The Pittsburgh Steelers’ lead back this preseason has impressed the coaches quite a bit in virtually every aspect, from his conditioning to his attitude to his performance on the field. And he is looking very much like a player who it going to be a strong complement to their starting running back when the regular season opens.
Second-year James Conner has gotten virtually all of the Steelers’ starter reps at the running back position all offseason in Le’Veon Bell’s absence. Bell was given the franchise tag after the team and his representatives failed to reach a long-term agreement, so he kept away from the team.
Conner has made the most of that opportunity and has looked like one of the best running backs this preseason, finishing with 100 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and adding another 61 yards on seven receptions.
“James has had a real good preseason to this point, and that’s good for James, but that’s great for us”, General Manager Kevin Colbert said on the Starkey and Mueller Show. “We’re not only excited for ourselves but we’re extremely excited for that young man to keep his career on pace”.
The Steelers drafted the Pitt product in the third round of the draft last year, but he did not get many opportunities to contribute during his rookie season working behind Bell, mostly simply because Bell rarely came off the field and stayed healthy, but Conner tore his MCL late in the year. That didn’t stop him from working diligently this offseason.
“To James’ credit, he came in in great physical condition”, Colbert pointed out, and noted that that was no issue last year, either. “As a rookie, he sort of did the same thing but in all honesty he was still only a half a year removed from full health from the cancer fight that he had”.
That’s a pretty big detail to keep in mind.
“Coming in this year, he’s proven up to this point the durability which he hadn’t been able to show us prior to that”, he stressed. Conner saw 16 touches during the third preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, his most extensive work, playing the first half.
“That’s encouraging because James Conner, his ability to help us win was proven, I think, with this preseason that he had to date”, the general manager aded. “We look forward to James continuing to be able to help us”.
How many opportunities he gets to help remains to be seen. The Steelers still don’t even know when Bell is going to show up—likely on Monday, officially—but I would guess that Conner is going to be given more opportunities to contribute than he was last season as a rookie.