Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was expected to end his holdout and return for a team practice on Labor Day, despite the fact that he denied reports to that effect. Labor Day arrived, and Bell was a no-show. While that disappointed many within the organization, it also happened to drum up a lot of support for Bell’s backup, former Pitt star James Conner.
Specifically, Steelers guard Ramon Foster voiced his support for Conner, telling Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, “Conner has busted his ass. When you’re ready, you’re ready. He’s ready.”
Steelers reaction on Bell ranged from loyal to indifferent. One thing was clear: Teammates backing James Conner big time. "Conner has busted his a--," OG Ramon Foster said. "When you're ready, you're ready. He's ready."— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) September 3, 2018
Foster expounded on that while discussing Conner with Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network, saying, “He knows where to go, (and) he punishes people.”
While Foster’s comments were the only ones made public, both reporters noted that multiple players in the Steelers locker room expressed their support for Conner. All of this echoed a sentiment previously shared by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who opined a week earlier that Conner “deserves” playing time even after Bell makes his return this season.
This preseason, Conner played in three games and made his presence felt as both a rusher and a receiver. In limited action, Conner ran 19 times for 100 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He also amassed 61 yards on seven receptions for an average of 8.7 yards per catch. That was key, as Conner’s hands had been a sticking point last preseason.
In addition to that, Conner’s rookie season was cut short by a knee injury, and he’s shown impressive resilience in bouncing back from that and once again solidifying his status as the Steelers’ clear-cut No. 2 running back behind Bell this offseason.
Of course, amid all the controversy over Bell on Monday, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey told Fowler that Bell would likely be present at the team’s next practice on Wednesday. A failure to show up for that practice could more adversely affect Bell’s standing for Week 1, and his agent, Adisa Bakari, previously noted he would be ready for the start of the season.
Whether Pouncey and Bakari’s claims are accurate or not remains to be seen, but if Bell isn’t ready to go when the Steelers kick off their season in Cleveland on Sept. 9 or shows the same rust he did after his 2017 holdout, it’s highly likely Conner will hear his number called.