Exactly one year from today, Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner might be with a new team as the former third-round draft pick out of the University of Pittsburgh is currently scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 season has concluded. Even so, what may or may not happen in 2021 is currently the furthest thing from Conner’s mind right now and that was evident when the running back was asked during a Tuesday Zoom call with the local media what his objective is for the forthcoming 2020 season.
“My goal is to win,” Conner said Tuesday. “I have the opportunity to do that. I’m going to go into training camp with this year’s team, it’s a special team that we’ve got. Got some pieces that were out last year coming back healthy, so, just really excited for the opportunity to win. I’m not playing for a contract or none of that or playing not to get hurt. I’m playing to win, simple and plain, that’s all it’s about.
“I have visions of us and me being a part of Super Bowl number seven. First organization. And so, that’s true every day, I try to live a healthy lifestyle and I know that it will translate to the football field the more good I put in my body, the more work I put my body through, I know it’ll translate. I just want to be healthy and give it all I’ve got and play for my teammates. Man, we’ve got an awesome group year in and year out. So the goal is to win.”
After an injury riddled 2019 season that included Conner missing six full games and the parts of few others, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert talked quite a bit during the offseason about how the organization still has plenty of faith in their running back performing in 2020 like he did during his 2018 Pro Bowl season. Colbert also made it point to say several times this past offseason that Conner’s injuries to date at the NFL level have mainly been of the acute variety. That seemingly overly supportive stance by Colbert withstanding, the Steelers still seemingly don’t have any plans to sign Conner to a contract extension prior to the start of the 2020 season.
“That’s the game,” Conner said Tuesday when asked to comment on the Steelers seemingly taking a wait-and-see attitude regarding their starting running back. “I want to do a lot more and give a lot more to this organization. And so, I trust the Lord’s timing. So not concerned about the extension. I know I’ve got another year left on my contract. I’m giving everything I got for one more year and we’ll see what happens after that. But just going to ball-out, just going to play football and play it to the best of my ability.”
Because his 2019 season wasn’t up to his expectations, Conner was asked on Tuesday if he has a lot to prove to himself and others in 2020.
“With every team, you have to prove it day in and day out,” Conner said Tuesday. “You know, we’re getting evaluated every day. So, I threw last year out behind me because there’s nothing I can do to get last year back. I’m working every day hard as possible to be in the best shape ever, to be the best football player I can be. When I step out on the field this year, I’m going to give it everything I have.
“So, that’s just where my mindset is. I’m not trying to make it bigger than what it is. All it is is perform. I do that when I’m on the field and so I’m not too concerned about it. My faith is in God, like I always say, so, it’s not no comeback or this and that, it’s just be healthy, now let’s go play football.”
Judging by all of the pictures and video posted on his social media accounts so far this offseason, Conner already looks highly conditioned and thus ready for the annual rigors that come with an NFL regular season. While the Steelers did draft yet another running back this year in Maryland product Anthony McFarland Jr., he’s more of a change-of-pace-type player and thus not likely a threat to steal Conner’s lead role in 2020.
Because the Steelers chose to not only wait until the fourth-round of this year’s draft to select another running back and because of the kind of running back that they ultimately drafted in McFarland, Conner was asked on Monday if he took those actions as a vote of confidence from the team in him and if he thinks the Steelers are very dependent on him bouncing back and having a good 2020 season.
“Well, I’m healthy right now, so I’m excited to just go play football,” Conner said. “I’m always confident in my game. So, I have relationships with my coaches and our coaches, so I’m just excited to get out there and go play.”