Injured RB Conner sidelined Sunday at Oakland
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers will head to Oakland without running back James Conner.
Coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Conner is dealing with a sprained left ankle and will not play when the AFC North leaders take on the last-place Raiders.
Conner, who is second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns (12) and fifth in yards rushing (909), suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of a 33-30 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. The team initially believed Conner was dealing with a leg contusion, but said the injury turned out to be more serious than originally thought.
The Steelers (7-4-1) will turn to Stevan Ridley and rookie Jaylen Samuels when they face the Raiders. Ridley, an eight-year veteran, has 56 yards on 18 carries this season. Samuels, a fifth-round pick, has seen his playing time increase of late as the primary option of relieving Conner.
Samuels has 12 carries for 31 yards this season and has proven to be a capable receiver out of the backfield. Samuels has seven receptions for 54 yards, including a game-tying 10-yard catch-and-run late in the fourth quarter against the Chargers shortly after Conner went down.
“We’ve got a great deal of confidence in Ridley, got a great deal of confidence in Jaylen, particularly in Jaylen, who has been on the rise last couple weeks,” Tomlin said.
Tomlin said the team is planning on taking a committee approach to the running game while Conner is out, but didn’t rule out turning to one back. Pittsburgh addressed the depth issue presented by Conner’s injury by promoting Trey Edmunds from the practice squad. Edmunds’ younger brother, Terrell, is a rookie safety for Pittsburgh. Tomlin expected Trey Edmunds to be available for work on special teams.
The Steelers placed wide receiver Justin Hunter on injured reserve after Hunter injured his shoulder diving for an overthrown pass by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger against the Chargers.
The injury will give rookie James Washington a chance at moving back up the depth chart. The Steelers sat the second-round pick, who has eight receptions for 77 yards and has struggled with what Tomlin likes to call “detail work,” against Los Angeles in favor of Hunter.
“Sometimes you get knocked down,” Tomlin said. “You’ve got to get in the lab and work. A lot of times that’s done in obscurity. There’s not a lot of time on the shelf for James, it’ll be exciting to watch him get back on this week and take advantage of someone else’s misfortune.”
Pittsburgh does not plan to alter its travel itinerary heading to Oakland (2-10), where the Steelers have not won since 1995. The team will fly out on Saturday as usual. Though Tomlin acknowledged Pittsburgh’s issues when heading west — the Steelers are winless in their past three trips to Oakland, for example — he doesn’t believe his team’s issues in the Pacific time zone have anything to do with logistics.
“We could spend a lot of time talking about history,” Tomlin said. “My concern is this group, this week.”
NOTES: WR Ryan Switzer is in the concussion protocol but Tomlin is optimistic Switzer will be available against the Raiders. … RT Marcus Gilbert (knee) is “working his way back” according to Tomlin. Gilbert hasn’t played since getting hurt in Cincinnati on Oct. 14. … Long snapper Kam Canady is dealing with a sprained knee. … FB Roosevelt Nix (shoulder) and LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle) were also banged up against the Chargers but could play in Oakland.