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Pitt running back James Conner to play defense only on third downs, per Trib-Review

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The status of Pitt running back James Conner has been up in the air for some time now. We know that Conner will start in the backfield with Isaac Bennett playing more of a third-down role. What wasn't known, however, is how much the two-way player would be used on defense.

The Trib has the answer to that, and it looks like Conner will be used solely on third downs at defensive end:

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.

In addition, Conner will appear to have a limit (or as Chryst calls it in the article, a 'pitch count') to what he'll do on that side of the ball.

It should probably also be noted that that's the plan for now. If Conner proves to be too unblockable, I'd find it hard to believe that Pitt wouldn't use him on a big fourth down play when they need to create pressure on an opposing quarterback.

That's good news as it doesn't seem like his workload will be too great. Even if Pitt's defense faces a lot of third down situations, the limit to the number of his plays at defensive end should mean he's not taxed too hard.

It's going to be interesting to see how this plays out beyond this year, however. As I mentioned recently, the running back stable gets pretty crowded in 2015 and 2016. There isn't only quantity there, but also quality with guys like four-star rushers Chris James and 2015 commit Darrin Hall.

More specifically, will Pitt eventually move Conner to defense on full-time? That question could be answered based on his effectiveness at the position this year in limited snaps. If Conner doesn't make much of an impact, it's difficult to see Chryst and his staff willing to move him out of the backfield on a permanent basis.

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