Pitt football notebook: RB James Conner says he’ll play DE vs. Virginia Tech |

Pitt football notebook: RB James Conner says he’ll play DE vs. Virginia Tech

Jerry DiPaola

Pitt running back James Conner said Monday he will line up at defensive end Thursday against Virginia Tech, finally putting to use the pass-rushing skills he has been polishing since August.

“I’m going to get that thing going this week on the defensive side of the ball,” Conner said. “I’ll be out there Thursday.”

Conner spent considerable time working with defensive ends coach John Palermo in training camp and after the start of the season, but he played exclusively on offense the first six games.

He leads the ACC in rushing yards (874) and touchdowns (nine) and he ranks fifth and seventh nationally in those categories.

But coach Paul Chryst might be looking for a spark to help end Pitt’s three-game losing streak. Conner’s venture onto defense last year against Bowling Green in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl helped Pitt win 30-27, and his possible dual role was the talk of the offseason.

If Conner does play defensive end Thursday, it probably will mean more time for backup running backs Chris James, Rachid Ibrahim and Isaac Bennett. The three have totaled 349 yards on 61 carries.

• Redshirt freshman defensive end Luke Maclean (foot) will miss his third consecutive game.

• Freshman cornerback Avonte Maddox, who hurt his shoulder against Virginia, will play, Chryst said.

• Chryst said offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty will start after serving his one-game suspension for disciplinary reasons.

• The game will be telecast by ESPN, but Conner said the prime-time exposure is the least of his concerns. “It’s nice that it’s prime time, but we just want to get back in the win column,” he said.

• Virginia Tech running back Shai McKenzie, a Washington High product, said he is scheduled to have surgery Tuesday for the second time in a year to repair the ACL in his right knee. McKenzie re-injured the knee Sept. 27 against Western Michigan, a year and two weeks after he suffered the same injury against Charleroi.

• The ACC announced Pitt’s homecoming game Oct. 25 against Georgia Tech will begin at 3:30 p.m. at Heinz Field and will be televised by either ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU. It will be Georgia Tech’s first trip to Pittsburgh since a 10-3 Pitt victory in 1920.

— Jerry DiPaola

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