The biggest game of Jaylen Samuels’ rookie season came against the New England Patriots as he helped the Pittsburgh Steelers secure a rare victory over the class of the NFL. In just his second career start, filling in for the injured James Conner, he rushed for 142 yards on 19 carries, adding another 30 receiving yards on two receptions.
It was an impressive performance, no doubt, but perhaps one of the plays that most stuck out for him, and for the coaching staff, was the blitz pickups that he missed that led to Ben Roethlisberger getting pressured, even sacked.
So as they are set to face the Patriots for a second time with Samuels on the roster, they are much more comfortable with where the second-year back is all-around with his game. That is something that offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner spoke to reporters with yesterday, via the team’s media department.
Asked if Samuels has given him more to work with as a coordinator, he highlighted the improvement that he has shown in pass protection to answer in the affirmative. “If you really broke down that film down, I would think they would be sitting there” trying to get their linebackers one-on-one against him.
“’I want to get one of those big guys on him’, because he ran right through them one time last year and he missed them one time last year”, Ficthner continued. “So the growth comes right now in just protecting our quarterback”.
One of the most difficult things about getting a rookie running back on the field is trusting that he will be able to hold up in pass protection, something that both Conner and Samuels struggled with. Conner improved in his second year, and Fichtner believes that Samuels will as well.
“I believe, and I feel very confident, if [Samuels] is in there, he’ll block whoever they put in there”, Fichtner said. “And that’s a lot different that what I would have felt going into last year’s game”.
For his part, the 2018 fifth-round pick told reporters that he dropped 10 pounds from last season, according to Teresa Varley. It’s become the standard practice for Pittsburgh. They draft bigger backs, usually, coming out of college, and give them the opportunity to work on their body for a year, and we see that improvement in conditioning and performance from year one to year two.
Of course, Samuels is still behind Conner, and that’s not going to change any time soon, but the fact that they can feel comfortable giving him a series or two here and there and trust him in every aspect of the position is a very big deal, something they didn’t have a year ago, and which limited them to some extent.