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Conner working his way back

A year ago James Conner was preparing for the NFL Scouting Combine, getting ready to show all 32 NFL teams that he was healthy and ready to go after battling back from a serious knee injury in college during the 2015 season, and overcoming the fight of his life after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma not long after he suffered the injury.

Fast forward to now, and Conner is battling again, but this time, he is ready for the challenge.

Conner suffered a knee injury against the New England Patriots in Week 15, leaving the game in the fourth quarter. He was placed on the reserve/injured list, and underwent surgery. His offseason instantly went from one of relaxing and finally getting a chance to breath, to rehabbing in an effort to get back on the field when offseason activities resume late in the spring.

"It was frustrating when it happened," said Conner. "They were trusting me more. I was getting carries in the fourth quarter. That is the life of a running back. Injuries happen. My first injury won't be my last. Those are things you have to deal with."

There was some good news, though. When he was at the University of Pittsburgh he injured his right knee. This time it was the left knee.

"I think that was good," said Conner. "With my right knee I came back stronger so that is what I plan on doing with the left knee. Thankfully I heal pretty quickly. I am healing fast from this. I feel good right now. I will have more than enough time to be in tiptop shape when we get together again. I have had setbacks in the past, so it's easy for me to have patience as I come back from this."

When he does come back, it will not just be a healthy Conner on the field, but a more experienced one. He has conquered the challenges of his rookie season, learning and growing every step of the way.

"There were a lot of ups and downs, but I had a lot of fun. It was a good year for me," said Conner. "I learned how to be a professional by seeing so many professionals work. Learning the basics of getting your mind and body ready for a game. The pounding it takes, the nutrition part of it. Working out, meetings, finding a routine. I have seen older guys do that and it helps them be successful.

"In my running backs room, Le'Veon (Bell) and his routine, his nutrition, what he eats, his warmup before practice, getting his mind locked in. That taught me a lot."

Prior to his injury Conner had 32 carries for 144 yards, a 4.5 yard average, giving Bell a spell during games and showing what he can bring to the offense.

"It was awesome being on the field," said Conner. "It didn't matter if it was two or three snaps a game. Being out there was special, being in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform is special."

In addition to rehab, Conner's offseason will consist of working on areas of his game, and he isn't limiting himself, but focusing somewhat on his pass blocking, something he didn't have to do as much in college.

"It's what I was asked to do," said Conner. "It's not an excuse. I have to get better at that. Every running back loves running that ball. It's what you do when the ball is out of your hands that also counts. 

"I am going to work on every aspect of the game, but mainly in the passing game. You see how valuable guys are. Really every aspect of the game. I plan on coming back year two showing that."

He also wants to show the fans who had his jersey flying off the shelves at the Steelers Pro Shop what he is capable of with a little bit of experience under his belt.

"It was definitely surreal seeing all of the support, the jerseys," said Conner. "Now I have to give them something to cheer about. I am excited to contribute and give them more to cheer about." 

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