For James Conner, like so many members of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense, had a 2019 to forget. He battled injury after injury, literally limping to the finish line with a 464 yard, four touchdown campaign. But on the surface, the organization seems to be expecting a bounce back season.
Kevin Colbert spoke to the media Thursday afternoon and expressed confidence in Conner going forward.
From WTAE’s Ryan Recker and the Trib’s Joe Rutter.
Kevin Colbert says the #Steelers remain committed to James Conner after injuries derailed his 2019 season. Colbert adds that he’s hoping that the 2018 version of Conner returns in 2020.
— Ryan Recker (@RyanRecker) February 13, 2020
Kevin Colbert called RB James Conner's injuries acute and expects a return to health in 2020. "I don't think that is who James is," he said, regarding Conner's 2019 season.
— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) February 13, 2020
2020 is a crucial year for Conner. It’s the final year of his rookie deal and he’s yet to prove durable enough to get through an entire season. They haven’t been chronic, recurring injuries, they’ve all been “freak” events but it’ll be hard for the Steelers or any team to make a serious financial commitment until he shows that durability. It’s almost a guarantee the team won’t do an extension with Conner this offseason, making next year a make-or-break moment.
Still, taking what Colbert says at face value, it wouldn’t seem likely the organization will heavily invest in running back during the offseason. Though many mock drafts and analysts believe the team will take a back with one of their top two picks, the entire backfield is returning next year. Conner is still a highly talented back when he’s healthy and Benny Snell had an impressive rookie year who should take a step forward heading into his sophomore season. There’s also Jaylen Samuels and Kerrith Whyte Jr. to round out the group.
Other factors should improve the run game. Tweaking the scheme so linemen can climb to the second level better will help, and, of course, Ben Roethlisberger’s presumed return will open up the passing game and make the rushing attack a little easier to get going.