Some might look at the season James Conner had in 2018 and think how did he do that?
For Conner it’s exactly what he expected, and definitely what he wanted to do.
“It’s what I have always asked for,” said Conner. “Not the situation it was. I didn’t ask for that. But the opportunity to be a starting NFL running back. I didn’t really feel any pressure because it was everything I was asking for. I didn’t look at it as pressure because it’s what I wanted. It was a great opportunity.”
The ‘situation’ Conner referred to was Le’Veon Bell holding out all season, and Conner taking over the reins as the team’s feature back. It put him right in the center of all of the Bell talk all season long, but he never faltered, handling it with maturity that goes well beyond a second-year NFL player.
“It wasn’t ever my place to say anything,” said Conner. “Even when I am playing well I don’t say much. I am not one to talk much and promote things. It was a funny position to be in. I didn’t have control over anything. I could only control what I did on the field.
“When my teammates said they believed in me, I didn’t pay attention to the outside world, what they thought. I just came to work every day. It was a funny position to be in, but I started all year and things worked out.”
Oh yes, things sure did work out. Conner played in 13 games, starting 12, and finished the 2018 season with 215 carries for 973 yards and 13 touchdowns, while adding 55 receptions for 497 yards and a touchdown. Conner was also selected to the Pro Bowl as the AFC’s starting running back.
“I don’t focus on individual stuff,” said Conner. “I always knew my talent level. I knew with an opportunity to be a feature back I could show my skills off and accomplish great things, especially with the line I run behind and everyone believing in me. I knew with hard work and opportunity I could make some noise in the league.”
Despite all that Conner accomplished this year, there were still those who he felt didn’t look at him as ‘a starting running back.’ It wasn’t something that ate at him, wasn’t something that bothered him. But in our world of everyone has an opinion that they want to share, and a place to share it, it’s something he definitely heard.
“It comes with it. It will go away with time,” said Conner. “The situation is still new. It’s not tough to deal with. When I am on the field I don’t think of anything. That is my escape.
“You are going to get criticism. Ben (Roethlisberger) is a Hall of Famer and people still criticize him. People are always going to doubt. I am not worried about proving anything to others. I am worried about proving myself right, the confidence I have in myself.”