James Conner: No Pressure Replacing Le'Veon Bell for Steelers Opener vs. Browns

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2018

Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner runs with the ball during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, in Pittsburgh. The Steelers franchise tagged star running back Le'Veon Bell still hasn't shown up for any practices, so it looks like Conner will continue to be the back carrying the ball when the Steelers start the regular season against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

The Le'Veon Bell holdout and ensuing drama has already created plenty of headlines for the Pittsburgh Steelers as their Sunday season opener against the Cleveland Browns approaches, but the replacement running back isn't feeling the heat. 

"No pressure on me," James Conner said of filling in for Bell against Cleveland, per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. "There are a lot of people waiting to see how my performance is going to be. As long as we win, I'm cool."

Fowler noted Bell won't sign his $14.5 million franchise tender with an eye on longevity and an eventual payday on the open market, which drew ire from some of his teammates.

"He f--ked us," a veteran said of Bell on Wednesday, per Fowler.

Center Maurkice Pouncey said, "If you don't want to be here, it is what it is. Hold out 10 weeks," while guard Ramon Foster sent out a head-turning tweet:

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Not having one of the best running backs in the league in Bell figures to be a problem for the Steelers, but Conner is approaching the situation in a practical manner.

"[People] are not in my shoes. They might think it's pressure, but to me it's just football and doing my job," Conner said. "We've been here 8-to-5. It's just my job. The outside world thinks it's pressure, but it's just football. It's always been that way."

The University of Pittsburgh product played well in the preseason and tallied 100 yards on 19 carries to go with seven catches for 61 yards. He found the end zone and appeared to be much more comfortable than he was as a rookie when he saw limited action and finished with 32 carries for 144 yards.

Conner has yet to find sustained individual success at the NFL level, but he was the 2014 ACC Player of the Year in college and ran for more than 1,000 yards in two different seasons with the Panthers.

He will also be running behind the league's seventh-best run-blocking offensive line from 2017, per Football Outsiders' metrics. That group should open some holes against a Browns team that was 0-16 last year.

If it does and Conner takes advantage, the Steelers can take an important step in the division without their game-changing running back.