While he didn’t necessarily play a crazy number of snaps or receive a large number of touches, second-year running back Jaylen Samuels was increasingly becoming a meaningful part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense this week.
In the wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury, that was seemingly especially becoming the case, with the team relying at times on being able to use the college Swiss Army knife out of the Wildcat. They even gave him the opportunity to throw a pass beyond the line of scrimmage on Sunday, though it produced disastrous results.
But he suffered an injury of some kind during the course of that game, which resulted in him having an operation the very next day, and head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday that they expect him to miss about a month.
Given Samuels’ specialized talents, which differentiated himself from the rest of the running backs on the Steelers’ 53-man roster—those being veteran James Conner and fourth-round rookie draft pick Benny Snell—it goes without saying that they will have to adapt, as Tomlin explained during his pre-game press conference.
“We had red paint, so we painted our barn red”, he said in talking about making use of Samuels’ skills because they had them at their disposal. Now that they no longer have that red paint available to them, he said, “maybe yellow” is what they will have to use next.
“We will continue to lean on the strengths of our collective group and work to minimize their weaknesses”, Tomlin went on. “Obviously, when Jaylen was a part of us, he was a guy we could lean on and a guy that had some in game experience and some play making ability, and some versatility. Now that he is not, we will continue to spin the dial and lean on the collective strengths of the group”.
The Steelers already know what they have in Conner, a complete back who is capable of running the ball, making plays after the catch, and working in pass protection. They are still learning about Snell, who has limited touches so far.
It remains to be seen if and when they make the decision to promote Trey Edmunds from the practice squad. He spent most of last year there before being called up late in the season following an injury to Conner when he missed three games, but he did not contribute on offense.
The latest canvas on which to paint the latest approach for the running back position is set up in Los Angeles this Sunday. How will they utilize Conner in Samuels’ absence, and relative to Snell, who has not yet been given much work?