It’s a great thing to have a close, tight bond with a ‘band of brothers’ in the framework of a team setting. It’s even greater when you can share success with that group. That is what third-year running back James Conner sees in his relationship with his offensive line brethren on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Conner is a guy who is naturally easy to like, so it’s really no surprise that he would have a close relationship with his offensive linemen. That’s not even acknowledging the fact that he is a local product who literally played his college games in Heinz Field while he was a member of the Pittsburgh Panthers. So he already had relationships with some of these guys before he was even drafted.
While it’s something very intangible, one can surmise that a group of offensive linemen may be able to block better for a player that they have a good relationship with, even if it is an indirect influence. More tangibly, a close relationship can more easily reveal tendencies in a runner that a blocker could grow accustomed to and block with a mind toward catering to.
If that relationship that Conner shares with his linemen was an important part of his success last season, then he had better hope that he maintains that relationship. In 13 games in 2018, he rushed for 973 yards on 215 carries, averaging 4.5 yards per rush, scoring 12 touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 55 passes for 497 yards and another touchdown.
“I love playing behind them”, he told the team’s website about running with the Steelers’ offensive line. “I love it even more because I have a relationship with them in the locker room, around the building. I look at them as big brothers and they are incredibly talented. That makes it even sweeter, our relationship and the talent. It’s a blast”.
That bond was surely strengthened through adversity when intended starting running back Le’Veon Bell elected not to report. Bell’s offensive line teammates were the most upset about his absence in terms of their willingness to vocalize their displeasure, so it’s fair to say that they rallied around Conner.
They were also emotionally invested in his success, knowing what he overcame in his life as a cancer survivor and having torn up his knee during his rookie season as well. When he hit the end zone for the first time in the season opener, the genuine affection was evident all around.
Though Marcus Gilbert is gone, the rest of the group—Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro—remains intact, and all of them are under contract through at least the 2020 season, as is Conner.