“Hello, I’m James Conner and you may not know this about me but I’m a teammate also…”
Rob Rossi of Trib-Review Radio did an interesting podcast two days ago (posted below) and starts it off talking about the article he wrote on James Conner last Saturday. I don’t know if I read Rossi much, I probably do although I don’t look at article’s bylines all the time.
Anyway, this is a good interview and he’s stating something that I’ve talked about on here, and previously on The Pitt Blather, many times when discussing our star RB James Conner.
That is that now is the time to roll back on the tunnel vision we fans and the media have had with Conner’s health situation and his winning battle with cancer and start looking at him as a football player who has to go out and play after what is, in essence, a full year away from competition.
Especially if we are discussing him in terms of how he’ll produce in the offensive unit this season. That is where the story is now and where our focus should be.
I’m not minimizing Conner’s travails – I was impressed with him as a young man vice football player way before his diagnosis. But the time has come at one month before fall camp starts to forget about his cancer and concentrate on his running skills, past and present.
We all know what he did in 2014, that’s well documented. On an aside; I just read something I had forgotten; that James Conner being named 1st team All-American in 2014 was the first time that has happened with a Pitt RB since Ironhead Heyward’s 1987 year. Heyward did this that season:
Which is great but Conner bested him with +1.3 yards per carry at 5.9 and + 14 TDs over Ironhead by scoring 26 TDs. It really was special year for the young man. No Curtis Martin, Curvin Richards, LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis or Ray Graham showed up on 1st AA teams and that’s some heady and talented company for Conner to surpass.
Conner, with a production year equal to ’14, could jump to just about the top of the Pitt records book as a rusher. He stands now at 452 carries for 2641 (5.8 ypc) and 36 TDs. Those TDs are second to Dorsett’s 59 but beats McCoy’s 35. Hmmm – another monster year and he could beat that 59 TDs also.
To put those 26 TDs into perspective, and to show just how very productive Conner is with the ball, Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin was the leading rusher and TD scorer in 2014 with 2587 yards and 29 TDs… on 343 carries which is a ton.
Compare that with Conner’s 1765 yards and 26 TDs on only 298 carries. 45 carries less than Gordon and almost as many TDs. Conner scored TDs every 11 times he carried – so 45 carries would give him 30 TDs if that had taken place.
(< These are the records at the end of the 2014 season.)
But what fans don’t realize, and this is a huge RB benchmark IMO, that Conner now holds the record for yards per carry at 5.8 surpassing Dorsett’s 5.6; the next closest is Richard’s 5.5 ypc.
Rossi makes other good points in this interview about Conner’s chances for a Heisman Trophy (slim I believe unless we win nine games); and a separate point about fans and the media forgetting about Conner’s knee surgery that took him out of the 2014 season.
If you remember Conner was working hard to rehab that knee to get into latter season games but it was no given he was going to be able to do that. That said he’s been running around like the Energizer Bunny on Black Beauties every chance he gets so it may not be a continuing concern.
That is something we’ll probably be able to discount or not in the first real practices of contact drills in camp. That raises another issue – he hasn’t had any solid contact, even in practice, since he tore that knee in the first game of last season.
I honestly think everyone involved should ratchet back expectations a bit now that it is July going into August – the most glorious month for a Pitt fan when football is back and dreams aren’t crushed yet.
We all want the storybook ending with Conner and his illness but folks – that was truly written when he got the phone call from Dr. Marks telling him he was cancer-free.
Everything that follows from that moment on is truly gravy. Important gravy for sure but it has to be framed in the context of young men out on a field playing a game.
But that is what we fans care about, isn’t it? The outpouring of love, support, admiration, and I dare say, even envy towards Conner when he was fighting his cancer was beautiful to see. And we want that to continue – we want to see his other beautiful fight to get back in pads, back on the field, get the ball and plow into that line of scrimmage.
Fans want and dream for the perfect ending. We might not see it.
That part of his uncertain future starts on September 3rd… He’ll bust ass in every aspect and do what his teammates need, but don’t hold it against ‘James Conner The Player’ if the results don’t meet your dreams in terms of yards gained , touchdowns scored , games won, or honors awarded.
My dreams for him? They have already come true.