Sitting on the trainer’s table after injuring his left knee Friday at Pitt’s 10th practice of the spring, James Conner looked up, smiled and gave me a definitive thumbs-up.
While walking past a group of reporters after a practice in which he injured his left shoulder, Isaac Bennett assured me, “I’m good.”
At the time, those responses didn’t necessarily mean good news for the Panthers because you get similarly pleasant responses from Conner and Bennett anytime you bump into them at the Pitt practice facility. The two running backs are two of the friendliest athletes I’ve encountered in 39 months on the Pitt football beat. Calling them good guys only begins to describe their personalities.
Later, word leaked through Pitt’s Twitter feed and other reliable sources that Conner had a sprained knee (not torn) and Bennett had a sprained shoulder. Neither will practice in the final five sessions of the spring.
What that means is this: rising sophomore running back Rachid Ibrahim will get most of the work at running back through April 15 (the last day of spring practice), and coach Paul Chryst needs to move someone else into a backup role. Redshirt junior wide receiver Ronald Jones took some snaps at running back after Bennett got hurt Friday.
Before Friday, Pitt looked to have depth at running back, but now incoming freshmen Chris James, Qadree Ollison and Dennis Briggs can’t get on campus fast enough.
Pitt also reported that Conner and Bennett would be recovered in time for the off-season conditioning program that begins next month.
The trick for coach Paul Chryst will be this: Both players may insist on returning before they are ready. That’s just the way they are. Chryst needs to be aware of any misplaced courage among his wounded players. Now is not the time to be a hero.
It’s a long summer and if Conner and Bennett need more time to heal, they should take as much of it as necessary.