Randy Fichtner talked for 20 minutes to reporters earlier today. About 15 minutes or so was about Ben Roethlisberger. That’s not entirely shocking, but it does mean that we didn’t get a chance to hear the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator—who is no longer the quarterbacks coach—discuss the majority of the offense.
He did, however, address a question about the running back position and what his expectations were, among other things, for James Conner, entering his fourth season. A Pro Bowler in 2018, he is coming off a season in which he grappled with a number of injuries, yet was still able to look like the best player on the field at times.
“When James is healthy, he’s as good as any back that we’ve had”, Fichtner said about his lead runner while going down the list of his backs. “I’m so excited about James’ offseason. I wish we would’ve had a chance to be together a little bit in OTAs and during that time, but he’s put himself in that position. We know he’s capable of being an all-three-down back”.
A third-round pick in 2017, he took over the featured role in 2018 when Le’Veon Bell no-showed on the season, and he immediately slipped into an every-down-back role. He would regularly play 85-90 percent of the team’s snaps when healthy.
Fichtner was asked about whether or not he would look into specializing the workforce in the backfield now that they have a group of backs at least five or so deep that possesses NFL-level talent, and among whom there are different skillsets.
“Very excited about where they’re at as a group, and like I said, if we have to specialize in-game, we will do so to put each guy in the best position to give us the best chance for success”, he said. “But my expectation would be that James would be capable of doing all three downs”.
Jaylen Samuels is in his third year now and is primarily a pass-catching back, while Benny Snell enters his second season looking to flesh out his repertoire and show himself as a three-down player. Second-year Kerrith Whyte and rookie Anthony McFarland both bring speed to the position, whereas Wendell Smallwood is a veteran brought in during training camp.
With a lead runner who can do everything at a high level and can also log a lot of snaps when he’s healthy, however, how much work will this group actually get this season? This will be a work in progress for sure, likely with input from a number of people, including Matt Canada.