As the Pittsburgh Steelers put the finishing touches on their gameplan for Sunday night against the Los Angeles Chargers, they are getting a clearer picture of who they will and will not have available to them. One player whom they’ve known all week will not be an option is second-year running back Jaylen Samuels, who is expected to miss about a month after undergoing an operation on his knee following Sunday’s game.
With their second-string, passing game running back on the shelf, they have some snaps to make up for, and that will inevitably involve the greater incorporation of rookie running back Benny Snell. Samuels was averaging about 20 snaps per game, while Snell was seeing about two.
While we probably will not see Snell playing the 20 snaps per game that Samuels was getting, there will obviously be situations and opportunities for him in the coming weeks that he otherwise would not have had, and that also means he’s going to have to be put on an accelerated learning curve.
Starter James Conner was asked about how Snell was doing. “Just learning every day”, he told reporters about his young teammate. “Being asked to do things maybe that he didn’t have to do in college. It’s a different game from college, but Benny’s more than capable. He’s got a great resume. He’s practicing hard. he’ll be just fine”.
Snell has 30 yards from scrimmage so far this year on six carries, though 23 yards came on one rush, the first of his career. While he grew quite popular in the offseason, his showing in the preseason was rather inefficient, and indicated that he still has a lot of growing.
“I was a rookie before, so I know the growing pains, like in pass protection”, Conner said when asked about his role in helping Snell along. “Being in the right spots for checkdowns and in the passing game. So if I see something I notice, I’ll go out there and help him with that, and also if he has any questions he can come to me. So both ways”, he said, he is trying to help the fourth-round pick get up to speed and ready to take on a bigger role.
Will the Steelers actually use him much more, however? Or will they simply make use of more four- and five-receiver sets and take the running back off the field altogether for 10 to 15 plays per game to give Conner the opportunity for a breather on the sidelines? That’s what they did in 2018 when they weren’t comfortable with their backups.
There is a lot to like about Snell regarding is makeup, but it’s not obvious that he is ready as a rookie to be a serious contributor. Then again, that is what the next few games for him is likely going to determine. He’ll get his chances here and there, and if he does well with them, he’ll get more. If now, we’ll see more wide receivers.