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James Conner Missing Opportunities With Bell Sitting Out OTAs

The Pittsburgh Steelers took the opportunity this offseason to completely rebuild the running back depth chart behind Le’Veon Bell in a process that included the drafting of James Conner in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Yet, to date, he has been unable to take advantage of those opportunities.

The former Pittsburgh star suffered some sort of hamstring injury while participating in the Steelers’ rookie minicamp, and he has remained sidelined through the first week of OTA sessions last week. Given that Bell has not been in as he recovers from groin surgery, it should go without saying that he is missing out on some valuable work.

It is, instead, the other ‘new’ running back who is benefitting most, that being Knile Davis, the former Chiefs runner whom the Steelers signed in free agency, opting to take a different approach than re-signing DeAngelo Williams after two years of service in Pittsburgh.

While his stat sheet is not going to impress you—he has never even managed to average four yards per carry in a season over the course of his career, though he doesn’t ever necessarily get a tone of carries—that doesn’t mean that he can’t be effective behind the Steelers’ offensive line.

Davis is a player who has both size and speed, while the rest of the Steelers’ running backs are more about size—though Bell not as much since his rookie year. He was likely brought in primarily because of his kick return ability, but getting reps in now will only help him later on in the season.

Not that missing some time watching practices from the sideline rather than taking the reps is going to force Conner to be a non-factor during his rookie season, but it’s certainly never encouraging to see your rookie running back limited to an observer role due to injury.

While the injury is not believed to be serious, it hasn’t been made clear how soon he might return. It has already been a couple of weeks, so one would hope that it might not be far along now before he can return. And it is rather likely that they are using abundant caution at this time of year.

But this is a time of year that necessarily includes a lot of installation, which is an unfortunate thing for a rookie to miss out on. Again, it is not something that is going to reduce him to the role of bench warmer for the entirety of his rookie season, but it should go without saying that it is not what you would want to be hearing at this time of year.

It might be worth remembering that Bell himself missed time during his rookie season. He suffered a foot injury. He ended up missing most of the preseason, and the first three regular season games, but made his debut in London a week later and scored two touchdowns as a starter.

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