When the Steelers selected Benny Snell out of Kentucky, he was known for being a big, bruising running back. A lot of words were thrown around for him, but many described the standout Wildcats runner as a real throwback: Snell was akin to the mold of Jerome Bettis. A true power back with little burst, but he would be a challenge to bring down for any defense.
Snell made sure that reputation stayed in contact last year in 2019. His tough-nosed running style dubbed “Benny Snell Football” was a highlight of his game. He would throw violent stiff arms, run through opposing defenders, and execute his role as a short-yardage power back to perfection. In the NFL nowadays, however, that role has very little value to teams. Snell likely knew this, and while he has good technical traits, he knew his athleticism needed a boost.
So, when Snell came into training camp slimmed down on report day, he turned eyes. This has been a common thing for Steelers running backs for a little while now. Le’Veon Bell, James Conner, and Jaylen Samuels have all dropped weight to add more speed and explosiveness from their rookie year to their sophomore season in the NFL.
For all, the added juice helped them add another element to their game — running outside the tackles. For Bell and Conner, it turned them into dynamic, top-flight running backs. Samuels has more technical issues to work on, but Snell is in the camp with Bell and Conner. Snell already has excellent vision and contact balance, which is why he is so effective in between the tackles. However, to take the next step, he has to run outside the tackles. Thus far, it seems his new body has attracted eyes.
“He looks really focused this year,” Conner said. “You can tell he put in a lot of work in the offseason. He looks slim, fast, eager to learn.”
Running Backs coach Eddie Faulkner backed up what Conner said as well: “It is true, Benny looks better. He has done a lot of running, you can see the work he has put in. The exciting part about it is he did it while being away from us, so you know he had a focus on getting right and getting in the best shape that he can,” Faulker said.
Those are two guys that work closely with Snell daily, so to see these reports is quite exciting. Coach Tomlin also acknowledged that Snell transformed his body. It seems this was in the cards for the Steelers, but Snell’s ability to make it happen seems to have earned respect around the coaching staff.
Next, the critical thing will be seeing if that lost weight translates into significant burst. Conner did, and he now works both inside and outside the tackles with ease. If Snell can do that with his high football IQ, he has the chance to become the lead back if Conner leaves after 2020. Also, Snell has to prove himself capable as an open field weapon and receiver. There are a few steps for him to take here, but any added explosiveness to burst through small areas will help Snell in his pursuit to grab more snaps.