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James Conner expected to play defense against Virginia Tech

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Some interesting news broke recently as James Conner revealed he will play defense on Thursday night against Virginia Tech. After an offseason of expectations that he would play on both sides of the ball, Conner is yet to play a defensive snap so far this year. But per the Tribune-Review, the Pitt running back says he'll be playing defense on Thursday:

"I'm going to get that thing going this week on the defensive side of the ball," Conner said. "I'll be out there Thursday."

On the surface, the move seems curious since he's near the top of the NCAA's rushing charts this year and hasn't taken a single snap yet through half a season. But, there are some reasons the move makes sense.

First, the team just hasn't gotten enough pressure on defense. That's led to some of the breakdowns in the secondary and giving teams way too much time to throw. If there's a chance to look or options to help out, it's now.

Another reason the timing makes sense is that Pitt is fresh off of a bye week. Conner has not only had time to rest up a little, but the practice time in between the Virginia game and this one afforded Pitt a little more time to get him acclimated to playing on defense.

Lastly, as I wrote earlier, Pitt will be without backup defensive end Luke Maclean who's out due to injury. The unit is shorthanded right now and, frankly, they could use the help.

The interesting thing to watch will be how much he plays on defense. My guess is that they break him in slowly and he doesn't play a ton there on Thursday. But if he comes in and draws a penalty on the offensive line or picks up a sack, there's a chance he gets a few more plays than expected.

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