UNITY TWP., Pa. — James Conner had a pretty fantastic sophomore NFL season in 2018.
Conner, unexpectedly handed the starting running back job when Le’Veon Bell never reported to the team, rushed for 973 yard and 13 touchdowns to easily lead the Steelers in both categories.
His 4.5 yards per carry average actually exceeded the mark his predecessor Bell had put down the year before, and at the end of the season, he was selected to play in his first Pro Bowl.
But according to Conner, none of that matters now.
As he enters his third NFL season, for the first time, there’s some stability to Conner’s football life. He’s now nearly four years removed from a cancer diagnosis that nearly derailed his pro career before it started, and had his first healthy offseason as a pro after suffering a knee injury as a rookie in 2017.
He also has a solidified role as the Steelers’ primary rushing threat after having no idea what to expect while Bell waited on the outside last year. He’s even become one of the leaders of a young running backs room.
But he’s not real interested in those things that got him to this place as he enters 2019 training camp at St. Vincent College.
“Nothing that I did last year can help me this year,” Conner said. “No play I made, no touchdown I scored, is going to help me this year. Really, you’ve got to start fresh, start with a clean slate. You’re getting judged every day. So, it’s come to work every day.”
“I agree with what he said,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin added. “I am not looking for comfort relative to what he did a year ago. I do find comfort in what I have seen from him through this point in the journey this year. He is highly conditioned and focused. I see the natural growth and the natural maturation that you see in a professional and I like what I have seen from him through the OTAs and so forth and opportunities to run across him this summer.
“Look at him. He is ready to go.”
Yes, look at him:
Friday motivation 😳💪
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) March 29, 2019
Conner spent part of the offseason training in Pittsburgh with fellow Pitt alum Aaron Donald. He also spent part of the summer training in the Florida heat.
That’s a far cry from the player the Steelers got when they drafted the Pitt and Erie McDowell product.
Part of drafting a player is figuring out how much potential they have to get better than the player they’ve already shown themselves to be. The key to unlocking that potential is different for every player, but the common denominator is hard work.
It’s abundantly clear that Conner has put in that work. But he’s not resting on that, either.
“I don’t know. I’d like to think so,” he said. “You’ve got to prove it every day.”
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/18/20
James Conner tested out his injured ankle and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Chase Claypool during practice on Friday, September 18, 2020.
This practice was in preparation for the Steelers week 2 game on Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
Cam Heyward Named NFLPA Community MVP for Week 1
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward has been named NFLPA Community MVP for Week 1.
Heyward was honored for installing his first Little Free Library, a book-sharing box placed in underserved communities around the Pittsburgh area.
Congrats to @camheyward on being named Week 1 #CommunityMVP for installing his first Little Free Library. The book-sharing boxes provide 24-7 access to literacy for underserved Pittsburgh communities while honoring the legacy in education of his late grandfather. pic.twitter.com/uKwbnz28A1— NFLPA (@NFLPA) September 18, 2020
Little Free Library is a non-profit organization that “inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.”
The installation of the book-sharing boxes marks the launch of the Rufus and Judy Jordan Literacy Project, a new initiative of the Cameron Heyward Foundation that will work to promote children’s literacy and honor his late grandparents, both of whom were lifelong educators in Pittsburgh.
Drafted in first round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Ohio State, Heyward has spend his entire career in Pittsburgh. He is a three-time Pro Bowler, and has twice received First-Team All-Pro honors.
Heyward and the Steelers agreed to a four-year, $71.4 million contract extension on Sept. 6 that will allow him to retire in Pittsburgh and make him the highest-paid defense player over the age of 30 in NFL history.
Highlights from Steelers Practice 9/17/20
The Steelers finally experienced a practice with almost everyone on the roster able to take the field. Only two players did not take part in practice before their week 2 game against Denver.
Alex Highsmith and Minkah Fitzpatrick stood out from the rest on Thursday, September 17, 2020.