If you’ve followed the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Mike Tomlin era, you have learned how NFL conditioning and NCAA conditioning are two completely different beasts. Most recently it was wide receiver Sammie Coates who was the recipient of the usual Tomlin sound byte.
When some college prospects come into the professional game, they think they are in shape, when in reality they have no idea what they are getting themselves into from a physical standpoint.
Bud Dupree talked about how he thought he would need to be bigger and stronger entering the NFL, when he learned quickly he needed to be lighter and faster to best NFL offensive tackles.
For Steelers third round draft pick James Conner, he has already learned this lesson, and don’t think for a second the fact he shared the UPMC Rooney Complex while at Pitt doesn’t have something to do with his general understanding of what is expected of an NFL running back.
Conner played his final season at the University of Pittsburgh weighing about 245-pounds, but has since shed nearly 15-pounds weighing anywhere from 230-235. He did all this prior to the 2017 NFL Scouting Combine, and talked about his new found conditioning when he met with the media prior to his testing.
RE: How much lighter did he come in for the Combine and did he do it to help his 40 time at the combine?
230-235 is what I enjoy playing at, so I think the rookie career from here on out, that’s the weight I’ll play at. I think it would help for the 40, but I didn’t lose weight (for the 40). I just wanted to get to a comfortable playing weight.
RE: Did he ever talk to Le’Veon Bell who also lost weight before the combine like Conner had to get feedback on how it worked out.
I haven’t talked to him specifically. I know he did it because I know the Steelers running backs coach likes you to be as light as possible, but as strong as possible. So we’ll see what my future running backs coach wants—whatever he wants me to do I’ll do.
Little did he know the running backs coach for the Steelers, James Saxon, would indeed be the running back coach who will want him to play lean, fast and stronger than ever.
Conner’s determination is well documented, and needs no endorsement from anyone, but his ability to transform his body is step number one in his process of becoming an true NFL-ready running back. For those who watched Conner play in 2016, you could see he wasn’t the same running back as he had been pre-injury. Can’t blame the guy, he did have to overcome cancer in the offseason after all, but he is healthy now and ready to make plays.
If that equates to the 2014 James Conner coming to Heinz Field wearing black and gold, then the third round pick of Conner could be viewed as a steal and not a reach. Conner’s improved conditioning is just the beginning, and those who have followed Conner’s story know he is far from the end of his NFL story.