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Pitt RB James Conner starting to get national attention

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Keith Srakocic/Associated Press
Pitt sophomore running back James Conner is gaining attention for his powerful running.

Pittsburgh sophomore tailback James Conner is starting to receive some buzz -- one AFC scout said Conner reminds him of Eddie Lacy -- for his strong early-season performance.

Conner (6-foot-2, 250 pounds -- 20 pounds heavier than his listed playing weight last season) is second nationally with 366 rushing yards, and he is tied for the national lead with five rushing touchdowns. He should have another strong performance this week with the Panthers playing at Florida International, which might be the weakest FBS program in the nation.

FIU coach Ron Turner certainly is impressed.

"Everybody's talking about him and they should because he's really, really good," Turner told the Miami Herald. "He's a big back."

Indeed, Conner is a big back. He is not flashy nor does he possess any fancy moves; instead, he simply bludgeons foes, befitting a guy who also was a star defensive end in high school in Erie, Pa. Most schools recruited him as a defensive end, but Pitt liked him as a running back and Conner ended up winning the starting tailback job early last season as a true freshman.

He rumbled for 799 yards and eight TDs last season despite missing one game and getting double-digit carries just six times. He is a throwback of sorts to the 1970s-style back, and of his 13 career TDs, six have covered three or fewer yards and 10 have been nine or fewer yards.

Conner said in June that he expected to play some at defensive end, too; he did see some time as a pass-rushing defensive end last season. But he hasn't played any end this season -- not yet, anyway. Defensive coordinator Matt House told reporters this week that has been by circumstance; Pitt blew out overmatched Delaware in the opener, and Conner had 35 carries and was too important offensively last week against Boston College.

"It has to be the right opportunity in the game," House told reporters. "When I say that, I mean not only for us on defense, but also for the player. ... There's nothing worse than putting in a guy who's carrying the ball 25 times and in protection another 10 or 15 times."

Given the caliber of opponent, it seems likely that Conner does all his work -- and there shouldn't be that much of it -- on offense this week.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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