When Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin was asked during the team’s post-draft press conference about the idea of making greater use of ball distribution in the backfield than they have in the past, he reserved judgement for another day, saying that it was far too early in the process to have that discussion.
Apparently it wasn’t too early for General Manager Kevin Colbert, who has been making the media rounds over the course of the past couple of days. He was asked on multiple occasions about making greater use of the team’s full stable of running backs and seemed to suggest that that was their plan.
With the team losing its previous workhorse back in Le’Veon Bell in free agency, they retain James Conner as their primary ball carrier, who generally slid right into that high-volume workload last season en route to a Pro Bowl appearance.
Behind Conner was then-rookie Jaylen Samuels, who was at the time still learning the running back position, as well as Stevan Ridley, a veteran whose fumbles quickly saw him lose favor. Perhaps the primary reason the team didn’t utilize their other running backs more in 2018 was simply because they weren’t confident in their abilities. They even made heavy use of 01 personnel with no running back on the field.
This year, Samuels is a much more advanced player than he was coming in, and they added Benny Snell in the fourth round. Colbert told Mike Florio that one of the reasons they were interested in Snell was, in fact, because of the similarities that he bore to Conner, which he believes will be of service to them both in a rotational and insulation regard.
He began by talking about how Bell’s talents really dictated the workload that he got, adding that Conner was similar, but it also seems clear that they learned something over the years about how they used him. After all, Conner was supposed to be that number two, perhaps rotational guy that they see Snell as potentially being.
“You also have to understand that if you have two or three guys that can maybe get the same production, then let’s make sure that we’re covered and we have the proper depth”, he said. “And that’s why a guy like Benny Snell was very intriguing to us because his style and James’ style is very similar”.
Both Conner and Snell are bigger backs who are able to break tackles and gain yards after contact, while having a good nose for the goal line. Pass-catching is not their focus, but Conner showed the way forward in adding that to his repertoire after doing very little of it in college.
Samuels’ skill set is a bit different, best equipped to being used in the passing game, where he caught three touchdowns last season and did a nice job of breaking tackles when he was given the opportunity to work in space.
If the Steelers can put together a strong running game consisting of Conner and Snell with Samuels offering supplemental usage here and there, that would add a dimension to the offense that they haven’t much had—or at least utilized—in a while.