Let’s Look Forward with Conner

“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:

Rushing

 Receiving

 Scrimmage

Att Yds Avg TD  Rec Yds Avg TD  Plays Yds Avg TD
387 1791 4.6 12  22 207 9.4 1  409 1998 4.9 13

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.

Pitt rb records

(< 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. conner-receives-cancer-news

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.

Rossi’s podcast:

 

18 thoughts on “Let’s Look Forward with Conner

  1. Well said. The Heisman is generally given to an elite team player and we are not there yet. I just hope fans don’t set expectations too high for someone has been out as long as he has and conquered the obstacles he has faced. Here’s the best to JC.

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  2. There are three issues that keep me guarded about this comeback. First, the chemo. I a not a medical doctor, but I stayed at a holiday inn last night. I always thought that chemo weakened the bones and as such a further injury is out there. Second, I stated during the final days of his chemo, that nobody was focusing on his knee rehab and how that plays into his recovery. How he responds to contact will answer both those. Additionally, will he make a second and third effort to get away from tacklers? That how he got injured and there may be lingering mental issues there. All expected for a player returning from his issues.

    Third,I am guarded because as much of a supporter of Conner as Coach Narduzzi is, he will not put individual accomplishments above team goals. He will give carries to the backs that earn them based on performance. Personally, I am hoping for a healthy and exceptional performance from our field leader.

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  3. One thing us Pitt fans have been conditioned to do over the last few decades of enduring the tribulations of Pitt football is to tone down our expectations.
    Doubters gone doubt, and no doubt, Panther fans have Masters degrees in the sciences of pessimism and guarded expectations.
    The future is always a crap shoot simply because it hasn’t happened yet, Duh?! So based on the past we temper our expectations of what James Conner can accomplish on the football field a couple months from now.
    Bad knee, chemotherapy, weak bones, no contact, etc. all factors that should be considered in a measure of comeback potential. Why express high expectations when such factors are self apparent?

    My spin on the situation could not be more opposite than this expressed above. (Other than the mashed potato guy) Why, because the James Conner that accomplished those football statistics back in 2014 was just a young man chasing a dream not yet realized.
    What you will see this season will be a full grown man who has been confronted with his own mortality, a person who has confronted the inner most demons that most of us avoid at all costs, looking death in the eye and refusing to succumb to the fragility of self doubt.
    James Conner is a winner. He proved it in 2014 on the football field, he proved that on how he rehabbed after his MCL surgery and he proved that in the manner that he attacked his life & death struggle against Cancer.

    His leadership this season will be a major reason for Pitt’s success this year even if he never steps on the field of play. Those who call him a team mate know all to well who this man is and understand the effect that his presence has on this team potential.

    The Conner Factor will be there, irrespective of his personal accomplishments, all season long. My own opinion, Conner has a great year on the field. Why, because he is a winner, and that is what winners do, WIN.

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  4. This is a team that won 8 games without James Conner last year, so they are not without talent.

    The most positive thing that Conner adds is his ability to score touchdowns. There should be no need to go back to being one dimensional as we were under Chryst. Conner can add a whole lot of fire power to the team but he no longer has to carry the whole load.

    The main job is winning football games, and for Conner an audition for the NFL.

    I don’t think there is any need to add the additional stress of a Heisman campaign. They tried that last year and he didn’t make it through the first game.

    Canada needs to move the ball around, and have a lot of guys contribute to a successful offense.

    The goal is to win football games, hopefully Conner will help us win a lot of games,

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  5. First post on my laptop on the POV (have always used my I-phone) First off..Reed – those colors are impeccably PITT..love’em…I have a friend who could turn that into a nice license plate for ya.
    I share Dr. Tom’s sentiments on JC..our JC of course..this young man has seen his own mortality.. he has a dream and goal…nuf said..

    I don’t see him being used as he was in 2014 where he got most of the carries and was fairly spent at the end of the year.. I think he was on a pace to get 2000 yds until the last couple of games in ’14..there are other backs who will tote the pigskin as well and they should get carries..Matt Canada has been given a lot of talent on the offensive side..We will score points-heard that from the horses mouth and JC will contribute by his presence alone..

