James Conner Hopeful to Return to Steelers in Week 11

Noah Strackbein

After missing the last two weeks with a shoulder injury, Steelers running back James Conner is expected to be back on the field Thursday. Pittsburgh travels to Cleveland to take on the 3-6 Browns. Conner and head coach Mike Tomlin said they're hopeful for the running back's return. 

"We feel comfortable about his ability to be available to us, as we do Ramon Foster," Tomlin said. "But we have to get through the week in that regard." 

Conner addressed his status following Week 10, saying he's hopeful to be back versus the Browns. The running back has made progress over the last two weeks, and would've been a full participant in practice if the Steelers conducted one on Monday, according to Tomlin. 

Without guaranteeing anything, Conner spoke as if he was going to be dressed and starting for the Steelers this week. 

"I'm making a lot of progress on it and I think I'll be good to go," Conner said. "I can't make no guarantees, but as of right now I'm feeling good and I think we're confident for me playing on Thursday."

Conner did practice with the team last week, being a limited participant on Wednesday. But he remained away from the practice field for the remainder of the week and was ruled out Friday. 

It wasn't a step back, said Conner, but rather a test run to see where his shoulder was at. Conner described his movement as not being able to lift his arm above his head, making Jaylen Samuels and company the better option for Sunday's matchup.  

"No, I didn't take a step back," Conner said. "It was really like a trial, seeing how it felt. That's the main thing we preach is no steps back so I just wanted to be out there with the guys again, being around some football, go through walk-throughs, catching a couple passes. I kinda knew where I was at, I just wanted to get out there for a little trial."

Conner did workout on the field before the Steelers' game at Heinz Field. It was a mix of sprints and cuts while some members of the team warmed up. 

With the short week coming for Pittsburgh, Conner's pregame workout was just to keep him in game condition. He'll only have one practice day before stepping on the field against the Browns, so Sunday's cardio was just to keep his body warm. 

"That was just field cardio and conditioning," Conner said. "If I do play on Thursday, it's kind of hard to match game fatigue to just regular out on the field running. So I'm just trying to get a little exercise, a little sweat - work on cardio."

The Steelers running game struggled in Week 10 against the Rams. Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds and Tony Brooks-James manned the backfield, combining for 41 yards. 

Conner's presence should boost the success of the ground attack. The last time Conner was part of the offense, he rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown. He's hoping to see that same success as he returns. 

"Tony had some good runs, we just had a holding penalty," Conner said. "You know, we've been playing against good defenses, though. I just want to contribute to the run game when I get back. Mason's been playing good.  We've been winning games without the run game. That doesn't mean we don't need it because we do, so hopefully I can contribute to that when I get back."