When Steelers coach Mike Tomlin speaks of “consequences” arising from running back Le’Veon Bell’s training-camp holdout, here’s the most obvious one: Other guys will get a chance to show what they can do.
Enter rookie James Conner. The fan favorite, who played for Pitt and overcame cancer along the way, already has the most popular jersey among all rookies (as determined by NFLShop.com) and the most popular jersey among all players (as determined by Dick’s Sporting Goods).
“I’m just excited to get reps,” Conner said Friday, per Max Bultman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I don’t know all the details of [Bell’s] situation, but all I know is I’ve gotta master this playbook, be ready when they call No. 30.”
They’ll be calling No. 30 a lot until No. 26 returns.
“He definitely set the bar high with his receiving and his running ability and pass blocking,” Conner said regarding Bell. “Every category, to me, he’s the best running back in the game. So I’ve gotta get in rhythm. It’ll give me an opportunity to work with Ben [Roethlisberger] a little bit, so there’s no drop-off in the rhythm whenever Le’Veon comes out of the game.”
First, Le’Veon has to get in the game. Before that, he has to report. By rule, he can skip all of training camp, all of the preseason, report days before the Week One game at Cleveland, and collect every penny of his $12.1 million franchise tender.
Along the way, the Steelers have the right to rescind the tender at any time, making Bell a free agent. While that remains highly unlikely, Conner could in theory do enough to get the Steelers to choose paying him $3.1 million over the next four years combined over paying Bell $12.1 million in 2017.
If Conner looks the part, all those fans who have bought his jersey will have plenty of reasons to wear it proudly on game days.