chryst said Hendricks' injury is not related to the toe problem that kept him out of spring drills.

Twice as nice

Pitt will practice twice Sunday, and both sessions are closed to the media.

“If one's good, two is great,” Chryst said. “We'll have an even better day.”

No show

Linebacker Todd Thomas, who said Wednesday he was quitting the team, did not show up and was absent for the fourth consecutive day. Thomas had expressed interest in rejoining the Panthers, his high school basketball coach said.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.