James Conner is entering the final season of his rookie contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and thus could be coming to an end of his time playing in the city.
Conner spent four years at Pitt from 2013-16 and then was drafted by the Steelers in 2017 to start his pro career.
It’s likely that the Steelers will at least attempt to re-sign or extend Conner, but after drafting running backs in three consecutive drafts after him, they’re well stocked with Jaylen Samuels, Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland Jr. should Conner depart.
That makes the idea of Conner suiting up in a different home stadium for the first time since he played in high school a real possibility. But it’s not one that he’s focused on right now.
“It would be hard to put another helmet on just because of everything and what this city means to me,” Conner said on Adam Schefter’s podcast.
“I played my college ball in the city, got my life saved in it, became healthy. The city I got drafted to. I want to be able to say the city I brought a championship to. It would be really hard. I’m Pittsburgh through and through. But like I said, I’m big on my faith, so I’m always going to end up doing what I’m supposed to do and being where I’m supposed to be at with the Lord’s guidance and direction.”
Conner also said that his upcoming contract decision doesn’t put any additional pressure on him to perform this season.
“Every time I go out there and play, ever year, I just look forward to that opportunity,” he said. “You have to perform. At the end of the day, that’s all it’s all about. I have to perform every day that I’m there, whether it be a contract year, my second year, third year, at the end of the day, you have to perform. I want to perform more. I’ve had some injury things. But I truly believe that when I put a full season together, it’s something special. I’m concerned about it being my contract year.”
Conner played in 10 games and had just 116 carries in 2019 after missing some time with knee, shoulder and thigh injuries. He’s back to full health now, and working out with another Steelers player that missed time with injury in 2019: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
“We’ve been at his place and throwing around. He’s looking good,” Conner said. “I don’t have no doubts, personally. I know his work ethic and his mindset and what he’s capable of and what he wants to do. That’s win and win it all.”
Zach Banner Announces Self-imposed Social Media Ban Until he Signs New Deal
Zach Banner is sending a clear message about his priorities ahead of the 2021 NFL season. Banner, who is a free agent and looking for a new deal with the Steelers, tweeted that he is going to stay off social media until he officially signs on the dotted line.
Locking it down on social and media until my new contract is signed. 🤫🔒
Stay tuned… #HulkSmash
— Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) February 28, 2021
Zach Banner has become a prominent member of the Steelers, but that’s not because he’s had success on the field over the past year. Banner’s success has come off the field by connecting with fans on social media and doing his part to help those in need than he has on a football field. But by no means is that Banner’s fault. He suffered a season ending torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2020 season. This injury was especially devastating for the USC product because it occurred on the heels of Banner winning the starting right tackle position following a tough training camp battle with Chukwuma Okorafor.
Due to Banner’s injury, it was Okorafor who ended up starting 16 games, including the postseason. While Banner kept in good spirits and became his team’s loudest cheerleader on Twitter during games, it was clear he wanted to be on the field and contributing.
Earning a starting spot as a member of the Steelers offensive line was a major career achievement for Banner, but it was one he didn’t get to enjoy. Banner now hopes to return to Pittsburgh and be the missing piece the Steelers offensive line desperately needs.
Rooney: Steelers Plan to Return to St. Vincent for 2021 Training Camp
There is plenty that remains up in the air about the 2021 NFL offseason, but the Pittsburgh Steelers still have plans to resume one of their enduring traditions that was broken by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The Steelers were forced to forgo their trip to the campus of St. Vincent College near Latrobe, Pennsylvania in 2020 due to the NFL’s rules regarding keeping players isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s unclear how much those restrictions will change for the NFL teams this summer, but as things stand as of today, the Steelers are still making plans to return to the Laurel Highlands for the team’s annual training camp this summer.
“As we sit here today, our plan is to have training camp in Latrobe,” team president Art Rooney II said to Steelers.com on Friday. “We still have a ways to go to get there, but I think there’s a pretty good chance that’s going to be able to happen. We’re still hopeful we’re going to have some form of offseason program, and it’s probably not going to start on time but I think it’s important particularly for the young players that we get back to having an offseason program and then a full training camp and preseason games. I think we need to have that to help the young players continue to develop.”
Displaced from their usual bucolic summer home and from UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side due to capacity limitations, the Steelers spent the 2020 training camp and preseason at Heinz Field.
NFL Network Analysts Call Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger 3rd-Best in AFC North
It appears that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is likely to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers, with both Roethlisberger’s agent and team president Art Rooney II making public statements that each party desires a return for 2021 this week.
But how much of a difference-maker will Roethlisberger be? That depends on his level of play this coming season.
NFL Network analysts and former NFL players Willie McGinest and LaDainian Tomlinson each ranked the quarterbacks of the AFC North and both said they think Roethlisberger is the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.
“I’m not taking anything away from Ben,” McGinest said. “Lamar Jackson is special and I put Baker in front of Ben because of what we’ve seen in the progression of Baker the last couple of years. … I see him getting better and Ben fighting father time, with the skills diminishing just a little bit.”
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) February 25, 2021
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Tomlinson said. “We’ve seen, in spurts, Big Ben play well. He started out hot. But he didn’t finish so well. … He looked old and beat up toward the end of the season. I’m just not sure that improves.”
Statistically, Roethlisberger finished first amongst the four AFC North passers in completion percentage, but he was fourth in yards per attempt and third in passer rating and QBR. Pro Football Focus ranked Roethlisberger last of the division’s four starters in 2020.