Jaylen Samuels will become the fourth different running back to start a game for the Pittsburgh Steelers since Week 16 of the 2017 season, though he will be the first of those who is making a start due to injury.
Le’Veon Bell was the Steelers’ primary starting running back when healthy from 2013 through the 2017 season, and was supposed to be again this year. He was rested in the 2017 season finale, giving Stevan Ridley the chance to start. When Bell chose not to report this year, James Conner took over the starting role.
With Conner declared out with an ankle injury, however, it will be the fifth-round rookie out of North Carolina State in Samuels who gets the starting nod, even though the veteran Ridley is still here. While the plan is to use both of them, Samuels would like to try his best to convince the coaching staff that he can shoulder the load on his own.
“I want to be able to do a lot of different things”, he told Will Grave of the Associated Press. “Being able to be a pounder or a speed guy — being able to pound between the tackles and show speed on the edges — so whatever presents itself, I’m going to try to go out there, put the ball in the right spot and try to help my team”.
Samuels only has 19 touches on the season to date, but two of them have already produced touchdowns, including a game-tying 10-yard reception late in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Chargers after he came in for the final two offensive snaps to replace Conner. He was the recipient of passes on both final plays.
That comes after an extended history of scoring touchdowns at the college level as well, coming away with 47. “That’s just what I do: I score touchdowns”, he said. I’ve been scoring touchdowns all my life, throughout college and high school and now I’m trying to take it here to the National Football League. Once I get in there and my number is called, I’m going in there to make the best out of it and make the opportunities count”.
Most important, however, is the fact that he believes in himself, and he believes that his team believes in him. “I’m going to still do the same thing”, he said, which is “be me. I feel confident out there. They believe in me and I believe in them, so just go out there and have fun”.
Samuels will get the first crack at the fun, but we’ll have to see how much there is of a division of labor. On Sunday, he played 15 snaps to Ridley’s 0 prior to Conner leaving the game due to injury, so he should still receive the lion’s share of work.