2019 Training Camp Battles: Running Back Roles

It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first deep breaths of the 2019 NFL season.

Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and trades to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.

And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.

Position: Running Back

Up for Grabs: Playing Time

In the Mix: James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, Jr., Trey Edmunds

For the sake of inclusivity, I am including Trey Edmunds on this list, which features three of the four running backs who finished on the 53-man roster last year, with rookie Benny Snell, Jr. replacing veteran Stevan Ridley, who was not re-signed.

While it should be established that James Conner will serve as the lead back, I think a great deal remains to be determined after that, even relative to Conner’s playing time. Will he average more than 20 touches per game, as he did last season, or will his load be lightened by a running back stable the team seems more comfortable in?

When Conner missed three games with an ankle injury, Jaylen Samuels got those starts, and he played better at least in one respect or another in each week. He had a very strong rushing performance in particular against the New England Patriots in his second start, for example.

The Steelers have even talked about getting the two on the field at the same time, which would be one way to give Samuels some more snaps without taking away from Conner. But just because it’s been mentioned doesn’t mean it will even show up in Latrobe.

The team is very fond of Samuels as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Will he be used as a third-down back? And how much of that will be determined by how he shows growth in the pass protection and blitz recognition aspects of the job?

As for Snell, he in all likelihood is going to have a roster spot, but will he have a role? Will he get more than a couple of touches per game? He would have to impress a fair bit to make meaningful headway.

In the meantime, Edmunds is just trying to stay on the roster. He was promoted from the practice squad for the final three games after Conner’s injury, but he only played on special teams. It will be difficult for the team to have four running backs active, anyway. If he becomes a standout special teams player and is on the 53, it could be that Snell has some time logged as a health scratch.

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