Now that the Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell have failed to agree on a long-term contract, the short-term focus shifts to the players that will be at training camp next week.
Bell is expected to sign his tender before the regular season begins, but if he follows the same course as a year ago, he strategically will skip camp and all four preseason games.
A similar approach this summer will give more opportunities to a number of young running backs who will be trying to make strong impressions. This summer could serve as weeks-long auditions for a starting job in 2019 for several of them because Bell is not expected to be on the roster after this year.
James Conner: Had his rookie season cut short after a knee injury in Week 14 against the New England Patriots. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry on 32 attempts but never had more than five rushes in any game. Selected in the third round of the 2017 draft, Conner served as Bell’s top backup in 2017, but he’ll have to prove himself all over again after rehabilitating his knee.
Stevan Ridley: Signed to the 53-man roster in December after Conner was injured. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry in 26 attempts in the final two games. Ridley has a much longer resume than Conner, having been a starter in New England, where he rushed for 1,263 yards in the 2012 season. He is 29 and was out of work before the Steelers signed him.