It’s already going to be tough for a running back to get on the field when Le’Veon Bell is the starter. It’s going to be even tougher when you struggle in pass protection. That’s the situation James Conner finds himself in right now and Todd Haley talked about during yesterday’s interview with the media.
“James has shown some good things as a runner,” Haley said via Steelers.com. “Protection wise, he’s had a couple little slip ups. Things we can’t have happen. The quarterback is the number one thing and these guys have to be 100% sharp from a protection standpoint. But he’s working everyday, working hard, and getting better.”
That biggest slip up came against Jacksonville, where Conner failed to pick up a blitzing linebacker, creating pressure that helped lead to a Ben Roethlisberger interception. Conner didn’t log any more snaps that game until the final moments of an already decided contest.
For the year, Conner has played just 35 snaps. He’s done well running the ball, as Haley pointed out, with 17 carries and averaging a healthy 5.2 yards per pop. But he hasn’t shown the well-rounded ability of Bell, which, to be fair, is understandable and expected, or the niche ability that even Terrell Watson has carved out as a short-yardage back.
Although Bell’s workload has been heavy, it’ll be tough to justify Conner’s involvement until he rounds off the edges and proves himself as a reliable option in every phase of the job. Even if some would like to see a rotation and reduce Bell’s snap count, which Haley commented on during the interview.
“We as a staff, with Coach T, talk about it all the time. We talk to [Bell]. Monitor how he’s doing. He’s a young guy who doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear. That’ll ultimately fall in Coach’s hands, when he wants to take anything from him. As for Le’Veon, he never wants to come off. You like that, love that about a guy who gets stronger as the game goes on.”
Haley said it’s an organizational effort to determine Bell’s workload from himself, Tomlin, and even Kevin Colbert when he watches over practice.