For the first time in several weeks on Wednesday Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner wasn’t listed on the team’s injury report and that certainly was great to see as the former third-round draft pick had been a mainstay on it dating back to Week 9.
On the heels of him playing this past Sunday night against the Buffalo Bills, and for the first time since Week 11, Conner was asked Thursday to describe how he’s feeling as the team prepares to play the New York Jets on the road this coming Sunday.
“I feel great, blessed,” Conner said. “Blessed and highly favored.
Conner was then immediately asked on Thursday to describe how the injured shoulder that had kept him sidelined for the previous four games felt immediately after the Sunday game against the Bills. Specifically, he was asked if it felt like he expected it to feel.
“Yeah, it held up,” Conner said. “I’m little sore, but that was to be expected. But it held up throughout the game, so it’s all good.”
Conner was then asked if moving forward through the remainder of the season if it will just be a matter of him managing pain in his shoulder.
“Yeah, for sure,” Conner said. “You know, it’s not going to completely go away. I ain’t gonna be one hundred percent, but it’s our position right now. We’ve got to win, so.”
In his first game back on Sunday against the Bills, Conner played 34 of the 59 total offensive snaps played and he carried the football eight times for 42 yards in addition to catching four passes for another 9 yards and a touchdown. Because he only touched the football 12 times against the Bills, Conner was asked on Thursday if he had a feeling prior to the Sunday night home game that his workload would be limited some in that contest.
“We talked about it being spread out,” Conner admitted. “I felt good out there. Just trying to execute, you know, the plays that were called.”
With Sunday’s game against the Jets now right around the corner, Conner was finally asked on Thursday if he feels he’ll be ready to handle a bigger workload in his second contest back should it be asked of him.
“If that’s how the game goes,” Conner said. “I’ll be ready for whatever. I just have to execute the plays that they call.”
The Steelers won’t have an easy chore when it comes to running the football on Sunday against the Jets as their defense enters Week 16 ranked second-overall in the NFL in average rushing yards allowed per game with 77.6. With the Jets defense being so strong against the run so far this season, Conner was asked on Thursday to explain why that is.
“You know, just a fast group on defense,” Conner said. “They’ve got a lot of good players up front that get penetration. You know, secondary is good. [Jets safety] Jamal Adams is playing really, really good for them. So, it will be tough challenge for us. Excited about it though.”
It will indeed be interesting to see just how effective the Steelers running game can be on Sunday against the Jets defense and if Conner indeed winds up getting a heavier workload in his second game back from injury. Only once so far this season has Conner rushed more than 16 times in a game and that happened back in Week 8 against the Miami Dolphins when he logged 23 rushes for 145 yards and a touchdown. That’s the game, however, that Conner suffered his shoulder injury in and since then he’s carried the football just 13 times for 52 yards.
Judging by how Conner looked against the Bills in limited action Sunday night, maybe he can have some success against the Jets stingy run defense and in the process help the Steelers offense stay ahead of the chains.
“He is completely healthy, we wouldn’t have played him [against the Bills] unless he was,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said of Conner’s overall health on Tuesday. “I liked his contributions. Although his sample size wasn’t what we or he would like, I thought he was competitive. I thought he won one-on-one confrontations with would-be tacklers and so forth.
“I thought he played with good body lean. I thought he protected the ball. He did the things that we expect him to do and hopefully it is a building block as we continue to get him in stadiums. I know his continual presence for us is significant.”