Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jaylen Samuels isn’t having his best training camp of his NFL career this year and that’s because he’s yet to participate in any practices at Heinz Field yet due to him being on the team’s Reserve/COVID-19 list. On Wednesday, Steelers running backs coach Eddie Faulkner was asked about Samuels during his press conference and specifically if he’s still able to communicate with the running back while he’s sidelined, the impact of the time he’s missed so far and if it’s better for the third-year North Carolina State product to miss time early in training camp as opposed to later.
“I mean, any time missed, and days of work missed isn’t necessarily a good thing,” Faulkner said of Samuels starting off training camp away from the time. “But if you’re going to miss some time, it would be in the front end of this where it’s tempo-ed down, it’s walk-through, it’s meetings and stuff like that. Yes, I talk to him daily, not only, first of all, my most important concern is his well-being. Secondly, to make sure he’s up to speed as far as meetings and what we’ve talked about and play’s going in that day.”
Last season at this same time, Samuels was a virtual lock to make the Steelers 53-man roster as a backup running back. This year, however, Samuels probably can’t be considered a virtual roster lock as a result of the team drafting former Maryland running back Anthony McFarland Jr. this year in the fourth-round in addition to veteran running back Wendell Smallwood, who has a very similar skill set as Samuels, prior to the start of training camp.
After registering 455 total yards from scrimmage during his 2018 rookie season, Samuels, a former fifth-round draft pick, posted 480 total yards from scrimmage last season. While he’s proven to be a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield for the Steelers in his two seasons with the team, he’s still not a proven ball carrier, pass protector or special teams player. Those final three areas that he lacks in is the main reason why he probably shouldn’t be considered a lock to make the 53-man roster this year barring any injuries in the position group happening these next four weeks.
Samuels was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on August 2, the same day that wide receiver James Washington was. Washington, however, was removed from the list earlier this week and he is practicing with the team at training camp. Will Samuels make it off the list by this weekend? It’s hard to say for sure but the Steelers will be donning the pads in less than a week from now so the sooner he can get to practicing the better and before he loses more ground to his positional competition.
“He does have the advantage of going into his third year so he’s done most of these things and everything will resonate with him once he hears it,” Faulkner said Wednesday of Samuels missing time. “He’s just going to have to go out when he does show up and hit the ground running. COVID has put us in that type of situation where guys have got to be willing to show up and show out if they are put into that protocol. So, I would expect him to do that. And I do have confidence that when he gets here, he’ll know what he’s doing and can be able to go play fast and react fast to what’s going on.”