If it wasn’t already obvious, I think it’s safe to say at this point that Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers now view rookie Jaylen Samuels as their number two running back behind James Conner. It evidently took some time for the fifth-round pick to earn the trust of the coaching staff, but he has been playing over Stevan Ridley in recent weeks.
Ridley hasn’t helped himself by putting the ball on the ground several weeks ago, and in fact he hasn’t even played on offense over the course of the past couple of games, but Samuels has also worked to earn his playing time.
He only played two snaps in total in the six games played before the by week, but he has gotten work in every game since, including 17 on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, much of which came at the end of the game after Conner was injured. But he also saw 18 snaps against the Carolina Panthers, a Thursday Night game on a short week.
In that time, he has carried the ball only 12 times for 31 yards, but more importantly he has added seven receptions for 54 yards, two of which went for touchdowns, and he showed great determination to get into the end zone both times. Ben Roethlisberger pulled him aside after each one to tell him that he did a great job.
So Samuels could be in for a heavy workload if Conner is forced to miss Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders out west. Even if Conner plays, he could be limited with a leg contusion, so that would still open the door for an expanded role for the rookie running back out of North Carolina State.
He admitted to reporters yesterday that it would be new for him. “I have never been like a true running back who gets like 20 carries a gamev”, he said. “But if that presents itself, I am ready for whatever. I am down for whatever tasks, and I am ready, just go be great at it”.
If Conner should miss time, I’m sure that Samuels and Ridley would split much of the workload, with the veteran seeing a lot of the standard rushing snaps and the rookie getting most of the work in the passing game, which he is more comfortable.
He admitted that there are still adjustments that he has to make in terms of the traditional running back functions and knowing how to hit the right hole, “making the right reads, that’s basically the main thing I need to worry about”.
To date, only five of Samuels’s 12 rushes have been ‘successful’ plays, but he has another five successful plays on seven receptions, giving him 10 successful plays on 19 touches on the season to date.