Pitt freshman running back Chris James has looked good over the first two days of training camp — or, as well as any player can look when no one is wearing pads.
But when senior linebackers Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas ran him down on a running play, James said, “That’s definitely when I realized you’re here now, and you’re not the fastest on the field anymore.”
Running backs coach John Settle said James is living up to the hype that buzzed around him when he was a star at Notre Dame (Ill.) College Prep last year.
But Settle said there is more to the young running back than breakaway speed.
“The biggest thing I like about him so far is he hasn’t shown any fear when it comes to pass protection,” Settle said. “He stepped up in blitz periods and took guys on, and he’s not with the young guys. He’s going against the vets.”
That’s promising and a testament to James’ toughness because he wasn’t asked to do much pass-blocking in high school.
“Our team was very run-first,” he said. “I told myself I’m going to have to start blocking (at Pitt). You definitely have to set your feet and sometimes take the hit.”
James said the next step is to learn the plays, so he can display his play-making ability.
“I can turn a 5-yard run into an 80-yard run,” he said.
While senior Isaac Bennett is practicing, but limited, due to shoulder surgery, James is the immediate backup to starter James Conner.
– Quick Conner story: The sophomore running back was waiting his turn during a pass-catching drill when a pass caromed off the intended receiver. Conner could have let it fall. He was only watching off to the side. But he dived for the ball, kept it off the ground and ran it into the end zone.
– Defensive coordinator Matt House praised both contestants in the battle for the starting position at strong safety.
Reggie Mitchell moved onto the first team Tuesday ahead of Terrish Webb, who was there Monday. Mitchell didn’t play last year after transferring from Wisconsin, but he is catching up to Webb, a big contributor last season as a freshman.
“Terrish is really, really bright,” House said. “Reggie is too. Reggie loves to compete. Reggie’s got great quickness. It’s a good battle going on back there.”
Actually, both will play extensively. One will start at strong safety, next to free safety Ray Vinopal. The other will be the nickel back in a five-DB alignment House will use frequently this season.
Pitt coaches expect to run into several sophisticated passing games in the ACC.
“Those three guys are sponges. They are fun to coach,” House said. “You go in the meeting room, they ask questions and they want to be coached.”
– Middle linebacker Matt Galambos got an earful from assistant strength and conditioning coach Kenechi Udeze when he made a nice move to step in front of a pass intended for tight end Scott Orndoff, but couldn’t hold onto the ball.
Udeze, by the way, won a national championship at USC in 2003 and was a first-round NFL draft choice of the Minnesota Vikings in 2004.
– Coach Paul Chryst is eager to advance training camp to the next stage Wednesday – shoulder pads.
“When we get the pads on, we’ll be able to do a little more work in the run game,” he said. “It’s a little bit safer.”