Will the Pittsburgh Steelers draft a RB this year? If you just listen to their answers today, it might come down to who gets their way on Friday. Mike Tomlin or Kevin Colbert.
In their virtual, pre-draft press conference, both were asked if the Steelers feel like they need to draft a running back after having one of football’s worst rushing attacks in 2019. Tomlin responded first.
“Like we mentioned earlier, we’ve got a lot of needs. We’ve got some top quality backs in this draft who can help us. But there’s also some other positional guys that could help us. We’ll let the development do the work for us. If we get an opportunity to get a back who can bring some things to our current pool, then we’ll be excited about that. We have every intention running the ball better in 2020 than we did in 2019 whether we add that back or not.”
Colbert followed up with his thoughts on the backfield situation.
“To add to that, I know that starting the season, we’ll have a healthy James Conner. We’ve got some other young backs that have all been contributors in the past. There’s no reason they can’t still be contributors when healthy. I always go back to James Conner. He had acute injuries in 2017. He avoided that in 2018 and put up a Pro Bowl season. He’s still young, ascending player. When healthy, he’s an NFL Pro Bowl player. That’s a hope. I know James will enter the season healthy. Can we complement it? We’ll see. But I’m not going in thinking we don’t have a starter capable runner because I know James Conner is.”
Neither answers committed to anything, I know, but those are two very different responses. Tomlin is lumping running back into the “needs” category – with other positions, to be fair – while Colbert is focusing on what Conner has done when he’s on the field.
Tomlin references the top backs in the class. Colbert scales it back to “complimenting” Conner.
It’s not unexpected for them to feel this way. Tomlin has to directly deal with injuries, managing practice reps, new faces, the day-to-day grind and the uncertainty injuries bring. That isn’t Colbert’s responsibility. He can take a wider view at it, see what Conner was done big picture, and the potential of the options behind him.
The one thing both can agree on is the need to improve the running game from 2019. With Conner on the sidelines most of the back half of the year, Pittsburgh averaged just 3.7 YPC (tied 27th in football) and seven rushing touchdowns (tied for 29th). Art Rooney’s mandate was to fix the running game. Getting Ben Roethlisberger back will help, as will the signing of Derek Watt, now we’ll see if they go all the way with a running back.
Who will win? Tomlin or Colbert?
Tune in Friday.