The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense was miserable in 2019. But just like getting a healthy Ben Roethlisberger should make a night and day difference in the pass game, Kevin Colbert believes a 100% James Conner will do similar for the rushing attack.
In an interview on 93.7 The Fan Wednesday morning, Colbert said he was confident with the Steelers’ backfield.
“Having the opportunity to have James Conner back in the fold, James is a Pro Bowl caliber runner,” Colbert told hosts Colin Dunlap and Chris Mack. “And unfortunately he had a couple injuries last year that held him back.”
Conner had a deeply disappointing 2019 season after suffering a shoulder injury late in a Week 8 victory over the Miami Dolphins. He played just ten games, rushing for only 464 yards and four touchdowns, a far cry from his nearly 1000 yard, 12 touchdown performance two years ago. 2020 is monumentally important for him playing out the final year of his rookie contract.
It’s not just Conner that Colbert is optimistic about. He likes the group behind him too, including fourth rounder Anthony McFarland.
“But when you have him in that group and really the remainder of the group has NFL experience, except for Anthony McFarland. Of course, Anthony was a fourth round pick. He’s done some things that get you a little excited. So putting him in the mix with a room full of veterans and NFL runners, we feel good about the position.”
McFarland brings a much-needed infusion of speed and big-play ability to a Steelers’ offense that’s struggled to rip off big gains on the ground even during Le’Veon Bell’s tenure in Pittsburgh. He’ll rotate with Benny Snell to spell Conner for a handful of plays per game.
Unfortunately, there’s still a good amount of youth in the backfield and determining specific roles for players like Snell and McFarland was made more difficult without a preseason.
“How it shakes out, who plays, where, and when, only time will tell. The hardest thing about not having preseason football is trying to figure out that and in a real football setting. Coach tried to play the mock game angle because that’s the best that we can do, but we really don’t know how we stack up against competition or how a particular position may sort out over time.”
But as the Steelers have preached all summer, they’re in the same boat as every other team in the league. The fact the Steelers have a leading, returning face like Conner in the backfield is a positive. And barring an injury-riddled 2020, Pittsburgh’s run game should be much more successful this season.