James Conner Working Towards Steelers Return in Midst of Meaningful Week

Noah Strackbein

PITTSBURGH -- James Conner hasn't played in a Steelers game since Week 11 against the Cleveland Browns. In an attempt to return last week, Conner was a limited participant in practice, as sort a test run, while trying to return from his shoulder injury. 

This week, Mike Tomlin confirmed that Conner would return to practice in another effort to get back by Sunday. The Steelers square off against the Buffalo Bills in Week 15 - a game that could likely decide the wildcard seeding in the AFC. 

"We've got to take care of business, we've got to go 1-0," Conner said. "All three phases have to play great, play together, we have to believe in one another. We need great energy on Sunday night, we just got to win."

Conner wasn't able to confirm whether or not he'd be playing this weekend, but did say he's been working with the team. Without using much contact, the running back has had to rely on strength he sees in himself to determine how far he's able to push his shoulder from day to day.

"It's hard to kind of. I kind of have to go off strength that I have," Conner said.

With poor weather conditions in the forecast for Pittsburgh, the Steelers could rely on the running game to carry the offense. The emergence of Benny Snell has eased the urgency of getting Conner back, but with Jaylen Samuels working through a groin injury the backfield is hoping one of their veteran backs is available for Sunday. 

Conner isn't worried about who's on the field or what the weather is. "Any weather. I think that's how all our backs are, no matter the weather we're going to ball," he said. But the team's game plan could certainly benefit from his presence. 

An Erie Pennsylvania native, Conner didn't grow up far from the city of Buffalo. Decided between the Bills and the Steelers growing up may have been a bit more challenging than it is now. For him, though, he's past childhood teams. Instead, he's focused on the Steelers backfield - or as he worded it, his "job".

"I'm kind of past the sentimental, being from the area stuff," Conner said. "This is a job, we're professionals you know? This is a huge game for us, that's what it's always about; it's about winning this game."

Injury Report

James Conner (knee) continued to be a full participant in the Steelers practice. Jaylen Samuels (groin) and Vance McDonald (concussion) also returned on Thursday with a full day's work. Pittsburgh did see one step-back with JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) being a limited member of Thursday's practice.