Ben Roethlisberger: Steelers RB James Conner could split carries with Le'Veon Bell
Ben Roethlisberger continued to praise James Conner for his role as the Pittsburgh Steelers running back in place of Le’Veon Bell, going so far as to say that the statistics don’t tell the entire story.
Where Roethlisberger said on his radio show on 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday that Conner “shouldn’t be put on the shelf” when Bell returns, the Steelers quarterback said on Wednesday that he doesn’t know how he’d split carries between the backs, if Bell returns and signs his franchise tag tender.
“It’s a good thing I’m not the coach,” Roethlisberger said, with a laugh. “I don’t know. I think James has done some amazing things and deserves to be on the football field. We also know what Le’Veon is and what he brings to the table. I guess we’ll cross that bridge if and when it happens.”
Roethlisberger believes the Steelers could split carries between the running backs to keep both fresh, as Bell compiled a career-high 406 touches last season and complained about concerns of wear and tear.
Conner has 106 touches through the first five games, on pace for 339. Bell had 336 in 12 games in 2016.
“That’s important. You hate to wear one guy down,” Roethlisberger said. “You saw last week, James would go for awhile and then (Stevan) Ridley would come in and get some blows. I think that would be important when Le’Veon does come back, that those guys stay really fresh when they’re on the field.”
Conner is averaging more yards per carry (4.1) than Bell (3.64) did through the first give games last season, as well as more yards per reception (10.9 to Bell’s 5.33). Bell, however, finished with 1,291 rushing yards and nine touchdowns and 85 receptions for 655 yards and two touchdowns last season.
But Conner has 342 yards and five touchdowns on 84 carries and 22 receptions for 239 yards. Although he’s had a pair of 100-yard rushing performances – 110 against Atlanta on Sunday and 135 at Cleveland in the opener – Conner has a combined 97 rushing yards (on 32 carries) in the three games against Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Baltimore.
Roethlisberger wouldn’t call that an up-and-down season.
“I don’t know that there’s been much downs,” Roethlisberger said. “I guess you could say in terms of rushing yards. But if you look at the overall picture of what we’ve asked him to do every week, I think it’s been going up every week. That’s what gets lost in what a running back and what he’s been doing, pass blocking, picking up the blitz, catching the ball out of the backfield.
“I don’t want to jinx anything but he’s catching almost everything I’ve thrown to him and he’s in the right spot every time quickly. We talk in terms of yards rushing, we may see and up and down, but in terms of football player and running back play, it’s been going up every week.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.