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Steelers could get James Conner back for Saints game

Joe Rutter
| Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, 12:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin watches warm ups before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin watches warm ups before an NFL football game against the New England Patriots in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

With a half-game lead over Baltimore in the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers can inch closer toward clinching a third consecutive division title if the Ravens lose to Los Angeles Chargers on Saturday night.

The timing of the Ravens-Chargers game apparently is news to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

“I didn’t even know they played Saturday night until you told me,” Tomlin said Tuesday when asked whether he would watch the prime-time game on NFL Network.

“That tells you where I’m at.”

Tomlin’s focus is on the 8-5-1 Steelers playing Sunday afternoon at the 12-2 New Orleans Saints, the top seed in the NFC. For that game, the penultimate one of the regular season, Tomlin might get leading rusher James Conner back after a two-game absence.

Conner missed games against Oakland and New England with an ankle sprain, but Tomlin hinted Conner could return against New Orleans.

“I just saw him downstairs (in the training room) getting rehab,” Tomlin said. “Hopefully that sets the stage for a productive Wednesday. We’ll go on from there. We’ll let the amount of work he’s able to do and the effectiveness of that work be our guide.”

In Conner’s absence Sunday, rookie Jaylen Samuels rushed for 142 yards on 19 carries. It was the most carries, according to Samuels, he had at any level dating to high school.

Tomlin was asked what made him confident Samuels could shoulder the workload.

“Who said I had confidence?” Tomlin said, laughing. “He was our back. He was prepared and so we went into the stadium. Often times when you walk into a stadium, particularly as a young guy, it’s a first time for a lot of things.

“I’m sure as he continues to step with a significant role for us, he’ll check some boxes and do some things he hadn’t done before. That’s just a very natural thing in terms of a young player’s career.”

In other injury news, Tomlin said defensive lineman Cameron Heyward has a hyperextended knee. Heyward returned after briefly sitting out against the Patriots and is expected to play against New Orleans.

Linebacker Bud Dupree has a knee contusion that could “limit his effectiveness” in practice, Tomlin said. Rookie safety Terrell Edmunds is in concussion protocol.

Tomlin did not mention quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on his injury update. Roethlisberger played with bruised ribs against New England.

“I just talked to him,” Tomlin said. “No worse for the wear. No negative consequences from this past week’s performance.”

Tomlin also said he will stand by kicker Chris Boswell, who has missed seven field-goal tries this season, including a 32-yarder against New England. Boswell later made a 48-yard attempt.

“We’re ready to move forward this week,” Tomlin said when asked about his satisfaction with Boswell.

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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