The Pittsburgh Steelers recently concluded first week of 2019 OTA practices included running backs James Conner and Jaylen Samuels sharing the backfield together on some plays. Samuels was then asked about him and Conner possibly sharing the Steelers backfield at times during the 2019 season and the second-year player indicated that he belives such instances could prove to be extremely impactful.
“I think that could be kind of special with me and [Conner] in the backfield,” Samuels said. “Me and him in the game, period. We’re just building on from that right now… He’s more of a runner and a catcher, as well, but I can get outside and run routes, as well. To have that dual threat with me and him in the game, it could be really scary for defenses.”
During his Friday night appearance on NFL Network’s ‘Total Access’, former Steelers outside linebacker coach Joey Porter was asked to give his thoughts on a possible Conner-Samuels backfield duo this upcoming season.
“I think it’s all about matchups,” Porter said. “I think them putting the two backs back there and taking a [fullback] Roosevelt Nix off the field, it gives you some options. Because, like, if I give the ball to James Conner, he can run the ball. If I give it Samuels, they’re both runners, right?
“Samuels is better out of the backfield as far as catching the ball and, you know, if you have Conner down at the fullback, you have to respect it. I mean, so then they put two backs back there and they start motioning, it’s going to create some diversion. You know, I think it’s something they definitely think they could be good at it. They’ll use it in the right way that break down some defenses and give them some other people to stay up late and trying to figure out what they’re doing. But, it’s going to help them in the long run.”
Porter’s comment about giving opposing defenses something to think about when it comes to possibly having to face a Conner-Samuels backfield is a good one. In fact, I won’t be surprised if we see the Steelers offense use such a personnel grouping on a few plays during the preseason to give New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick one more thing to have to prepare for just ahead of the regular season opener between the two teams.
After Porter gave his comments on a possible Conner-Samuels Steelers backfield in 2019, former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis gave his thoughts on the topic.
“Listen, when Samuels had his stretch last year, he had a two-game stretch that was decent, I mean, it was pretty good,” Davis said. “And James Conner is solid, but none of these guys are like dynamic running backs. They’re not like no [Alvin] Kamara, for example. If you’ve got a Kamara back there and he’s in the backfield with Mark Ingram, or with James Conner, then I might say, okay, you got something going on, you might have something going there. But, you know, I don’t see it.
“And this is nothing new. You know, they’ve had halfbacks when I played in Denver, we had two halfbacks in the backfield, we were interchangeable. We both, Aaron Craver was a halfback, but he was labeled as a fullback. He would run and I would block and we’d switch. So, we’ve seen it and you can create some matchups that work, but I don’t see this being as such a great kind of combination that’s going to revolutionize the Pittsburgh Steelers with those two guys in the backfield.”
Last season, which was the first with Randy Fichtner as the Steelers offensive coordinator, we never saw Conner and Samuels on the field at the same time. Obviously, such a personnel grouping wasn’t going to happen in Weeks 14 through 16 last season as Conner missed those three games with an ankle injury. Even so, Samuels did admit this past week that such a combination was something that had been worked on last season.
“We did a little bit of it [last season], but we didn’t really run it in a game, so I guess this year we’re going to try and put that a little more in the offense,” Samuels said Thursday.
So, will we see a backfield consisting of Conner and Samuels any in 2019? Probably, but it also probably won’t be used as often as many think it might be. Regardless of how the Steelers decide to use both Conner and Samuels, and rookie Benny Snell Jr., the Steelers fourth-round draft pick this year, in 2019, Porter made sure to let everyone know Friday night during his television appearance that the former shouldn’t be taken lightly whenever he’s on the field.
“I don’t want to slight my boy Conner, because he is dynamic,” Porter said. “I like Conner, he runs hard, man. He’s an old school bruiser.”