Finally, Steelers’ James Conner gets his chance to start against Patriots
The Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing their third game against the New England Patriots since James Conner was drafted in 2017.
For Conner, the season opener Sunday night at Gillette Stadium will represent his first career start against the Steelers’ longtime nemesis.
Conner was a backup to Le’Veon Bell when the Steelers lost 27-24 to the Patriots at Heinz Field in 2017. Last season, the Steelers rebounded with a 17-10 victory, but Conner was nursing an injury and watched Jaylen Samuels rush for 142 yards against the Patriots.
“I’m excited about the opportunity we have,” Conner said Thursday. “There’s a great opportunity ahead. I’m excited to play some football.”
Conner’s experience against the Patriots consists of nine snaps in the 2017 game. He carried three times for 13 yards.
The game against New England was one of three that Conner sat out last season, and it likely cost him a shot at a 1,000-yard season. He finished with 973 yards rushing and caught 55 passes for 497 yards.
Samuels handled the workload against the Patriots in Week 15 when he had 19 of the team’s 25 carries. He also caught two passes for 30 yards.
Samuels’ performance solidified his role as the No. 2 running and also likely boosted his level of confidence.
“It was a big game for him,” Conner said. “He always displays confidence. He trusts his hands, and he’s a talented runner as well. That might have helped him, but he always has confidence.”
The Steelers are expected to use both Conner and Samuels on Sunday against the Patriots, perhaps even in the same formation. With the Steelers keeping only five wide receivers, Conner and Samuels could be asked to be more involved in the passing game.
“That’s part of the job description as well,” Conner said.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .