James Conner was a Pro Bowl runner last season, rushing for nearly 1000 yards and 12 scores on the ground, plus nearly another 500 yards through the air, in just 13 games last season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. This season hasn’t exactly gone as expected, and just when it looked like things were taking off, he was hit with a significant shoulder injury.
That injury cost him pretty much six games, but he was able to return finally on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills to some success. Still, he had just 12 touches on the day, divided between eight rushes and four receptions, one of which resulted in an 11-yard touchdown, the only time the offense got into the end zone.
Asked about what the gameplan was for his workload, he said, “we talked about it. We talked about it being spread out. I felt good out there, but I’m just trying to execute the plays that are called”. Still, the rest of the running backs didn’t get a lot of work, either. The others combined for five carries.
Conner seemed to imply that he was surprised by the lack of emphasis on the running game against the Bills, allowing a rookie quarterback to drop back to pass 42 times in a game in which they never trailed by more than seven points, and that only came late.
That was last week, however, and this is this week. Conner’s shoulder has now been tested, he has gone through a full week of practice, and should be as ready as he can be to play. Does that mean he’ll get a bigger role in terms of more touches? “If that’s how the game goes, I’ll be ready for whatever”, he said, “but again. I just try to execute the plays that they call”.
Three of the 12 plays on which he was asked to execute with the ball in his hands produced 10-plus yards, including his 11-yard touchdown reception in addition to runs of 15 and 17 yards. He made a great cut on one of them that opened the edge of the field for a nice gain.
“Anytime you get a good run like that, it helps”, he said. “I’ve been working the whole time when I was rehabbing my shoulder, so I didn’t feel rusty or nothing out there”.
Conner, of course, injured his shoulder, so there’s no reason that he couldn’t keep him shape beyond obviously doing much strenuous with that shoulder. There is no reason, for example, that he shouldn’t keep his cardio up.
Fully back into the mix now, what will the backfield look like tomorrow with Conner at the head, plus Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell, and Kerrith Whyte?