New week, new questions surrounding the Steelers' running back situation. Instead of, why wasn't James Conner used more? It's going to be, who are they going to use in place of James Conner?
At his weekly news conference today, Coach Mike Tomlin said Conner is out of Sunday's game against the Raiders in Oakland because of an ankle injury that turned out to be a sprain instead of a contusion. And with that, and because of the shoulder injury sustained by Justin Hunter in the same game, the Steelers made some corresponding roster moves today.
Hunter was placed on the injured reserve list, and running back Trey Edmunds was elevated from the practice squad. Rookie inside linebacker Matthew Thomas, who was waived in order to make room on the 53-man roster when outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi was added as the IR/designated-to-return player, wasn't claimed and was re-signed to the practice squad. With running back depth suddenly an issue, the Steelers signed Ralph Webb to the practice squad and to create an opening for him they released outside linebacker Farrington Huguenin from the practice squad.
Webb, 5-foot-10, 220 pounds, left Vanderbilt as that school's all-time leading rusher and had been waived by New England last weekend.
Through the season's first 12 games, the Steelers had run the ball 263 times with Conner getting 201, or 76.4 percent, of those carries. Ridley has carried 18 times, and Samuels, who has been active for every game this season but didn't touch the football on offense until late October, has 12 carries. The team's second leading rusher to this point actually is Ben Roethlisberger, with 24 attempts for 94 yards and three touchdowns.
Not surprisingly, Tomlin indicated the Steelers will utilize a committee approach to replacing Conner when he was asked about his plans for the position against the Raiders.
"That is our intention as we sit here today, but we have a preparation week in front of us, and sometimes division of labor is revealed to you through that work," said Tomlin. "We have a great deal of confidence in Ridley. We have a great deal of confidence in Jaylen, particularly of late with Jaylen. He's a guy who has been on the rise in recent weeks, and we've talked about that in here. Trey is a guy who has played some pro football, and we were excited about getting him on our practice squad when we acquired him. We'll put him in uniform and give him an opportunity to be a contributor as well."
While it took Samuels a while to get touches in a regular season game, he has played more than any of the other backup running backs lately. Since getting his first NFL carry on Oct. 28 vs. Cleveland at Heinz Field, Samuels has had touches in five of the last six games. In addition to his 12 carries for 31 yards, he has seven catches for 54 yards. He also has two receiving touchdowns – in Baltimore against the Ravens and last Sunday night vs. the Chargers.
"Sometimes the journey itself provides opportunity, and that opportunity provides times for guys to show and improve, and (Samuels) has done that," said Tomlin. "So he's getting increasing opportunities because of it. That was ongoing in recent weeks even prior to James' injury. Sometimes injury is a component of it, and it is now moving forward, but it wasn't in recent weeks. I think his play has been a component of it, and from that standpoint there's some excitement."
Edmunds is one of three brothers currently playing in the NFL, along with Tremaine and Terrell. He has said he agreed to join the Steelers practice squad because Tomlin told him he wasn't being added simply because he was related to the No. 1 draft pick.
"I've seen a good skill-set. I've seen a willing participant," said Tomlin about Edmunds. "I've seen a skill-set that's maybe geared toward some special teams, and that's potentially not really a common thing at the running back position. I know he earned his stripes in New Orleans in that capacity, so forget what he's able to provide us as a runner. This is a guy who's going to be in uniform who has a resume that's centered around some special teams contributions, and so he'll be given an opportunity there first and foremost, but I have not been displeased with what I've seen from him as a runner."
And as for Ridley, a sixth-year pro with 3,078 career rushing yards in the NFL, he now gets a chance to do what he was kept to do all along.
"We were thoughtful with our inclusion of Ridley in our group," said Tomlin about the thought process during the final cut-down to 53. "To have a veteran backup like him, who's been in some circumstances, been in playoff football, etc., he will get an opportunity to show and prove."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"We have a number of injury things to discuss. James Conner's injury is probably a little more significant than we initially thought. He's got an ankle sprain, not a contusion, and so he'll be out this week. We have a few personnel-like moves associated with that. Justin Hunter is down with his shoulder (injury), and he has been placed on injured reserve. We have activated Trey Edmunds from our practice squad to provide some running back depth for us in the short term.
"Kam Canaday went down in the game with a knee (injury), and he was able to return. That will probably slow his preparations at the early part of the week, but we're hopeful he'll be a participant. Anthony Chickillo sustained an ankle injury in the game that may limit his preparation during the course of the week, and we'll see where that leads us.
"Marcus Gilbert (knee) is still working his way back from injury. I haven't yet checked in on his status. I think he's downstairs (in the training room) right now working, and we'll see where his participation is and where that participation might lead us. He's got to be getting closer.
"A couple of other guys had nicks and so forth in the game. Rosie Nix had a shoulder (injury), but I don't think that will stop him from being available to us. Ryan Switzer is in the (concussion) protocol. Part of getting out of the protocol is physical labor, so he'll be given an opportunity to do some of those things. We're optimistic about his inclusion, but we'll let that process run its course."