Steelers RB Jaylen Samuels said he focused on speed this offseason, which he says will help "be more decisive in and out of my cuts as a pure runner." Did he get faster? "I believe I got faster," he said. "I can get in and out of my cuts a little bit better."
Pittsburgh has used a bell-cow approach to their backfield for years now, but there has been talk (from James Conner himself) of spreading the touches around in 2019. Jaylen Samuels filled in nicely for Conner at the end of last season and is the favorite to gain some of the work, particularly on passing downs. For now, Samuels is a great handcuff or late-round grab in best-ball leagues and is projected as RB48 in 4for4's rankings.
Ben Roethlisberger will spread things around more and he won’t force passes into double coverage as often. JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the prime target, but then he was last season as well. Tight end Vance McDonald may very well be the second-most productive receiver.
With Antonio Brown in Oakland, Ben Roethlisberger's field opens up a bit more, making way for new playmakers. Vance McDonald was already third in targets among Pittsburgh pass catchers last season with 72 and could see more volume in Brown's absence. His 4for4 ranking is currently as TE8 with a projected PPR point total of 151 on the season.
Plenty of eyes were on Smith-Schuster, Moncrief, James Washington and Diontae Johnson, but the guy who could contribute significantly is Switzer from the slot. It’s between Switzer and Eli Rogers for the spot and I can tell you this: Switzer made a lot of plays during the spring, and it doesn’t hurt if the franchise quarterback has taken a liking to you.
Ryan Switzer was third in targets among Steelers' WRs with 44 last season, which he grabbed 36 of them for 253 yards and a touchdown. For now, drafters are staying away from both he and Eli Rogers in the slot, but if Switzer continues to shine he could be a secret weapon in best-ball leagues or creep his way into late-round flier territory.
James Conner is a workhorse. That’s what he is, what he does, what he is known for, what he is proud of and what he is good at.
But it might not be a part of his resume as early as Sept. 8, when the Steelers open the season in New England. And Conner’s OK with it especially if that leads to a healthy stretch run — something that alluded him in his Pro Bowl season last year.“The game has developed to the point where you have to use the skill set of your guys,” Faulkner said. “If you have guys who do something pretty well and you can use them to help your team and find ways to get them touches and balls, that’s what you have to do.”
That will mean finding opportunities for Jaylen Samuels, who is equally effective running and catching the ball, as well as fourth-round pick Benny Snell Jr.
Pittsburgh attempted the fewest rushes (21) per game of any NFL team last season. They averaged 22 more passes than runs per contest, and that was even when Conner was at full strength. It makes sense to utilize two strong backs, especially when health during the postseason is something potentially on the table. Conner should still see more carries than Samuels, but he'll likely lose some pass-down snaps in 2019.
Conner is currently being drafted as RB8, with Samuels and Snell leaving boards as RB43 and RB70 respectively.
In efforts to keep the edge that got him this far, James Conner will enter his third season with the hunger of a rookie looking for a job.
"You've got to earn it every day," he said in late December when asked if he's the tailback of the Steelers' future. "It's never enough when you think you've done enough. That's when you start to get on the decline. ... You've got to earn it every day, practice hard and show you belong. I definitely don't feel like I've done enough yet."
The story said that's exactly what the Steelers like to hear, but Conner is selling himself a bit short. From teammates up to ownership, the Steelers have praised Conner's development in a sophomore season that included 973 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs and an AFC Offensive Player of the Month award. Conner added 55 catches for 497 yards in a Steelers offense that relied heavily on the back for easy yardage off dump-offs. The story added Conner struggled with conditioning and blitz pickups as a rookie but was more than ready when he showed up for his second training camp. Of course, it's expected Bell will not be back with the Steelers in 2019, so as of now, Conner seems set to be the team's RB1 heading into 2019.
Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster left Sunday’s Pro Bowl in the second quarter after hurting his knee, but it does not appear to be an injury that will linger into the offseason.
Smith-Schuster didn’t talk to reporters after the game, but Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com reports on Monday that Smith-Schuster is “fine,” the rest of the story said. He had one catch for 16 yards before getting hurt in his first Pro Bowl appearance. He dealt with a knee injury last offseason as well.
Ben Roethlisberger says on his radio show (93.7 the Fan) he had no issue with Antonio Brown. “If there was a blowout, I certainly didn’t see it,” said Roethlisberger.
Ben said he talked to Brown Thursday a.m. and “everything was great,” but understands frustration from Brown being gone late in week, according to the tweet. As we reported via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Monday, Brown apparently threw a football and Roethlisberger and then didn't show up for practices and meetings leading up to the game, but did show up Sunday expecting to play, the story said. The team said Brown sat because of a knee issue.
I was told most of the Cardinals' assistants were let go, including both coordinators, OC Byron Leftwich and DC Al Holcomb.
Leftwich was promoted in October when Mike McCoy was let go, now QB Josh Rosen will have to work with his third OC in less than a year. The Cards offense did improve a bit under Leftwich as his goal was to run the offense through guys like David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald.
Steelers receiver Antonio Brown did not play in the season-ending game against the Cincinnati Bengals because he elected to sit out practice last week after a dispute with Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has learned.
Several sources said the Steelers’ decision to not play Brown against the Bengals had nothing to do with any type of knee injury.
The Post-Gazette story is an interesting read and goes on to say the disagreement occurred Wednesday morning during a routine walk-through practice that precedes their regular afternoon practice on the South Side. Brown was disgusted and threw a football in Roethlisberger’s direction, several sources said. He did not attend Saturday’s walk-through practice and skipped the Saturday night meeting at the team hotel — the latest in missed meetings by the All-Pro receiver. Brown was never on the field for the start of the game against the Bengals and left Heinz Field at halftime, according to multiple sources. According to several sources, Brown showed up at Heinz Field expecting to play against the Bengals. That surprised several players, including one who called the situation “embarrassing” and “the worst I’ve seen.” That player said the entire situation and the way it was handled affected his desire to play in the game.