Since the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Le’Veon Bell, they have been a one back football team. You have your feature back, and you have those who can spell him if he is injured or needs a break. Even in situations where players like DeAngelo Williams performed well in his stead, Bell was the man the coaches never took off the field.
With Bell now gone, the Steelers have turned their attention to James Conner as the feature back, but Conner has yet to play all 16 games of a regular season. After a high ankle sprain saw him miss extended time in 2018, the Steelers are reportedly re-thinking their plan for carries among their running backs.
A large majority of the fan base might be rolling their eyes, thinking how we’ve heard this song before, but if you look at the team’s offseason they might actually be serious. Not only did Jaylen Samuels prove his worth in multiple capacities last year, but when the team drafted Benny Snell Jr. in the 2019 NFL Draft it showed they are at least bolstering the depth behind Conner — if not altering strategies.
For what it is worth, Conner fully expects to have the carries spread out more evenly in 2019.
“I think it’ll be spread out pretty evenly,” Conner told Jonathan Bombulie of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after a minicamp practice session Wednesday.
Take that for what it’s worth, but Conner realizes how the depth behind him has changed, and for the better.
“I’ve seen his [Benny Snell’s] college tape. He’s also learned the offense really quick. I know he’ll be ready to play this year,” Conner said. “Jaylen, obviously, is going to make a lot of plays, too.”
According to Randy Fichtner, there are a lot of variables which go into deciding who gets what carries, and how often they are utilized. “I think you monitor it [Conner’s durability] no matter what,” Fichtner added. “I don’t know that you want to put any of the backs in that situation.”
Ultimately, head coach Mike Tomlin has the final say on who plays, and how much, and Tomlin knows it is about much more than just Conner and Samuels.
“We’re open to it. All people are working hard, but there are some other viable men. It’s just not a two-man discussion at the running back position. I’ve been pleased with the progress of the larger body.”
Upon further review, how the Steelers handle the running back carries will be extremely intriguing this offseason, preaseason and in the early portions of the regular season. If you ask me though, I’d expect Conner to be the feature back — because that is what the Steelers do under Mike Tomlin.