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  6. A year off from contact should be looked at as a good thing. His body is going to be in top top condition going into the season. If there were any lingering ailments, they’ve had time to heal. He’ll have been eating right, working out, focusing. And his mind will get his body where it needs to be. Reed, maybe we should guard against a letdown-storybook ending, but I say the preseason is the perfect time to believe.

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  7. I think Conner does just fine. Ill even go as far as doesn’t miss a beat…. His stats could very well be down though unless our line performs better than last year. Even a beast needs holes to tear through.

    Ollison was a fine back last year, but any contact below his knees and he tumbled time and again. He runs very top heavy IMO… Conner was the opposite having tremendous balance, especially for his size. That is why his touchdown total was what it was. They werent all long runs but he would regularly absorb and break those tackles on the edge or in the mid level of the defense that Ollison could not always get past. And that balance combined with his size/strength is why he breaks the tackle that Ollison falls on.

    In no way am I disrespecting Ollison’s accomplishments and skill. But unless Conner lost this factor throughout the knee and illness, I think he comes back just fine since to me it is his biggest strength and Ollison gets sat back as the RB2/3 almost immediately.

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  8. Actually I’ve ratcheted up my expectations for Conner this year. I do believe his goal is to go into next years NFL draft with the expectation of at least being a second round pick or better. I expect that goal to be realized by his play at Pitt this season.

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  9. I’m expecting improvement over last year for the Pitt FB team – that means 8 or more wins. I was ecstatic when I heard the news that JC was cancer free. His mindset now is to move on to life’s next battle, which is to get back on the FB field.

    JC has verbally expressed the team goal for this year – win the ACC championship. Along the way, this team will play Clemson in the regular season. That will be the toughest game until the ACC championship – but nothing compared to what JC will face at the next level (NFL). That said, if he is healthy enough to get on the field, he will be mentally prepared to be a “beast” again.

    Setting expectations high in sports, business and life is what winners do. James Earl Conner is a “beast” of a winner.

    And I’m proud to be a fan!

    HTP!

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  10. Erie – I agree that setting expectations high is important. That is what we do personally or in a team situation. Because we ourselves are the doers our expectations, and accompanying goal setting, of our actions and results are what result in ‘wins’. In other words we have direct and complete input into the outcome when we are battling in our own lives.

    Expectations from fans based on informed opinions are another thing all together. We fans don’t really have any direct influence on the nuts and bolts of how a player does or how many games a coaching staff can get their team to win. Like it or not we are the outsiders looking in through the clubhouse window when it comes down to it.

    So, when I say ‘ratchet expectations back a bit” I certainly don’t mean for Conner himself to do it, impossible I’m sure as he’s already stated his lofty goals. Same with Narduzzi, his staff and his players. To not set high expectations and goals in any sort of a competition is a very poor trait to have.

    No, I meant for us fans to take a long and detailed look at individual issues and come out with what they really and truthfully consider the best guess, because that is what it is, for the individual players and team as a whole.

    A good case in point is this year’s schedule. There is a big difference between looking at it over all and thinking “Well, there isn’t any team we can’t win against on here”, as opposed to looking at it a different way and thinking “Hmmm, even though we could win each game I think taking 3 out of 5 against the better teams would be a ‘win’ for us.

    We certainly ‘can’ have a 12-0 regular season but most fans look at that competition we are facing and ratchet it back a bit to predicting a 7 or 8 win season.

    Someone isn’t negative or a bad fans if they look at Conner’s situation and honestly feel he won’t be back to his full 2014 form. That is the fan himself being realistic in his own mind. Now then, what that fan wants to happen is an entirely different thing.

    I think we’d be hard pressed to find any Pitt fan who doesn’t want to see Conner come out of the tunnel in full and healthy ‘beast mode’ and run over Villanova and especially PSU. Will that happen? I have no idea. I do think he’ll be a bit slow in getting back to his previous fighting form but will still have a productive year for us.

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  11. Reed, I agree with the 3 out of 5. Although I do have a contact at Clemson and have them checking on some tickets for me but the hotels in the area are in the profit mode for rooms during any weekend there is a game in town no matter who Clemson plays!

    I agree with BigB. A Pitt Script between the eyes for the back and the Pitt POV on the chest would be a hot selling shirt, could help in funding your site. I would be in for a couple!!!

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  12. The coaching staff has to go slow with Conner. It is a long season.

    I pray to God, for his sake, that he goes on to be more of a inspirational story than he already is.

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