Steelers OTA preview: James Conner leads young group of RBs
Editor’s note: Heading into the start of OTAs, the Tribune-Review has taken a daily look at a position that will bear watching once the entire 91-man roster convenes at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
Today’s final installment: Running back
Who’s back: James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Roosevelt Nix, Trey Edmunds, Ralph Webb
At this time last year, Conner was supposed to be keeping the seat warm until Le’Veon Bell returned for the start of the season. That, of course, never transpired, and Conner became the starter by default. This year, he heads into OTAs with the starting job based on merit after rushing for 973 yards and totaling 1,470 from scrimmage. Samuels had a memorable game against the New England Patriots when he rushed for 142 yards, showing he is a capable replacement. Nix returns at fullback and provides a strong blocking presence if the Steelers choose to use him. Edmunds was promoted from the practice squad late in the year, and Webb finished the year on the practice squad.
Who’s gone: Le’Veon Bell, Stevan Ridley
For the first time in three offseasons, the Steelers don’t have to wonder if — or when — their franchise-tagged running back will report. Ridley was the veteran presence on the roster while Bell sat out last season. He didn’t contribute much, and the Steelers moved on.
Who’s new: Benny Snell, Travon McMillian, Malik Williams
The Steelers used their fourth-round draft pick to take Snell, a bruising straight-ahead runner from Kentucky who likes to refer to himself in the third person. With Snell joining Conner and Samuels, the Steelers will have one of the youngest running back rooms in the NFL. McMillian had a 1,000-yard season at Virginia Tech as a freshman and another at Colorado as a senior. He signed as an undrafted free agent. Williams was signed in the offseason as a first-year player. He spent last offseason with the Atlanta Falcons.
What’s at stake?: OTAs will start the process of defining the pecking order at running back. Conner enters as the top back, but he has suffered injuries in each of his first two seasons so the Steelers need to make sure the backups are ready to go. The question is, who will be No. 2? Samuels showed he could handle the role, but the Steelers probably didn’t use a fourth-round pick on Snell so he could be a No. 3 option.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .