While this is not the first time in his young NFL career that he has gotten onto the field on offense in a game (he saw two snaps back in Week Five, both on passing plays, once split wide), rookie running back Jaylen Samuels was able to get his first touches yesterday afternoon for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their eventual blowout victory of the Cleveland Browns.
The fifth-round pick out of NC State was primarily a pass-catcher in college, but the team and running backs coach Jaylen Samuels has been hammering him with the fundamentals of the running back position. While veteran Stevan Ridley had been entrusted over him to take nearly all of the snaps at the position that James Conner did not take, that changed quickly when the older running back fumbled the ball.
Ridley played six snaps in total, getting two touches, including a 10-yard reception. He took a checkdown pass later in the game from Ben Roethlisberger, which Browns safety Derrick Kindred wrestled out of his hands. Kindred also intercepted Roethlisberger earlier in the game.
He didn’t play again after that fumbled, which occurred early in the second half, which gave Samuels the opportunity to see the field. he played seven snaps in all, including four on the penultimate drive, and he carried the ball on all four of those snaps for 17 yards as the offense looked to close out the game with a two-score lead.
“I am just waiting on my opportunity, and when my number gets called I just want to make sure I go in there and execute the best that I can”, he told reporters after the game, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “So that’s what I tried to do today”.
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has praised Samuels in the past and has said that he wanted to try to work him onto the field, but it has been difficult because there has not been a niche for him to develop into that would be an upgrade to what the offense was doing.
That is largely because Conner has simply played very well as a pass catcher, which he continued to put on display yesterday, catching five passes for 66 yards, all of which gained between 12 and 14 yards. While he did fail to snag a high checkdown early in the game, he showed very good hands overall, and especially yards after the catch ability.
Samuels being particularly skilled at catching the ball, Conner’s abilities in that area have been a roadblock in getting the rookie some playing time. But if Ridley ends up in Mike Tomlin’s doghouse following that fumble, it could open the door for Samuels to see some time in spelling the starter.
Of course, should Le’Veon Bell choose to report over the course of the next couple of weeks, he likely wouldn’t play at all. He might not even dress, and perhaps could even be waived, with the hopes of putting him on the practice squad. Which makes it all the more important for him to take advantage of every opportunity he is afforded.