At 24 and entering his third season, James Conner is now the old man in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ running backs room. There is Trey Edmunds as well, a third-year player and the older brother of Terrell Edmunds, who was brought in at the start of the regular season, who is also 24, but Jaylen Samuels is 22, and rookie Benny Snell is 21.
As a surprise starter following Le’Veon Bell’s no-show, Conner averaged about 113 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown per game in his 13 games played, missing three due to injury. Samuels, who emerged as the backup by then, started those three games late in the year, and now Snell is a part of the group as well.
Each of them were drafted between the third and fifth rounds over the course of the past three drafts, so they are all within that same window. Conner was asked if the fact that they were all close in age and experience was a boon to their relationship, and he responded strongly in the affirmative.
“It’s bigger than making plays on the field. Bigger than football”, he told reporters during OTAs this week. “It’s like a game of life. The friendships and relationships that we have off the field will help us on the field. So everything is not just competition and who can make the most plays on the field”.
Samuels was so well-liked by the team that it influenced their decision to hire Eddie Faulkner, his college position coach, to replace James Saxon as their running backs coach this year. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seemed to have a rapport with him, and he was working with Conner as the season went on.
As for Snell, he certainly seems to have the dominant yet gregarious and passionate personality that would naturally fit into any well-balanced but strong-willed room, and I think that fits Pittsburgh’s running back room right now.
“It’s important to be a good person and have good character”, Conner went on to say while expanding on the same topic. “I’m learning that throughout my time in this league. It’s not really always the guy that makes plays. That’s a huge part of it, but there are a lot of other things that go into it as well”.
If the running backs have a good relationship, they will work better together, campaign for each other to get playing time, and root for each other’s success. That seems to be the situation that is naturally developing in the Steelers’ locker room right now.
And that’s not to say anything with Bell. For all that has gone on, Bell and Conner have always seemed to have a good relationship. He may have been the only player that Bell stayed in contact with last season, and Conner reached out to him earlier this offseason to congratulate him on his new contract and thank him for his influence and friendship. So this isn’t about that. this is about Conner, Samuels, Snell, and Edwards. And Ralph Webb, and Travon McMillan, and Malik Williams.