The two biggest storylines for the Pittsburgh Steelers are pretty simple: how Ben Roethlisberger will play, and whether or not the defense can live up to his performance from a year ago. Because if you can take the 2018 version of Roethlisberger and the 2019 defense, you have a Super Bowl-capable team right there.
From Cameron Heyward to T.J Watt to Minkah Fitzpatrick; from Devin Bush to Joe Haden to Stephon Tuitt—almost from the top of the starting lineup to the bottom, the defense is stacked with very good or even great players.
That’s a unit that the offense is looking forward to competing against in training camp once the hitting starts to get underway in a few days. At least, that is what fourth-year running back James Conner said when he was asked by a fan during an Instagram Live chat what he was looking forward to as training camp moves along.
“Just the intensity. You know, we’ve got a great defense”, he said. “Competing versus them every day, we have no choice but to get better. So, team run and Seven Shots and all of the little different periods that we do, the competition and the intensity level is up, so it’ll be fun”.
The Steelers were one of the rare teams not long ago who actually conducted live tackling drills during their training camp sessions, something that they brought back several years ago under Mike Tomlin, and it became a trend that more teams began to adopt.
With no preseason games this year, it’s inevitable that many teams, maybe even most, if not all teams, will incorporate some level of live tackling in training camp this year. It’s hard to imagine entering a regular season with an entire roster full of guys who haven’t been tackled since last season.
The only way to prepare for getting hit is to start getting hit, and Conner is getting warmed up to be knocked down by the likes of Heyward and Watt, Tuitt and Dupree, that formidable front four that proved to be such a menace for offensive lines last season.
Considering the injuries that he dealt with last season, it would probably also feel good for Conner to get the first hits out of the way when it’s not going to come playing through pain. He is 100 percent healthy and ready to play out the final year of his contract.
After this season, who knows? The next time Conner lines up against this defense, it might be in a live game.