Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner had a great second season in the NFL in 2018 as the University of Pittsburgh product rushed for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns in the 13 games that he played in and he also registered 55 receptions for another 497 yards and a touchdown. All of those stats would have obviously been even better had he not missed three games late in the season with an ankle injury. After being the team’s bell cow running back for most of the 2018 season, Conner spoke Monday about what he believes his role in the offense will be in 2019.
While Conner is sure to be the Steelers primary running back again in 2019, early speculation during the offseason practices seemed to be that his overall workload and playtime this upcoming season might be lowered a bit by some sort of running back-by-committee approach as second-year running back Jaylen Samuels is now more experienced and with the team drafting former Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. this year in the fourth-round. Conner commented some on that 2019 running back-by-committee speculation during a Monday interview with the NFL Network.
“I’ll have a similar role. I’m healthy, first and foremost, I’m 100 percent healthy now. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Conner said of his expected workload this year, per Kevin Patra of NFL.com. “But we got talent in that room. We got Jaylen Samuels who’s a tremendous receiver, a talented runner. We got Benny Snell. We know the work that he did at Kentucky. He’s a hard-bodied runner, so all those guys will get touches. It’ll be fun this year just seeing those other guys being successful.”
While Conner did suggest on Monday that he expects to have a role in the offense in 2019 similar to the one he had in 2018, he did admit that there have yet to be deep discussions concerning what his defined role will be throughout the team’s 16 game schedule.
“It goes week to week. The game plan will be different each week,” he said. “I know I’ll be a big part of it and have a big role. As far as specifics, we don’t play it like that.”
Solid season and all last year, Conner also made it clear during a Monday morning interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio that he knows he has room for improvement in several areas of his game as he prepares for his third NFL season.
“Every category, to be honest,” Conner said Monday morning when he was asked to name areas of his game he’s looking to improve in this upcoming season. “You know, just watching my game tape, I need to focus on my speed, my knee drive. You know, everything. Ball security, pass pick up, everything.”
Ball security is an area that Conner certainly does need to improve in this upcoming season as he fumbled the football four times last season with two of those being recovered by the opposing defense. One of those lost fumbles came midway through the fourth quarter of the Steelers 2018 regular season opener against the Cleveland Browns and quickly led to the opposition scoring one play later and getting back into the contest. If he can clean up those fumbles and improve more in pass protection, he’ll certainly make it hard to pull him off the field.
“So, I’m excited, man, to just capitalize on a lot of categories and just get the ball rolling,” Conner said Monday.
Conner’s full Monday interview will be shown later this evening on ‘Total Access.’