Because the drama of Le’Veon Bell’s contract staredown has performed out round them, the result of that subplot has turn out to be more and more irrelevant to the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ season.
The Steelers have James Conner to thank for that.
Conner, the second-year operating again who has changed Bell whereas the two-time Professional Bowl choice has been absent from the staff all season whereas refusing to signal the franchise-player deal, has turn out to be one of many NFL’s greatest success tales, including soccer exploits to his extra vital real-life success story of being a most cancers survivor.
And whereas the Bell saga continues to play out upfront of subsequent Tuesday’s deadline to hitch the Steelers if he needs to be eligible to play this season, it is going to be Conner who can be carrying the ball Thursday evening for the Steelers once they host the Carolina Panthers in a compelling recreation between two playoff contenders.
The Steelers have received 4 straight video games to enhance to 5-2-1. That upswing has coincided with Conner’s emergence as a standout NFL runner. He’s had 4 straight 100-yard speeding video games, giving him 5 such performances this season. And he exhibits no indicators of tiring below what has turn out to be a heavy workload.
“I’m constructed for it,” Conner mentioned after operating for 107 yards and catching a landing move on this previous Sunday’s triumph at Baltimore.
Conner is on tempo to run for 1,412 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. He’s on track so as to add 76 catches for 758 yards and two touchdowns.
Bell has been one of many NFL’s most efficient operating backs all through his five-year Steelers tenure. However he’s by no means had a 1,400-yard speeding season, he’s by no means had greater than 9 speeding touchdowns in a season, and he has reached 700 receiving yards in a season solely as soon as.
Conner is doing all of that for a wage of $578,000 this season below the phrases of his four-year rookie deal.
Bell was to make $14.544 million after being franchise-tagged by the Steelers. He has refused to signal that one-year contract after he and the Steelers have been unable to comply with a long-term deal to Bell’s liking.
He should signal his contract and be a part of the staff by Tuesday to be eligible to play this season. The NFL’s commerce deadline already has handed. So if Bell exhibits up, the Steelers would face the duty of working him again into the offense whereas persevering with to make sure that Conner will get his carries.
“I don’t wish to take something away from James,” Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin mentioned after the victory over the Ravens. “However the massive boys up entrance are opening holes. And so it’s a collective effort. James goes above and past. I’m extra happy by what he’s doing within the passing recreation and from a blitz-pickup standpoint. That’s just a little bit extra distinctive than the speeding. We knew he may run the ball since he confirmed up at Pitt at 18 or 19.”
Conner’s school profession at Pittsburgh was interrupted when he was identified in 2015 with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a most cancers of the lymphatic system. He underwent chemotherapy remedies and made a profitable return to soccer, being chosen by the Steelers within the third spherical of final 12 months’s NFL draft.
Conner averaged 4.5 yards per carry final season as a rookie however, with Bell readily available as the point of interest of the Steelers’ operating recreation, had solely 32 carries. He didn’t have a reception final season, making his fast improvement as a receiver out the backfield maybe essentially the most outstanding improvement of this season’s manufacturing. However Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger mentioned he anticipated all alongside that Conner would thrive as a pass-catcher.
“I’m not likely impressed,” Roethlisberger mentioned in Baltimore. “That’s what I count on. I by no means thought James had an issue catching the ball. If I say that I’m impressed, I really feel like I’d be saying that I didn’t suppose he may catch the ball. James is a dependable receiver in our move recreation, in our check-down recreation. He will get out. He’s the place I count on him to be. And that’s large. He’s not simply operating to a spot. He’s serving to along with his safety first, then he’s getting out. And plenty of his yards are approaching that check-down recreation.”
Roethlisberger mentioned Sunday that that is “doubtlessly” the very best and most versatile offense he’s been a par of throughout his NFL tenure.
“I don’t wish to say positively sure as a result of I don’t wish to present disrespect to anyone I’ve performed with previously,” Roethlisberger mentioned. “However these guys up entrance are fairly particular. And like I mentioned, it begins with them. And everybody could make performs.”