Day One of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ OTAs kicks off today. On the injury front, we got some good news. According to Matt Williamson and Dale Lolley, hosting a show for Steelers Nation Radio, James Conner is on the field and getting plenty of work, including receiving reps with the first-team offense.
Conner suffered a season-ending torn MCL against the New England Patriots last season. That ended an up-and-down rookie campaign, showing well running the ball (4.5 yards per carry), but struggling as a receiver and pass protection, two issues that caused him to lose already sparse playing time as the season went on. His blown pass protection against Jacksonville, leading to the first of five interceptions on the day, sticks out as one of his lowlights.
With Le’Veon Bell skipping OTAs, and if a contract doesn’t get done with him and the team in the summer, training camp too, Conner will get a long look at what he can do as the Steelers’ lead back. That makes his sophomore season an important one and a time to gain the coaching staff’s trust and confidence that Conner can be the “next man up,” should Bell get injured or if the team looks to replace him in 2019.
But the first step to doing so is being healthy and being available. Practicing already is a great sign and it doesn’t sound like there should be any concern over his training camp availability.
He will have plenty of competition to push him though. There’s a crowded room of running backs gunning for the 2nd and 3rd string roles on the depth chart. Aside from him, the Steelers brought back Fitzgerald Toussaint and Stevan Ridley, drafted Jaylen Samuels, and signed Jarvion Franklin as an UDFA. Conner may have the best pedigree of the group but at this point, pedigree doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all about production.