James Saxon had been the Pittsburgh Steelers’ running backs coach for the past five seasons, leading to the breakout performance by Le’Veon Bell in helping to turn him into an All-Pro. James Conner turned in a Pro Bowl season under his watch in 2018, and DeAngelo Williams was deserving of such a distinction in 2015 as well, though he didn’t receive it.
That wasn’t enough for Head Coach Mike Tomlin to feel he ought to keep his job, though, something we have already discussed on this site. Yesterday, Art Rooney II offered only that “sometimes it’s time for a change”, regarding the position. “Coach Saxon did a good job over the last few years”, he added, noting that his contract was up and Tomlin “felt like it was time to make a change there”.
That leads one to wonder if a change would have been made had he still been under contract. As the team has not really fired many coaches, the last one being Jack Bicknell, Jr., Mike Munchak’s predecessor, if you want to get technical.
But it was revealed after Rooney spoke to the media that Saxon’s replacement had been found, and one might wonder if it was part of the plan. The Steelers’ next running backs coach will be Eddie Faulker, who held the same position at North Carolina State.
NC State is where Jaylen Samuels came from, of course, and he is a young player that the team is high on. No doubt Tomlin and others had some good discussions with Faulker during the course of the pre-draft process, and he likely helped convince them to draft Samuels as a running back in the fifth round and believe in him.
Ironically, Saxon ought to be given credit for developing Samuels in a short amount of time in spite of the fact that he spent a minimal amount of time during his college career functioning as a traditional running back. The Steelers were able to get him up to speed well enough to provide some competent starts late in the season due to injury.
Now Faulker will be the next in line to continue to work to develop him as a complement to Conner, their potential new star who scored 13 touchdowns in 2018 in 13 games and who still has room for growth in spite of the fact that he already performed at a Pro Bowl level.
One thing the new running backs coach will surely be tasked with is emphasizing ball security, as the position produced seven fumbles in 2018, four from Conner. Samuels fumbled once but immediately recovered it.