It is still an unknown as to whether or not it is a question they will ever have to actually address in reality, but for perhaps at least a few more weeks, members of the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to have to continue to deal with it as a hypothetical when asked about it by reporters.
That is, of course, what to do with James Conner when and if Le’Veon Bell returns. The sixth-year veteran running back has already missed the first seven weeks of the season (including the team’s bye week, which has just passed) and appears set not to report for at least one more week. The most likely reporting time for him is after the trade deadline at the end of October. If he doesn’t report by Week 11, he can’t even play, so by then the question will become moot.
Everybody who has been posed the question, however, has given some variation of one of two answers: either it’s a waste of time to think about somebody who is not here, or more directly, advocating for Conner to continue to play regardless of who else is here. That is the route that JuJu Smith-Schuster took recently during an ESPN appearance.
“Le’Veon’s gonna come in, [we’ll] see what he can do, but we know what he can do. [And] we know what James Conner can do”, he told Stephen A. Smith. “James Conner’s on a roll right now, so you can’t take that away from him, so as James Conner keeps rolling, the ball’s gonna keep moving, he keeps putting up these numbers, you can’t take that away from him”.
Through six games, Conner has rushed for 453 yards on 103 carries and seven rushing touchdowns. He also has 257 receiving yards on 26 receptions for over 700 yards from scrimmage. He has recorded over 100 yards rushing with two rushing touchdowns in three of the first six games of the season.
Ben Roethlisberger was the first to speak publicly in support of Conner continuing to play a significant role even if Bell were to report. Smith questioned the wisdom of the quarterback coming out and doing that, and asked Smith-Schuster if he had any issue with that as well.
“Not at all”, he said regarding Roethlisberger’s pro-Conner remarks. “I trust and believe in my quarterback. Whatever he does, on the field, off the field, he always makes the right decision. My locker’s right next to Ben Roethlisberger so we’re always talking”.
As for himself, Smith-Schuster is having a very good second season in his own right, a few drops notwithstanding. He is currently on pace for over 100 receptions and about 1500 receiving yards, though one would hope that he starts to find the end zone more after having only two touchdowns through six games. He had seven touchdowns in 14 games as a rookie.