James Conner was a workhorse in his first season as a Pittsburgh Steelers starter last year, eating up more than 62% of the carries in the ground game and 64% of the targets to running backs in the passing game.
At least one key player in the locker room believes those figures will change next season.
“I think it’ll be spread out pretty evenly,” Conner said after a minicamp practice session Wednesday afternoon.
Conner thinks the Steelers will take a more balanced approach to divvying up touches for one significant reason: He likes what he has seen from the other running backs.
Jaylen Samuels went for 328 yards from scrimmage in the three games Conner missed with an ankle injury late last season. Fourth-round draft pick Benny Snell ran for 1,449 yards and 16 touchdowns at Kentucky last year.
“I’ve seen his 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.”
Conner hopes, however, the Steelers aren’t planning to divide carries more evenly out of concerns about his durability. That’s not a problem, he insisted.
“I’m durable,” Conner said. “I missed a couple games. No matter what shape you’re in or how your body is, that happens. You know that’s going to happen.”
Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said he has no concerns about Conner’s durability, but he said making sure the third-year Pitt product gets his rest is important.
“I think you monitor it no matter what,” Fichtner said. “I don’t know that you want to put any of the backs in that situation.”
Ultimately, the head coach will make the decision regarding the way carries are split. He still is considering all sides of the situation.
“James’ versatility and level of conditioning will be factors in that discussion,” Mike Tomlin said. “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.”