When someone gets a new toy, whether it is a child’s toy, a new video game or a new car, it can become their main focus in the short term, but eventually the luster slightly wears off. This is also the case in the NFL when it comes to rookies and/or Undrafted Free Agents (UDFA) who are trying to put their own mark on an NFL roster.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jaylen Samuels, rookie from North Carolina State, would be this shiny new toy. Fans are enamored with his versatility, and rightfully so. He is more than capable as a running back, tight end, fullback and even wide receiver. In Le’Veon Bell’s absence from these voluntary Organized Team Activities (OTAs), most assume Samuels will benefit the most from Bell’s absence and the increased repetitions.
But let’s not forget about James Conner.
Conner battled injuries last year, which hindered his overall availability to the team. This isn’t uncommon for rookies. Many times they don’t really know what to expect from an NFL offseason/training camp and battle nagging injuries. After a year under his belt, Conner is ready to chip in.
“I want all the reps as possible before it really counts,” Conner told Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It all counts right now, but until we strap up Game 1, I want to get as many reps as possible so I can be as comfortable as possible for whenever my number is called during the season.”
If some are thinking Conner might be on the injury prone side of things, he isn’t out to prove anyone wrong — just doing the best he can to stay healthy.
“It’s nothing I can prove,” Conner said of the injuries. “There’s ways to improve and stay healthy, but football is football. I had an MCL injury. It’s hard to name a running back in the NFL without a knee injury. Injuries are going to happen. I can’t control that.”
Conner isn’t the only player who sees Bell’s absence as a golden opportunity for him to get himself ready for his sophomore season. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sees it too.
“This is a big time for James, with some of the injuries he had last year and learning last year,” Roethlisberger said.
“I think this will be a good time for him to get as many reps as possible so we can all see what he can do, and that he can see what he can do, too.”
At the end of the day, it is still extremely early in the process. Day 1 of OTAs is hardly a time to get excited, or depressed, about anything pertaining to an NFL team, but it doesn’t mean work can’t be done.
“Right now, I’m just focused on getting better myself and taking it one day at a time,” Conner said. “It’s OTA Day 1. The season will be here soon, but it’s still a long way away. So just take it one day at a time. I’m going to go in there, study and watch the film and come out for Day 2 of OTAs.”
While more attention might be given to the rookie Samuels, Conner is out to prove he is more than capable of holding down the running back position for the black-and-gold.
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press through OTAs and offseason workouts.