The first step in doing well is showing up. The second part is showing up prepared to handle whatever task it is that you would be asked to take on. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they fully expect their lead runner, James Conner, to do well this season based upon the manner in which he has shown up in camp and carried himself throughout.
Entering his fourth season, and his third as the team’s starting running back, Conner is in a contract year and has a lot left to prove, particularly on the health front after being limited to under 400 offensive snaps in 2019 due to a variety of physical ailments that robbed him of playing time.
“James has had a good camp and has done good work”, head coach Mike Tomlin said after practice today when a reporter noted that Conner seemed to be getting more work, though the coach said that it wasn’t a conscious effort.
“We’ve removed him from some of the tackle football in terms of team run, but that’s not about him”, he continued. “That’s just to get more exposure to some of the younger guys that we know less about, to check the evolution of Benny Snell, to get to know Anthony McFarland, if you will”.
“That’s kind of been our focus”, Tomlin added. “It’s been a good preseason for him. We expect that guy to be ready to go. He came in highly-conditioned. He’s a professional, and we’re excited about getting him the ball”.
They only got him the ball 116 games on the ground last season because of the time missed due to injuries, netting 464 rushing yards with four touchdowns. He did also have another 251 yards on 34 receptions with three more touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards per touch on 150 total offensive touches on the season.
While you don’t necessarily plan for injuries, the Steelers figure to be in better shape in 2020 if Conner does have to miss time, with Snell now in his second reason ready to take on greater responsibility and having earned more trust from the coaching staff to handle the nuances of a three-down role.
Add in McFarland as a homerun threat, and a potentially continuing battle for a fourth spot between Jaylen Samuels, Wendell Smallwood, and Kerrith Whyte. The Steelers actually ended last season with five halfbacks on the roster, though of course that’s not going to happen again.
All parties involved are likely aware that there is a good chance this is the last season for Conner in Pittsburgh. But they’re not thinking about that right now. That’s a problem for March. Their priority until then is fielding the best possible team to win a championship, and that means having a lead runner in the best shape of his career.