The Pittsburgh Steelers have been able to have success on the ground this year when they have made a concerted effort to do so, even without Le’Veon Bell in the building. His ‘backup’, James Conner, is fifth in the NFL with 453 rushing yards, which is actually just 13 yards behind Melvin Gordon’s 466, the third-most in the league. His seven rushing touchdowns are also second-most only to Todd Gurley, who has nine, on pace to become just the 12th player to rush for 20 or more touchdowns in a single season.
As for Conner, he himself is on pace for 18 or 19 touchdowns, which would break the single-season franchise record of 14, set by Franco Harris in the mid-1970s (when they still had a 14-game season, mind you).
Suffice it to say that Conner has been doing quite well for himself, and for the Steelers. Not only has he been running the ball effectively (4.4 yards per carry with five runs of 20 yards or more), he also had 257 receiving yards on 26 receptions, averaging nearly 10 yards per catch.
In other words, the running back position has not exactly been keeping first-year offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner up at night just waiting to hear that Bell would be reporting. He was asked yesterday if he has been planning for his return, and he admitted that he has not.
“I haven’t really thought about it”, he said. “I just think it would be wasteful time management to think about it, because when it happens it happens, and we’ll move on from there”.
Last season, Bell rushed for 1291 yards on 321 attempts with a career-high nine rushing touchdowns. He also added another 85 touches on receptions for 655 yards and another two touchdowns, producing a total of 1946 yards of offense over the course of 15 games (he was rested in the season finale). For the moment, Conner has 710 yards from scrimmage, which would put him on pace to reach about 1900 yards from scrimmage over a full season.
Whether or not he gets that ‘full season’ of work as a starting running back remains to be seen, as it depends both on whether or not Bell reports and how the team subsequently decides to use him, if at all.
Fichtner doesn’t believe it would be any sort of problem to get Bell reintegrated into the offense, however, due to their prior experience working together. “And Le’Veon is a sharp football player”, he added.
“He gets the game of football. He’s always been a, above the neck, a strong player. I wouldn’t think that that would be an issue for him”, he said of Bell.