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James Conner embraces leadership role in the Steelers running back room

Taking on the main responsibility of setting the tone, Conner acknowledges it’s a group effort rolling into the season.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

In a virtual interview with the Pittsburgh media on Wednesday, Steelers running back James Conner talked about the running backs for the Steelers headed into the 2020 season. Conner understands his responsibility among the group as the teams first option, but also stated it has been a group effort to this point in training camp. According to Teresa Varley of, the group is having a lot of fun and is working collectively in their preparation.

The Steelers rushing attack is looking to improve its output from the 2019 season. Although they collectively rushed for two more yards than they did the previous season, it was on 50 more attempts. The Steelers had their lowest yards per attempt average running the ball in 2019 at 3.66 yards since the tem’s frustrating 2013 season. With only seven rushing touchdowns on the season, it was their lowest amount since the strike-shortened season of 1982.

Although the Steelers failed to have a 500 yard rusher in 2019, the rushing output collectively may be more important for the Steelers. Both James Conner and Benny Snell Jr. rushed in the 400 yard range in 2019, but both players will look to grow their totals for the upcoming season. As for Snell’s readiness for the 2020 season, Conner had some remarks on his upcoming second season in the NFL.

Another aspect of the running back room which Conner acknowledged is the fullback position. After an injury-plagued season in 2019 where the Steelers did not have a true fullback available for most games, the team signed former Charger Derek Watt to bolster the position.

Conner acknowledged the multiple traits Watt brings to the team, in particularly to the running back room.

Many are curious to see how the Steelers handle their running attack for 2020. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has always used the “bell cow” approach in using one featured back for the majority of the carries, but with the young players who all bring a slightly different skill set to the position, perhaps 2020 will bring a slightly different philosophy. Adding in the hope of increased availability at the fallback position, along with the obvious increase in the threat of the vertical passing game with the return of Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers running attack is hoping to emerge once again this season.