After the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Cincinnati Bengals this coming Sunday they will have their annual bye week. At that point, it will then be interesting to see if starting running back Le’Veon Bell finally shows up to sign his franchise tag and is then ultimately allowed to contribute the remainder of the season like he has in the past.
If and when Bell does return during the bye week, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made it clear during his weekly Tuesday interview on 93.7 The Fan that the team’s current starting running back, James Conner, shouldn’t just be made to return to the bench and watch Bell handle all the workload moving forward.
“Well, the good thing is I’m not the coach, right? I don’t have to make that decision,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday when asked if Conner should remain the starter when Bell returns to the team. “What I would say is I don’t think we put him [Conner] on the shelf by any means. Now granted, I think LeVeon’s one of the best in the business, we all understand that and can agree on that. But what James needs to understand, and he’s going to say the right things, and he should, he’s a younger guy with a veteran, awesome football player ahead of him, but when Le’Veon comes back, no way, shape or form should James just say, ‘okay, it’s all yours, I’m going to sit back and when you need me, use me.’
“It’s one of those ones, and I will push for James to get as much run as we can because we’ve seen some great things from him in all phases of football. He’s picking up blitzes, he’s catching the ball, he’s running hard and making plays and playing with a passion. So, we need to keep using that.”
While Conner has had a few up and down games, statically, through the team’s first five games of the 2018 regular season, he’s certainly looked like he can be a very capable NFL starting running back throughout most of his playing time. In fact, not only has Conner managed to average 4.1 yards per carry on his 84 total totes to start the 2018 season, he’s also averaged nearly 11 yards per reception on his 22 total catches. Oh, he’s also scored 5 rushing touchdowns so far this season in addition to registering 6 total explosive plays of 20 yards or longer.
As for some premature comparisons to Bell, Conner’s 30-yard run in the first quarter of the Steelers Sunday home win over the Atlanta Falcons was his third rush of 20 yards or more so far this season. Bell, by the way, only had three explosive runs all last season with his longest one being 27 yards.
Roethlisberger was asked on Tuesday if he’s had any conversations with Bell this past week and he said that he hasn’t. Judging by his tone, it doesn’t sound like he really cares if Bell shows up during the bye week and I bet a lot of the Steelers offensive linemen feel the same way right now. Like it or not, the Steelers running game might have to go through an adjustment period like the one they went through last year when and if Bell decides to show up soon.
It goes without saying that when and if Bell does finally show up in the next few weeks that it will be interesting to see how his arrival is handled not only by his teammates, but coaches as well, and if he’s instantly given his starting job and normal workload back right away.