Steelers' Jaylen Samuels relishes 1st extensive NFL action, 1st TD
Jaylen Samuels entered Thursday night’s game with an NFL regular-season résumé that included all of 15 offensive snaps, five carries, no receptions and no touchdowns.
Did he emerge from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dominating victory with a much more prominent role going forward?
“I’m feeling more comfortable as the season is going on,” Samuels said after the Steelers’ 52-21 win against the Carolina Panthers. “And l’m looking forward to it going up from here.”
Samuels had eight touches (five rushes and three catches) for 29 yards from scrimmage — including a 6-yard touchdown reception from Ben Roethlisberger on the first play of the fourth quarter.
A fifth-round pick, Samuels had 47 touchdowns in his career North Carolina State.
“I’d seen the end zone a lot in my college career,” Samuels said, “so to see it in the NFL for the first time, it was a beautiful thing. So hopefully it keeps riding up from here.”
Samuels’ career figures to continue ascending, but how high? And how quickly? His rookie season is at something of a crossroads because of circumstances out of his control.
It’s possible by the time the Steelers play their next game, Samuels is the featured back. It’s also possible he will be demoted.
The arrival of Le’Veon Bell could mean the latter, but James Conner missing time through the concussion protocol could lead to the former.
“I mean I just come to work every day. I don’t really worry about any of that,” Samuels said, though he did add a little later that he “definitely” saw his more extensive action Thursday as an “audition” for even more work.
A tight end/fullback/wide receiver in college, the 6-0, 225-pound Samuels was drafted by the Steelers to be a running back. That’s the position room in which he spends his time, and that’s where he most often lines up.
“I have been in the running back (room) doing a lot of stuff just strictly running back,” Samuels said, “but they also have splitting out some, motioning me out of the backfield, getting me mismatches on DBs and linebackers just getting me to run routes from the slot or from (outside) receiver. So they are doing a lot of different things with me.”
According to Pro Football Focus, Samuels on Thursday ran 15 plays lined up in the backfield plus one snap each in the slot and out wide. Coming into the game, those numbers were 12 from the backfield, one in the slot and two wide, with all but two of the snaps coming the previous two weeks.
Samuels seems to be earning more trust from the Steelers’ offensive coaches, maybe enough to keep his role if and when Bell returns.
Samuels apparently has turned Roethlisberger’s head, too. The back was targeted four times in his 17 snaps (a fraction of which were passing plays), a generous ratio.
Roethlisberger, unsolicited, said he was glad he was part of Samuels’ first pro touchdown.
“What an effort …” Roethlisberger said. “It wasn’t an easy play by him, and I was happy he was able to get into the end zone.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at email@example.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.