Steelers Rule Out Two Offensive Starters; James Conner Questionable

Noah Strackbein

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers finish a headline filled week with bad news as they head into Sunday night against the Buffalo Bills. Hours after JuJu Smith-Schuster ruled himself out for Week 15 with a PCL injury, the team has also ruled out tight end Vance McDonald. 

McDonald left Week 14 with a concussion. After seeing limited work in practice on Thursday, the tight end was ruled out. He remains in the concussion protocol until he's cleared by a team doctor. 

Nick Vannett and Zach Gentry will see increased reps with his absence. Vannett, a third-round pick the Steelers traded for earlier in the season, has started five games for Pittsburgh this year. Since joining the team in Week 4, Vannett has accumulated 7 catches for 70 yards. 

Smith-Schuster's injury continues to be a work in progress. According to the receiver, he over-pushed himself this week as he attempted to return by Sunday. A full participant in Wednesday's practice, the wide receiver regressed and missed Friday's practice before telling the media he's out against the Bills. 

"It wasn't a set back, it was more so I just pushed myself too hard," Smith-Schuster said. "I've got to slow myself down, I'm just trying to get out there and be great, and I got to take it slow."

The Steelers will continue to rely on James Washington and Diontae Johnson as Smith-Schuster rehabs his knee. 

James Conner's status for Sunday remains unknown as he enters the weekend with a questionable tag. The running back has missed six games this season while dealing with a number of injuries. 

His AC Joint sprain that's lingered since Week 8 has kept him on a tight-rope in rehab. Conner attempted to return last week but was unsuccessful after light practice work. This week, he was a full participant in practice all week, but without much contact he remains unsure how ready his shoulder is for Sunday. 

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

Wide receiver Johnny Holton also entered the team's injury report with an illness. After missing the last two days of practice he returned on Friday and will not carry an injury tag heading into Sunday.