The Pittsburgh Steelers are temporarily in need of a new running back, for at least a week but perhaps more, as James Conner recovers from an ankle injury suffered on Sunday. Tomorrow’s game doesn’t figure to feature a ‘starter’, per se, but if there is one, it is shaping up to be rookie Jaylen Samuels, who has seen almost all the running back snaps Conner has not taken himself in recent weeks.
The fifth-round pick says that he has been preparing as though he would be starting all along. “I’ve always got to prepare the same way, because you never know what will happen”, he told Jeremy Fowler following a week of taking the majority of the first-team reps in practice. “I’ve become more comfortable running with the ones”, he added.
The stout back out of North Carolina State earlier this week admitted that he has never wielded that featured runner status before, which will be new to him. His work as a traditional running back throughout his college career, in fact, was limited, which partially explains how he ended up working with the tight ends at the Combine.
One thing he has done no matter where he lines up, however, is score, and that is what he plans to continue doing. He already has two touchdowns on just 19 touches this season, both of them coming on his seven receptions.
That’s probably why he has made special mention of Ben Roethlisberger, calling him “one of the best”. He said that “when you’re out there with him, you can’t do nothing wrong, really. You should feel confident to play fast. He makes you play fast”.
Running backs have flourished in the passing game with Roethlisberger, at least since Le’Veon Bell was drafted and showed him what the offense would look like if he threw to running backs more. DeAngelo Williams had something of a career year in that department when Bell was injured, and Conner has been surprisingly productive this year.
Samuels may be the most accomplished receiver coming out of college among all of those players named, interestingly enough, and the team has been putting plays that feature him into the playbook since training camp.
Roethlisberger said on his radio show earlier this week that Samuels was the second option on the play that he scored on during Sunday’s game. Even going back to the third game of the preseason, Mike Tomlin talked before the game about how he might be used with the first team, though that did not develop at the time.
Now it has, and perhaps in a role that will carry over even after Conner returns. While he was Conner’s injury replacement in that game, he had already logged 15 snaps beforehand, and for no apparent reason other than to give him snaps and to give Conner rest.