clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Steelers News: Should the Steelers be confident in their running backs heading into 2019?

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Los Angeles Chargers v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season is over, but if you think the news surrounding the black-and-gold is over — think again. For the drama-filled Steelers, things are just heating up, and this is where the daily links article comes in. You might have missed some key news, and we fill you in and give you the latest, and sometimes greatest, news surrounding the Steelers.

Today in the Black-and-gold links article we take a look at whether or not the Steelers should trust in their current running back situation, or if the organization should be looking to free agency, the 2019 NFL Draft, or even both to help aid James Conner and Jaylen Samuels.

Let’s get to the news:

Art Rooney ‘feels good’ about Steelers running backs heading into 2019

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

For the second year in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers are facing the prospect of playing a season without one of their star playmakers.

While it’s too early to know what life will be like without wide receiver Antonio Brown in 2019, team president Art Rooney II liked the way the Steelers overcame the absence of running back Le’Veon Bell last season.

With Bell sitting out the season while refusing to sign his franchise-tag tender, the Steelers turned to second-year running back James Conner and, later in the year, rookie fifth-round draft pick Jaylen Samuels.

Conner rushed for 973 yards despite missing three games to injury. Samuels added 256 yards rushing and, like Conner and Bell before him, showed he is capable catching a pass out of the backfield.

The young duo didn’t help the Steelers return to the playoffs, but they did enough to catch the attention of the highest-ranking member of the organization.

“The running back position I feel good about,” Rooney II said earlier this week. “It looks like we have two good, young players at that position at this point, so I feel like we’re in pretty good shape there.”

Conner was rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection after his first NFL season as a starter, a year in which he was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October while setting several franchise records.

Conner became the first player in franchise history with 1,000 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns in the first eight games of a season. He also had three consecutive games of at least 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns, becoming the first player in Steelers annals (and first in the NFL since 2009) to accomplish that feat.

Despite missing three games, Conner finished third in the league with 12 rushing touchdowns, fifth with five 100-yard rushing games, 10th in scrimmage yards and 11th in rushing yards.

Looking ahead to 2019, the Steelers figure to add depth at the position once free agency starts March 13. Or they could use a later-round draft pick to find another runner, much like they did last year when they drafted Samuels.

Veteran Stevan Ridley is a free agent and had a costly fumble that contributed to the loss in New Orleans on the penultimate week of the season. He is not expected to be brought back.

Rooney also didn’t rule out trying to bring back Bell, who will become a free agent again in March. After two years of using the franchise tag, the Steelers may elect to use the less-costly transition tag on Bell, who would be free to negotiate a contract with any team. The Steelers could match the offer — or threaten to match it in an attempt to get compensation in a trade.

“We’re not closing any doors at this point,” Rooney said. “We don’t have to close any doors right now, and so there’s no reason to say something is completely off the table.”

(For more, click the link in the headline...)

Art Rooney II backs up belief that Steelers don’t have a ‘culture problem’

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

After telling reporters it was “nonsense” that the Pittsburgh Steelers are an organization in disarray, team president Art Rooney II doubled down on his beliefs Friday.

Rooney made the morning talk-show rounds, appearing on 102.5 FM and 93.7 FM to discuss the state of the Steelers three weeks after they concluded a 9-6-1 and missed the playoffs for the first time in five season.

On the airwaves, Rooney reiterated what he earlier had told select media outlets, including the Tribune-Review, when he disagreed with assertions that the organization resembled a “circus” with its list of off-the-field issues, the latest one involving star wide receiver Antonio Brown.

“I certainly don’t think we have a culture problem,” Rooney told 93.7 FM. “We won 13 games (in 2017), so if you have a culture problem, if you have a discipline problem on your team, those kind of teams don’t win 13 games in the National Football League. Those are the facts we have to deal with.”

Rooney later added: “The bottom line is when you point to last year and everybody talks about the drama, that was a team that won 13 games. The first test for me is the performance on the field. Are we winning games? Do we have a winning culture? I think the record speaks for itself.”

Coach Mike Tomlin never has presided over a team with a losing season in his 12 years with the Steelers. In 2018, however, the Steelers won four fewer games than the previous year, and took a loss at Oakland, which had two wins at the time. They lost four of their final six after a 7-2-1 start.

“Our fans judge us primarily on wins and losses,” Rooney said. “This team has won pretty consistently under Mike’s tenure here. When you look at the season, we’re disappointed we didn’t make the playoffs, obviously, but we finished a half-game out of winning our division and were in it down to the last plays of the season.”

Critics point to Tomlin’s 3-5 postseason record since the Steelers appeared in the Super Bowl following the 2010 season.

“We want to do better than that,” Rooney told 93.7 FM. “To be successful in the postseason, you’ve got to start with winning in the regular season. That certainly counts. Bottom line is we want to be playff team that is successful at the end of the season.”

Speaking with 102.5 FM, Rooney said he believes in Tomlin’s leadership abilities.

“The biggest thing he has to be able to do is command the locker room and keep the attention of the players. That is the key to evaluating a coach, and I think Mike has done that,” Rooney said. “Look, we didn’t make the playoffs this year, and that is our first goal. We have to deal with that and have to figure out how to get better.”

(For more, click the link in the headline...)

Paul Zeise: Trading Antonio Brown will not fix the Steelers

By: Paul Zeise, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Antonio Brown has done a masterful job of making himself public enemy No. 1 around these parts, and it almost seems like he is relishing it. There is no question he has been a selfish player and at times has been a distraction.

He is the one of the best receivers in the NFL and yet there is now a growing school of thought that trading him away will solve many of the Steelers’ problems — that once he and his sideshow are gone, everything will go back to normal.

That is 100 percent nonsense. Brown’s side show is an issue, but he isn’t the reason the Steelers lost games or missed the playoffs. He isn’t even in the top 10 of reasons this season was a bust, as there are a lot of other places — including those in power who have enabled him — to point the finger.

It is a shame that it has come to this because Brown has been a great player for a lot of years. He had an excellent season but somehow he has become the root cause of all of the team’s problems. I have even heard him blamed for Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions, as they were allegedly a direct result of him forcing the ball to Brown.

I don’t care how many yards he threw for, Roethlisberger had a good season, not a great season. He needed to play better than he did in a number of games to give the team a chance to win. The idea that Brown is to blame for Ben’s interceptions is ridiculous, as is the fact that Brown doesn’t get the same pass on being a selfish player that Roethlisberger does. This is a subject that hasn’t been broached nearly enough, but we’ve started to hear from some of his current and former teammates that Ben is mostly concerned about Ben’s statistics.

It is also telling that he has been around for as long as he has and has only been named MVP by his teammates one time. This isn’t just a few disgruntled teammates with this perception, either, as this is seemingly well known around the league. The Athletic did a survey of 85 NFL players and one of the questions was “Which quarterback would you least want as a teammate?” Ben came in tied for second with Jameis Winston and behind only Cam Newton.

My point isn’t to take a hatchet to Roesthlisberger, it is to say people need to start being more honest with themselves about the Steelers and their problems. Brown isn’t the only me-first player in that locker room. And getting rid of him won’t change the fact that there is a well documented history of Roethlisberger throwing teammates under the bus and being disruptive behind the scenes, either.

(For more, click the link in the headline...)