Training camp is finally here, even genuine practices. This is the first time all year that we, and the Pittsburgh Steelers, have had the opportunity to take the field in any capacity, which is an all-important step in the process of evaluating your offseason decisions and beginning to put the puzzle together that will shape the upcoming season.
The Steelers are coming off of an 8-8 season, but while they will default to clichés about how you are what your record says you are, they know they have the potential to be much better. Still, they enter training camp with some questions to answer.
They are no different than any team in the NFL in that regard, in any year. Nobody comes to practice as a finished product. So during this series, we are going to highlight some of the most significant storylines that figure to play out over the course of training camp.
Headline: James Conner staying healthy in a contract year
When James Conner was preparing for the draft, he penned an article making it clear that he didn’t want to be known as ‘the football player who had cancer’. While he still frequently gets his prior battle with cancer brought up in just about every interview, I think it’s safe to say he’s proven to be much more than that.
Unfortunately, another topic he has been unable to avoid has been his injuries, and that’s not entirely unfair, because he has had a number of them, including three or four unique injuries that he dealt with just last season. It limited him to just 10 games, or parts of 10 games, logging just 328 snaps as a result.
Even through injury, he did play well for the most part, especially as the season progressed, when he was on the field, and he managed to get into the end zone seven times on his 150 touches, which is about the ratio at which he scored during his Pro Bowl season of 2018, with 13 touchdowns in 270 touches.
But by now people know what he can do on the field—at least the people who matter know that. What they don’t know is how much time he can spend on the field, rather than on the trainer’s table and on the sidelines in street clothes while nursing injuries.
He’s out to prove in 2020 that he’s not an injury-prone player and that he’s just had some bad luck, a mission that comes at a critical juncture as he enters the final year of his rookie contract with no indications that he will receive an extension in the next couple of weeks.
Since 2018, Conner has been used as a featured back when he has been on the field. He has shown himself to be a complete back with the ability to run hard, to catch well out of the backfield, and to pass protect with effectiveness. Doing all of that through good health will be the audition tape he needs for all 32 teams heading into March.