Pitt's Conner to play as pass rusher on 3rd downs when not at running back
Pitt coach Paul Chryst and his dual-threat sophomore James Conner have a unique relationship.
Conner plays running back and defensive end to the brink of exhaustion, and Chryst tells him when he's tired.
“He sees it in me if I'm slacking,” Conner said. “He says, ‘Don't save nothing.' I'll take care of you.”
Chryst keeps a watchful, wary eye on his star running back, who also may be his best pass rusher. Conner, who spends time every day with running backs coach John Settle and defensive ends coach John Palermo, will play defense only on third downs.
Which raises the question:
“When you look at Conner, and you watch him rush the passer and see him run the ball, what is his natural position?” ESPN college football analyst John Congemi said.
“You just hope he is not spent doing his second job (defense) so he can do the first job really well.”
Congemi, a former Pitt quarterback, remembers when Rick Trocano played safety and quarterback for the Panthers in the late 1970s — just not in the same game such as Conner did last year in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Congemi said playing two positions is probably more difficult today.
“It's never easy to do,” he said, “but if you were going to do it, it might have been easier (in the past), only because the speed of the game and the size of the players weren't what they are today.”
Chryst has said he plans to keep Conner on “a pitch count.”
Conner, 19, is one of the few players on a Power 5 team who will play on both sides of the ball this season.
UCLA's Myles Jack played linebacker and running back last season, earning Pac-12 offensive and defensive freshman of the year honors and the nickname “Runningbacker.”
But he is spending little time this summer on offense, which he calls “his hobby,” USA Today reported.Conner treats his second job a lot differently than Jack does.
He said he spends much of his free time with Palermo and assistant strength coach Kenechi Udeze, who was an All-American defensive end at USC and a first-round draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings.
“I think I'm a better running back, I'll say that,” Conner said. “But working with coach JP and coach KU every day, I get better.
“I'm blessed to have the ability to play both. It will help me get exposure, help Pitt get exposure.”
The reality: Pitt needs Conner at both positions.
He is the best running back at a position with plenty of depth — senior Isaac Bennett, sophomore Rachid Ibrahim and freshmen Chris James and Qadree Ollison. Also, two 2015 running backs verbally committed to Pitt — four-star Darrin Hall of Youngstown, Ohio, and three-star Sekai Lindsay of Melbourne, Fla.
There is much less depth at defensive end, one of the team's thinnest positions.
Chryst is developing options, especially if Hall and Lindsay end up signing Pitt letters of intent next year.
“If Coach were to come to me, ‘James, I want you to play full-time defense,' I'd say, ‘OK, Coach, let's roll with it,' ” Conner said.
“But until that happens, I'll stay at running back.”
Show commenting policy
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.
- Against Wake Forest, Pitt looks to reverse fortunes on road
- At Pitt, a chance to make early impression under Narduzzi
- Improved play against zone keys Pitt’s turnaround
- Role change suiting Pitt’s Jones just fine
- Pitt’s Young leaves impression with inside game
- Pitt’s rise coincides with improvement by sophomore forward Artis
- Pitt basketball notebook: Critical call aids Panthers in win over Syracuse
- Clairton’s Titus Howard dismissed from Pitt football team
- Notre Dame women shoot lights out in victory over Pitt
- Pitt’s weakness ‘pretty obvious’ to all
- Pitt takes care of business in a victory over Boston College