James Conner hopes to make a jump in second season

AP

Steelers running back James Conner, who overcame cancer while in college at Pitt, became a third-round draft pick and one of the most popular players in the NFL as a rookie. But his first season didn’t result in much production, with only 144 rushing yards in 14 appearances.

This season, Conner hopes to do a lot more.

“Didn’t really do much [last season] so I have a lot to prove,” Conner recently said, via Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. “I just needed to learn more, needed to grow more. I’m in the process of growing right now.”

The Steelers need that from him, because there’s a chance that 2018 will be Le'Veon Bell‘s last year with the team. If so, they’ll need someone else to step up. If it’s going to be Conner, he’s going to have to earn it.

“I haven’t proved anything yet,” Conner said. “Just another opportunity for me to prove to my coaches and earn respect from my teammates that I’m capable of playing on Sundays.”

Steelers tight end Jesse James sees some improvement, so far.

“He’s a little bit more confident in the playbook, handling protections — he’s just in better shape,” James told Fowler. “He’s running fast, running every ball to the end zone. He looks good.”

Conner specifically needs to improve in pass protection. If he does, James predicts a “big jump” for Conner.

It will have to be a big jump for the Steelers to ever consider entrusting the future starting running back job to Conner.