Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference on Tuesday. One of the issues which was brought up was the Steelers current running back situation and the division of labor among players. With James Conner missing the last three games, the Steelers have gone with four running backs active on game day. But there is a chance Conner could return for Week 15, so where does this leave the Steelers current running back rotation?
First and foremost, Coach Tomlin is not wanting to get the cart before the horse. Before he has to manage the workload of all his running backs, James Conner must first show he is healthy and ready to get back in the mix.
Additionally, running back Jaylen Samuels suffered a groin injury against the Cardinals which was being evaluated on Tuesday. If Samuels is unable to take the field against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night, it would also be another factor into the decision.
Jaylen Samuels has a groin injury suffered in game being evaluated, Vance McDonald is in the concussion protocol.— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) December 10, 2019
Surprisingly absent from questions asked of Tomlin at the press conference was the production and workload of rookie Benny Snell Jr. Coach Tomlin did briefly talk about the development of Snell over the last month and his ability to show “feature runner-like characteristics.”
Instead, Coach Tomlin was asked extensively about newly acquired running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. and the splash plays he has brought to the Steelers in his short time with the team.
Tomlin on Kerrith Whyte: "We're still getting to know him, and he’s getting to know himself. It’s not like he has prior NFL experience prior to getting here."— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) December 10, 2019
Says he also expects to see rapid improvement as he gets more NFL experience.
Another issue not addressed in the press conference was the Steelers use of Trey Edmunds at fullback when they decided to go with such a formation. In Week 14, Edmunds only saw the field on three offense of plays. He did not have a carry but did have one reception for 7 yards.
If looking strictly a Week 14, the division of snaps versus the division of carries has some discrepancy. Jaylen Samuels took 47% of the Steelers snaps on offense but only carried the ball seven times and had two receptions. Benny Snell Jr. played 40% of the offensive snaps but had the overwhelming majority of carries with 16. As for Whyte, he had five carries and one reception during his eight snaps on offense.
If James Connor is able to return this Sunday, it will be interesting to see how the Steelers use the various running backs in their division of labor. If all five are healthy, will they all dress? If not, then who will sit? Or will injuries dictate which player is held out of the game?
One thing is for sure, the Steelers are in much better shape as it comes to figuring out how to use their platoon a running backs. The last thing the Steelers need is a repeat of 2014 when the they had to sign a Ben Tate off the street to start a playoff game. With five running backs on the active roster along with Ralph Webb on the practice squad, they Steelers have given themselves options in the backfield should a player or two not be available on Sunday.