Even Without Conner, Tomlin Confident In Running Back Group

Despite playing this weekend without James Conner, already ruled out due to a knee sprain, Mike Tomlin is confident in the players he will have available to him. Speaking at his usual Tuesday press conference, Tomlin says the plan is to work with a running back by committee, made up of Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley, and Trey Edmunds, though he’ll see where the week of practice takes him.

“That is our intentions as we sit here,” Tomlin said, “but we have a preparation week ahead of us and sometimes the division of labor is revealed to you through that work. We got a great deal of confidence in Ridley, we got a great deal of confidence in Jaylen. Particularly of late with Jaylen. He’s a guy that’s been on the rise in recent weeks. We’ve talked about that in here. Trey is a guy who has played some pro football. We were excited about getting him on our practice squad when we acquired him. We’ll put him in uniform and give him an opportunity to be a contributor as well.”

If recent pecking order is any indication, Samuels will be the starter after serving as Conner’s backup the past few weeks. Tomlin was asked what made Samuels a guy “on the rise.”

“I just think the journey sometimes itself provides opportunity. And that opportunity provides times for guys to show improvement. He’s done that. So he’s getting increased opportunities because of it. That was ongoing in recent weeks even prior to James’ injury.”

Samuels hauled in his second receiving score of the season Sunday, temporarily tying the game up against the Los Angeles Chargers. He became the first Steelers’ rookie RB to catch two touchdowns in a season since the merger.

Despite his improvements as a blocker and his natural ability out of the backfield, there are fair questions about him as a runner. Sample sizes have been small but he’s averaging just 2.6 YPC on 12 attempts, not showing a significant amount of burst or power out of the backfield. That is in more of Ridley’s wheelhouse and it’s possible to see Ridley on early downs and Samuels in passing situations.

Ridley last played offensive snaps in Week 10 against the Carolina Panthers. He logged 10 snaps in that contest but failed to play any in the teams last three games.

Tomlin indicated Edmunds will have more of a special teams role, typical for the #3 back on this team anyway. He may replace Samuels in those situations, who normally starts on the punt block and kick return units.

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