Terrell Edmunds and Jaylen Samuels experienced a baptism by fire during their rookie seasons with the Steelers. Edmunds, Pittsburgh’s first round pick in 2018, starting 15 games at strong safety. Samuels, Pittsburgh’s fifth round pick, also started three games in place of starting running back, James Conner. Both players enjoyed solid seasons that should lead to more success in 2019.
Edmunds and Samuels have decided to work together as they prepare for their sophomore NFL seasons. Both players are currently training in Miami.
The 28th overall pick in last year’s draft, Edmunds recorded 78 tackles last season. He also recorded his first career interception that helped Pittsburgh defeat the Buccaneers in Week 3.
Pittsburgh Defensive coordinator Keith Butler is confident that Edmunds can one day become a vocal leader on Pittsburgh’s defense. Butler believes that growing up in a football family gives Edmunds an advantage over other rookies. Edmunds’ father, Ferrell, was a two time Pro Bowl tight end for the Miami Dolphins. His brother, Tremaine, played linebacker at Virginia Tech and was also a first round pick in this year’s draft.
“He comes from a football family,” Butler told Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews shortly after the team selected Edmunds in the 2018 NFL Draft. “If you ever got a chance to meet his mother and his father and his brothers and how they were brought up, it’s really kind of impressive. He’s got an excellent football background. I think his mom was a big part of that. His mom coached track in high school, too. She kinda grilled us a little bit when we went down there for a visit, and I don’t blame her. If they were my kids, I’d wanna know too. She asked quite a bit of intelligent questions about what we’d expect from her sons and what’s gonna be required from them. We think his pedigree will help us in this season and it will be a little bit easier of a transition for them than most.”
Samuels began talking about his second NFL season shorty after his rookie season had come to a close. In the Steelers’ locker room, shortly after hearing that the Browns were unable to get Pittsburgh into the playoffs by defeating the Ravens, Samuels was asked to look back on a rookie season, a rookie season that was a roller coaster ride for both himself and his team.
“It was a fun experience,” Samuels said. “The whole season was fun. Just being around a great group of guys, great team, great coaching staff. I’m looking forward to anther year, hopefully it will end with a Super Bowl ring.”
Playing without Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh’s offense failed to score a point while trailing the Bengals 10-0 at halftime of their Week 17 contest. The Steelers rebounded by putting up 16 points in the second half, with Samuels contributing to the cause by catching seven key passes. While Samuels making an impact in the passing game, fellow running back James Conner, who missed the previous three games with an injury, averaged 4.57 yards per carry about the Bengals while amassing 94 yards of total offense.
“I had a pretty solid day today,” Samuels said of his final performance of the 2018 season. “It wasn’t really working on the ground, but in the passing game, it was pretty solid. Went out there and made a couple plays. As the season comes to an end, just gotta come back to work this offseason, just gotta grind hard and get ready for the second year and be even better.”
After receiving very limited playing time during the first half of the season, Samuels stayed patient as he continued to wait for his opportunity. His moment finally came in Week 15, with Samuels needing to play to well if the Steelers were going to snap their three game losing streak against the visiting Patriots. Samuels not only played well, he was Pittsburgh’ MVP that day, rushing for 142 yards on 19 carries while helping the Steelers pull off a 17-10 victory, their first win over New England since the 2011 season.
“The run game was definitely working today,” Samuels said with a laugh when asked what was working for him against the Patriots. “It didn’t work too well last week [a loss to the Oakland Raiders], so we had to bounce back. We had a good week of practice and preparation. I just got back there and stayed relaxed. Once I saw a hole, I just tried to burst through it and make a play.”
Samuels’ 2018 production, by many standards, was modest. He rushed for 256 yards (that included a team best 4.6 yards per carry) on just 56 carries. He caught 26 passes for 199 yards that included the first three touchdown receptions of his NFL career. But given his rawness at the running back position (Samuels was labeled as a tight end during draft weekend) and lack of playing time during the first half of the season, Samuels gave team president Art Rooney II confidence that he and Conner can handle the workload if the team loses Le’Veon Bell in free agency.
“The running back position I feel good about,” Rooney said earlier this month, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It looks like we have two good, young players at that position at this point, so I feel like we’re in pretty good shape there.”
While his rookie season was an overall success, Samuels is still driven to prove people wrong after being a fifth round pick in last year’s draft. He’s also driven to help the Steelers win their seventh Vince Lombardi Trophy after last season’s disappointing outcome.
“Oh yeah, most definitely,” Samuels said when asked if he still carries a chip on his shoulder. “I’m still [looking at] myself the same way I did coming into my rookie year. Year two, I’m gonna be more exposed to this team and be more comfortable. I just gotta come in ready to work.”