One of Le’Veon Bell’s closest friends on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster is longtime center Maurkice Pouncey. While the Pro Bowl regular told reporters earlier today that he has not heard anything directly from Bell, he did say that, of what he knows of the running back, you can count on him being here on Wednesday, when the Steelers go through their first full practice of the regular season.
Even if his teammates are confident that Bell will be here in short order and ready to participate when the Steelers open the regular season on the road on Sunday, there is also support for second-year running back James Conner, who has been working as the first-team running back all offseason, going back to the spring.
Ramon Foster, the second-longest-tenured player on the roster behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, expressed a great deal of confidence in the former Pitt star, telling Jeremy Fowler earlier today that Conner “busted his ass” this year. “When you’re ready, you’re ready”, he said. “He’s ready”.
Steelers reaction on Bell ranged from loyal to indifferent. One thing was clear: Teammates backing James Conner big time. “Conner has busted his a–,” OG Ramon Foster said. “When you’re ready, you’re ready. He’s ready.”
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) September 3, 2018
I think it’s pretty unambiguous what Foster meant to say there. If the Steelers need Conner to be a full-time running back right now, then he believes the second-year back is prepared to take on that role. He has had a great offseason, which began with the rehab process of a torn MCL that ended his rookie season prematurely. Foster also added this:
And if Le’Veon Bell is here this week, and is not really in football shape, or not fully ready, the #Steelers uniformly said they’re confident in James Conner as the RB1 at the #Browns. Ramon Foster on Conner: “He knows where to go (and) he punishes people.”
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 3, 2018
After reporting in phenomenal shape, he took a business-like attitude to what is indeed his business, improving his skills in order to be better at his job in the hopes of advancing in his career. He has instilled a lot more confidence in himself and in his teammates and coaches regarding what they believe he is capable of contributing right now.
Alex Kozora’s training camp reports were pretty consistently glowing, after some initial gaffes in pass protection and in catching the ball, but he showed skill and improvement in both areas over the course of the preseason schedule.
In three games, with relatively light work, he rushed for 100 yards on 19 carries with a long touchdown run. He also added seven receptions for 61 yards, the majority of which came in the third preseason game while he was working with Roethlisberger and as much as the first-team offense as possible—sans four starters.
If for some reason Bell is not on the field for the Steelers on Sunday in Cleveland, the offense is going to be behind Conner, and they won’t hesitate to put the load on his shoulders. While he will be complemented by Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley, he would be the guy. He’s earned it. He’s ready. Just ask his teammates.