When one looks back on the Steelers‘ 8-8 finish in 2019, they can point the finger of blame at injuries.
First, it was the franchise quarterback. Later, it was the team’s top two receivers. And in between there was James Conner.
The running back’s troublesome knee (suffered in Week 2) and shoulder (Week 8) injuries hampered him for much of the season, resulting in an output of just 464 rushing yards and seven total touchdowns. His 10-game stat line was 755 fewer scrimmage yards and six fewer total scores than his 2018 total, achieved in just three more games played. Instead of further developing into a star running back, Conner took a step back.
“James Conner had a disappointing season in James Conner‘s viewpoint and ours, as well,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Thursday, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Our point to James was, ‘You had an unfortunate year.’ The year before that he was one of the best in the league.’
“He’s still a young player. We think there’s something there. We know there’s talent there. We hope James can regain it. And, if he’s healthy, there’s no reason he shouldn’t. We don’t want to say we don’t have a starting running back because we feel we do.”
Conner, 24, is not lacking in persistence or fortitude, notably beating cancer while in college before ascending to breakout running back for the Steelers in 2018. His yards-per-carry average still broke 4 by the bare minimum, and he was also running as part of an offense quarterbacked by lesser-known players like Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges.
With his own ailments added in, the odds were against Conner.
“He suffered different injuries at different times. I don’t think that’s who James is,” Colbert said. “I hope we get back to the 2018 James. Where that goes, we’ll see. But right now, we’re worried about 2020.”
Pittsburgh appears to be on track to get Roethlisberger back for 2020. That, plus an offseason to get healthy, should help Conner get back on track in the final year of his rookie deal.