As the swirl around Le’Veon Bell’s ongoing holdout dominates NFL chatter on opening week, one Pittsburgh Steeler thrust into the spotlight is treating things as business as usual.
James Conner told reporters on Thursday that he’s cool being thrown into the fire as the feature back on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
James Conner: Just my job
“[People] are not in my shoes,” Conner said via ESPN. “They might think it’s pressure, but to me it’s just football and doing my job. We’ve been here 8-to-5. It’s just my job. The outside world thinks it’s pressure, but it’s just football. It’s always been that way.”
Conner’s seems the right approach even if he is feeling butterflies. The 23-year-old second-year running back has limited exposure to NFL play, having rushed for 144 yards on 23 carries last season. Four of those carries came in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns when he tallied 11 yards backing up Bell, who had just reported after a similar holdout last year.
This Sunday against the Browns, there will be no Bell. Conner’s performance will be among the most scrutinized on the NFL’s first Sunday of the season.
Who is James Conner?
The Steelers drafted Conner in the third round of the 2017 draft out of Pittsburgh. He rushed for 1,092 yards and caught 21 passes for 302 yards while tallying 20 touchdowns en route to earning first-team All-ACC honors his final year at Pitt. He earned ACC offensive player of the year honors as a sophomore in 2014 while rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns.
He’s a very different back from Bell, a tremendous athlete known for his field vision and ability to elude tacklers.
The scouting report on Conner out of college pegged him as a bruiser not afraid of contact who’s willing and able to punish would-be tacklers showing poor form. His stiff arm is more likely to blow away opponents than his 4.65 40-yard dash time posted at the NFL combine.
Conner a cancer survivor
In 2015, Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma while rehabbing from a torn MCL, costing him most of his junior season. He beat the disease during the offseason and rallied for his second All-ACC performance.
So he’s seen the spotlight and faced pressure far more intense than can come from a football game.
So when he says he’s mentally ready, it’s easy to believe him.
“No pressure on me,” Conner said. “There are a lot of people waiting to see how my performance is going to be. As long as we win, I’m cool.”
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