No rest for Steelers rookie Benny Snell as he prepares for 1st NFL training camp
When the Pittsburgh Steelers concluded offseason workouts and entered a six-week break before training camp, rookie running back Benny Snell Jr. took a moment to reflect on a whirlwind start to his NFL career.
In the span of a few months, he went from training for the NFL Combine and draft to being selected by the Steelers in the fourth round. He attended rookie minicamp, organized team activities and mandatory minicamp. He flew to Los Angeles along with teammate Diontae Johnson for the players’ association’s rookie premiere.
For a power running back whose specialty is fighting for extra yards, it was full speed ahead the entire time.
“It’s all happening so fast,” Snell said on the final day of minicamp. “Getting the call, getting drafted was a blessing and an honor. I knew I had to come in and work, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew the tempo was going to be faster than it normally is for college ball.”
With that extended break awaiting him, Snell looked forward to taking a few days off. Not too many, mind you. He heard coach Mike Tomlin’s minicamp-closing speech in which he told his players to be properly conditioned come the start of training camp July 25. Snell vowed he wasn’t about to slack off now.
“You have to know how to balance it,” Snell said. “You’ve got to be able to get your work in and be able to give your body that rest at the same time. With camp coming up, it’s make-or-break for me. I have to lean toward making sure that my body is correct. I’m going to get my time a little bit, but I know I have to get after it these next few weeks.”
Snell will enter his first training camp at Saint Vincent trying to find his niche in a backfield that includes starter James Conner, a third-year player, and Jaylen Samuels, who is entering his second year.
It will be the first time since his freshman year at Kentucky in 2016 that Snell isn’t the incumbent. Snell wrestled the starting job as a freshman and piled up three 1,000-yard seasons while setting 14 school records, including career rushing yards and touchdowns.
“I do feel like a freshman again,” Snell said. “I’m the freshman and there are all the vets, and they are like, ‘Look at that rookie.’ I take that into consideration and go day by day.”
The Steelers were the most pass-happy team in the NFL last season. After trading All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown to Oakland, they could try to find a more balanced run-pass ratio, and Snell is open for any role — be it short-yardage back or a complement to Conner and Samuels.
“He can do it all,” said Eddie Faulkner, the Steelers’ first-year running backs coach. “It’s just a matter of him learning what to do and that he trusts himself and we trust him, and his teammates trust him out there on the football field to execute.
“As far as the physical attributes, he can catch, he can run, he can block. He cares about it. He’s smart, and he’s going to be a good player. We’re going to continue to develop him and see where it goes.”
Helping Snell develop during the next few weeks will be fullback Roosevelt Nix. Like Snell, Nix is from Columbus, Ohio, and continues to make his offseason home there. He and Snell grew up about 15 miles apart, Nix in Reynoldsburg and Snell in Westerville. Snell said he and Nix plan to train together in the weeks leading up to training camp.
“Ohio guys stick together,” Snell said. “I already see Rosie and (Conner) as my big brothers. They are always getting me better whether it’s on the field or off the field, on disciplining me and making sure I do the right thing.”
For Snell, the right thing also includes working as hard as ever to secure a spot on the 53-man roster and a role in the Steelers offense.
“You get to be thankful for the position you’re in and the time you took to get where you are,” Snell said. “You definitely need that time, but you have to remember what got you there. The work and the grind got me there, so I’m going to push on that.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .