It looks like there’s a pretty good chance that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be starting rookie running back Jaylen Samuels for the third consecutive week as James Conner continues to be held back with a high ankle sprain. The team has more confidence in him heading into this one, however, after the broke free for 142 yards on the ground against the New England Patriots.
Per the team’s communications department, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was asked yesterday if he was concerned on Sunday about the rookie and his potential workload. “Yeah, you’re concerned all the time because you don’t know”, he said, “but I don’t think we’re scared of the unknown”.
Samuels said after the game that he couldn’t recall ever having 19 carries even going back to high school, and never had a 100-yard game before, so this was new not just to the Steelers but to the player himself.
“He’s here for a reason”, Fichtner added, mentioning his history of scoring touchdowns in college, and his two that he already has in Pittsburgh on limited touches. “He’s just that kind of guy. He makes plays, and he didn’t let us down last week, caught the ball when we needed him to catch it, moved the chains when we needed him to move the chains and protected the ball”.
Samuels only got two carries in short-yardage situations, and both of them were on second and one, but he converted on both opportunities. He also wasn’t featured much in the passing game but caught both of his targets for 30 yards. He had seven receptions on as many targets for 64 yards the week before.
Fichtner admitted that the team had a number of touches in mind heading into the game at which they would be comfortable with Samuels, in terms of both rushing and receiving, and that it’s something that they discuss every week as a position.
“He went over that last week when you count maybe some catches and opportunities he had that way”, the offensive coordinator said. Between 19 rushes and two receptions, he had 21 touches, which actually isn’t many more than he had the week before. In addition to his seven receptions, he also rushed the ball 11 times for 18 touches. He has 39 touches in the past two weeks.
As far as what the future holds for Samuels once the running back position is healthy, Fichtner wasn’t ready to think about that, let alone talk about it. He was similarly not in a hurry to discuss the possibilities on offense if Le’Veon Bell were to return because, as he said, it would be a waste of time.
It’s not clear at the moment if Conner will play again in the regular season, but they would certainly like to see him make it back for the postseason. Should that happen, they will have to sort out what sort of workload Samuels would have behind him then.