Pitt notebook: RB Conner shaken up at practice
• The Pitt running back situation appeared to take a turn from bad to worse Thursday when freshman James Conner landed awkwardly on his left shoulder after chasing down safety Jason Hendricks, who had intercepted a pass. Conner yelled in pain and trainer Rob Blanc immediately tended to him, strapping an ice pack to the shoulder. He did not practice for the rest of the day. There was no update from coach Paul Chryst, but Conner tweeted shortly after practice, “Shoulder is good!” Conner had been the first running back on the field since starter Isaac Bennett injured his right knee Aug. 10. Bennett worked without a leg brace for the second consecutive day, but he did not participate in the scrimmage portion of practice.
• Outside linebacker Todd Thomas, who plays on the weak side, continues to make plays in practice, but he remains the backup to starter Anthony Gonzalez. Unhappy over his demotion, Thomas left the team Aug. 7 and missed most of the first week of practice. He remained a backup when he returned last week, but he has caught Chryst's attention. “He has been tremendous, his approach,” the coach said. “He's good, he's working, he's competing.” Thomas tipped away a pass near the goal line during the scrimmage and also was a force in the run defense. To move to the first team, Thomas needs to unseat Gonzalez or strong-side linebacker Bam Bradley. If coaches decide to start Thomas, Gonzalez could move to the strong side.
• Chryst gave defensive tackle Aaron Donald most of the day off, a common practice this summer to help keep Pitt's top players fresh. Wide receiver Ed Tinker and kicker Chris Blewitt were wearing boots during practice.
• Pitt will hold its annual Fan Fest from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field, where people can meet and get autographs from players and coaches.
— Jerry DiPaola
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