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James Conner ... the receiver

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Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

There's been some buzz this week surrounding Pitt running back James Conner and his ability not only be a star running back, but also potentially lining up as a receiver.

ESPN has the scoop:

"We have sets with three running backs on the field," Narduzzi said. "We may line James up wide."

...

"How'd you like to tackle James on a bubble?" Narduzzi said. "Throw him out there and let those corners try to tackle a big guy. And he can catch. He's not a guy who can't catch the football."

Part of this is that Pitt has a great deal of flexibility here with their current roster. They are able to do some things like this with no fewer than five healthy running backs that could factor into the mix. With Conner, last year's ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Qadree Ollison, Darrin Hall, and Rachid Ibrahim, the Panthers have four guys returning that have played significant roles at running back. There's also true freshman Chawntez Moss, who was listed on the preseason depth chart recently released. Moss has also reportedly said that the coaches have told him he will not be redshirting this season. Make no mistake, there are five guys that could see carries this season.

Now, the talk about Conner catching more passes isn't exactly a new concept. You might remember that last year, he talked of doing exactly that. Unfortunately, his season got off track in a hurry with the MCL injury sustained in the opener and that never materialized. But the vision for Conner to catch more passes has been there dating back to last year.

The difference here is that there's talk of lining him up as a receiver and not merely a running back catching passes out of the backfield. How much Pitt does that is anyone's guess at this point and he's obviously not a traditional receiver in the sense that he's a somewhat bulky 235 pounds. But Narduzzi's point about seeing what he can do on a bubble screen in open space is spot on. As I said last year when talking about Conner catching screen passes (in that link above), he could be difficult to take down.

And by the way, catching a few more passes would be a good thing for Conner's resume, too. He has only nine career receptions and if he leaves for the NFL Draft after this year, something like a 20-catch season would show him as a more versatile player and probably improve his stock a little bit.

Conner is good enough that he can line up as a running back and still be successful even when opposing defenses know he's getting the ball. But having him catch a few more passes this year could turn out to be a good idea.

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