Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner left the field briefly and was examined in the blue medical tent along the Steelers sidelines in Week 10. On the play, before he headed to the sidelines, Conner took a shot by Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly. Conner was helped up, but jogged off and appeared to have no ill effects from the hit.
Returning briefly to the game on the last play of the third quarter, Conner did not return to the game after the quarter change. Conner was having a solid game with 13 carries for 65 yards and an 8 yard gain on his lone reception before being sent to the locker room for further evaluation.
Steeler fans will question why head coach Mike Tomlin still had the Steelers workhorse in a blowout game while knocking on the door for another score with the team leading 45-14.
Conner will have 10 days to pass the concussion protocol before Pittsburgh takes on the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road in Week 11. Concussions are always a tricky injury and even with the extra time, there is no guarantee to pass the protocol necessary to retake the field in time for the game.
If Conner cannot pass the protocol, the scenario becomes muddied. Three-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell is still not with the team as he continues his extended offseason as he has not signed the franchise tag. Bell has until Tuesday to sign his franchise tag if he intends to play in 2018. Even if Bell signs his tender, it is unclear if the Steelers will activate him or use their two-week roster exemption.
The next man up would presumably be journeyman Stevan Ridley. Ridley, the former LSU Tiger, toted the ball eight times for 26 yards but offers little in the passing game and pass protection. Overall in 2018, he has 18 carries for 56 yards (3.1 YPC) and 3 receptions for 18 yards. Ridley made a week 17 start last season, but it was his first in three seasons.
Rookie running back Jaylen Samuels would be the third-down specialist and change of pace back. Samuels was ineffective running the ball during the Carolina game rushing 5 times for seven yards but had three receptions for 22 yards and a score. On the season, the former North Carolina St. running back has rushed 10 times for 26 yards while his only catches came in the Thursday night game.
The running back situation will be fluid the next week and will be a must see how the Bell situation pans out and if Conners can pass the concussion protocol. The Jaguars game comes at a critical juncture with the Steelers flying high with their five-game winning streak. Jacksonville, on the other hand, has lost three in a row and are buried at the bottom of their division. The Jaguars have the league’s best defense against the pass while they struggle at 24th against the run. Can the Steelers generate a running attack without Bell or Conner to succeed in this all-important game?