The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, following the most unique offseason in the NFL since at least World War II. While it didn’t involve a player lockout, teams still did not have physical access to their players, though they were at least able to meet with them virtually.
Even training camp looked much different from the norm, and a big part of that was the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. Their first football game of the year was to be the opener against the New York Giants.
As the season progresses, however, there will be a number of questions that arise on a daily basis, and we will do our best to try to raise attention to them as they come along, in an effort to both point them out and to create discussion
Questions like, how will the players who are in new positions this year going to perform? Will the rookies be able to contribute significantly? How will Ben Roethlisberger look—and the other quarterbacks as well? Now, we even have questions about whether or not players will be in quarantine.
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: How will the Steelers divide the reps in the backfield between James Conner and Benny Snell against the Broncos?
Now that it appears clear James Conner will be ready to resume play after missing the majority of the season opener with a minor ankle injury, the question becomes, what do you do with Benny Snell following his 100-yard rushing game—in a game in which Conner couldn’t get anything going before his injury?
Mike Tomlin continues 14 years into his tenure as Steelers head coach to be an advocate of the bell-cow back theory, and went into the season stating that Conner is his bell cow. But he also said he wasn’t surprised by Snell showing signs of that capacity on Monday.
So what do you do when you have two bell-cow-capable runners? Historically, Tomlin has put one out to pasture. In 2016, DeAngelo Williams barely got any burn behind Le’Veon Bell even though he played at a Pro Bowl level in Bell’s absence for most of the previous season.
While Conner is back on the field, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is back to 100 percent, and he is not the established player that Bell was, a first-team All-Pro and readily in the discussion as being not just the best running back in the league but one of the top offensive players.
All I know is that it would be disappointing to see Snell fall back into an absentee role without being given a proper opportunity to show that he could be a significant part of the offense over a long stretch of time, given what he was able to show against the Giants.