PITTSBURGH — In what’s been something of a trend this season, the Steelers will once again play a man short at running back on Sunday, as rookie Benny Snell, Jr. is expected to miss at least two weeks after undergoing surgery.
Starter James Conner has played in all seven games despite a number of minor injuries. Backup Jaylen Samuels has missed the last two games after arthroscopic knee surgery. Now Snell will miss time, making at least four consecutive games that the Steelers will be without one of their top three running backs.
But despite the availability of free agents with experience such as Jay Ajayi, the Steelers haven’t seen the need to bring in help from outside the organization, other than filling a couple practice squad spots.
The biggest reason for that is the team’s faith in fourth-string back Trey Edmunds. The older brother of safety Terrell Edmunds, Trey came to the Steelers from the New Orleans Saints before the 2018 season and has been up and down between the practice squad and active roster, but has endeared himself to his teammates and coaches with a passion for special teams and a contagious toughness and work ethic.
“We like the growth and development of Trey Edmunds since we brought him up from the practice squad,” head coach Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday. “He has been a consistent contributor on special teams for us, made a couple tackles [Monday] night. We are not afraid to utilize him as a runner.”
The special teams work is what first got Edmunds on the Steelers’ radar and it’s why he was inserted on those teams as a regular as soon as he was signed to the active roster.
“He’s an above the line special teams performer,” Tomlin said. “He’s a running back that’s capable of playing in cover units. So, he’s a football player first. When you see running backs or offensive players that excel in coverage units, that are productive tacklers, like Rosie Nix, that adds value to your group. To be able to play offensive players in coverage units, and he gives us that.”
Edmunds had one carry for no gain on Monday, but Tomlin said there could be more to come for the fourth-year runner. Edmunds had nine carries for 48 yards and a touchdown for the Saints in 2017.
“He’s got a consistent run demeanor,” Tomlin said. “He’s tough. He’s downhill. He finishes plays aggressively. All those things we like, and he’s got solid consistent ball security.”
It adds up to a player that the Steelers trust, and that’s been enough for them to not only keep him around, but to not panic when it seems that he may be in line for a significant workload.
“I definitely appreciate the fact that they think that about me, but I’m just trying to my part and prepare each game like I’m going out there playing every single play,” Edmunds said. “I’m trying to know as much as I can about my opponent, definitely knowing my assignments for the week and trying to get the little parts down.”
He credited his history as a linebacker — he was recruited to Virginia Tech as a four-star outside linebacker — for his success on special teams.
“I played special teams all throughout college and throughout the league, so I guess it started before I even got here,” Edmunds said. “I’ve always been accustomed to going out there, making blocks and making tackles. Plus, it gives me an opportunity to get out there and show my skills I used to have at linebacker. I can go out there and tackle and show that side of me hasn’t gone anywhere.”
While his focus in practice this week will be readying to serve as a backup running back, he’s also looking forward to making an impact in the part of the game that’s perhaps best suited to his skillset.
“I like going out there and competing and [special teams are] just another area of the game where you can compete and showcase what you can do,” he said. “I go out there with 110% percent.”