Players get paid to play, and coaches get paid to coach. Now, it’s very rare that a coach ever plays, but players are also frequently expected to do some coaching as well. There is always a passing on of knowledge from older and more experienced players to the younger novices.
Players have in recent years even formed summits where those of a certain position group—for example, offensive linemen or pass rushers—gather to discuss their craft, exchange trade secrets, and things of that nature.
Of course, it happens much more informally in a locker room, but it’s really one of the most critical elements of team development that goes under-recognized and underappreciated. The Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, have a pretty young running back room, with even James Conner only in his fourth season.
But according to rookie running back Anthony McFarland, he hasn’t been shy about helping out whenever and wherever he can. “What makes me feel comfortable is learning from the guys in the room, especially 3-0, James Conner”, he told reporters on Monday.
“Just learning from him, the things that he teaches me, like how to take care of your body so you can perform well, I really follow that”, he elaborated. “I always say I’m not a follower, but when I see somebody who’s about their business, I’m gonna follow them, because at the end of the day, I want to get to where they are. That’s what’s so great about it, just a great group of leaders we have in the room”.
Following an injury scare in the opener in which he left the game after just 15 snaps, Conner has come back strong over the past two games, logging about 70 percent of the snaps and accumulating 212 rushing yards and two scores on 34 attempts, plus 55 receiving yards on six receptions. That’s 267 yards from scrimmage, or 133.5 yards per game. Not to jump the gun, but that pace would put him over 2000 yards from scrimmage on the season.
In other words, he is certainly still a player, and a lot of what he can teach a young running back is what he shows through his own example. McFarland has called himself a student of the game, so I’m sure he’s observing Conner in all that he does, including pass protection, an aspect of the game he won’t be shielded from.
He had better learn from Conner what he can now, however, as it’s very likely to be his last season in Pittsburgh thanks to the salary cap. And it will be the play of young backs like McFarland and Benny Snell that help make the case from the front office that they can move on—and add yet another mid-round running back to the mix to keep the wheels churning.