Life for the Pittsburgh Panthers…without James Conner

Going into this season, I was really looking forward to watch the running back for the Pittsburgh Panthers, James Conner. Conner was on his way to what looked like a great season against Youngstown State. To my surprise, the worst happened. In the middle of the game, he went down with a knee injury. At first, reports stated it “wasn’t serious”, until it was examined further, and Conner heard the two words no athlete wants to hear, “MCL tear”. So what is next for the Panthers as they have to handle life without Conner? It will not be easy for Pitt to replace the former ACC Player of the Year. That kind of production is hard to duplicate. However, I feel Pitt should still be okay. The Panthers are a very run-oriented offense, which showed in the 2014 season when Conner ran for 1,765 yards (5.9 YPC) and 26 rushing touchdowns. I expect them to continue running the ball because they have sufficient replacements. First, there is freshman RB Qadree Ollison. Ollison had a very impressive debut in his first ever football game last week, rushing for over 200 yards and a score. It helps that Ollison has a similar body type to Conner, standing at 6’2”, 231 lbs. He also plays with the same style of play Conner does; a bruising, downhill runner that you don’t want to tackle unless you absolutely have to. On the lighter side, they have someone to help split carries, Chris James. James is a little bit of a smaller back that will have some needed quickness to add to the Pittsburgh running game. The passing game for the offense will still be sketchy as usual. The Panthers are still unsure about which QB to start, either freshman Nathan Peterman or junior Chad Voytik. Both QBs had mediocre play against Youngstown State last week. Both threw their fair share of good and bad passes, so there is still a lot of uncertainty. One thing remains certain, and that is they have a future NFL receiver in their midst. Barring any unforeseen circumstance the Panthers will have their WR Tyler Boyd for the rest of the season. My preseason expectations for the Panthers haven't changed because their run game still has talented backs, and they still have good targets in the pass game. From a scouts' perspective, I do hate that Conner got injured. I considered Conner one of the best bruiser backs who could possibly have declared for the draft this season. He also would likely have been surrounded with many other great running backs that are draft eligible this season. Conner’s brutal, physical game is nearly impossible to stop. I now am looking forward to Conner’s senior season at Pittsburgh, and I expect him to come back even stronger (after all, most beasts do). Austin Morris is the creator of The Scouting Lab. He is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. He can be reached atamorris3585@scc.stanly.edu

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