James Conner stated his case emphatically in Thursday night's preseason tilt in Green Bay.
Like the rest of the Steelers offense, the second-year running back struggled out of the gate. Conner's first two runs of the night went for no gain and minus-1 yard. However, on Pittsburgh's third drive it was all Conner. First, he started with an 8-yard gash.
Then he shred arm tackles for a 24-yard burst:
The very next play Conner did this:
The night was then over for the former Pittsburgh Panther. Conner finished with five carries for 57 yards, averaging a whopping 11.4 yards per carry, and the score. On the Steelers' first scoring drive of the night, Conner accounted for all 58 yards on his three carries.
"I thought he represented himself in a similar way he has throughout this process whether it is on the practice field of Latrobe or last week," coach Mike Tomlin said of Conner, via Mark Kaboly of The Athletic. "I've been pleased with the progress he's been making, and it just needs to continue."
The former third-round pick flashed the tackle-breaking ability, vision, power and decisiveness that made him a star at Pitt.
"Every opportunity you have to make the most of it," Conner said. "We don't get as many opportunities ... these opportunities are limited, so we have to make the most of the opportunities we get. I just control what I can control with the rotation and how it goes. I am just trying to give maximum effort every time I am out there."
Once Bell reports to Pittsburgh in early September, Conner's reps could diminish by a half-life each week. The young runner understands. He's just trying to earn the team's trust whenever he does get the chance.
"It's no secret that when Le'Veon comes back that he's going to be the starter," Conner said. "I have to make sure I know everything and am accountable. If I am in the game, I have to show them that there won't be any dropoff and just show what I am capable of."
The Steelers have ridden Bell hard the past two seasons. The starter followed a 261-carry 2016 with a 321-tote 2017 -- he's averaged 21.5 carries per game over the past two years. Those rushes don't even count the 160 passes Bell caught during that span.
Perhaps if Conner continues to show improvement he could siphon off some of Bell's carries and help lessen the veteran's workload this season. And maybe in a year, we'll be discussing Conner as the Steelers' starter.