With Le'Veon Bell expected to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the coming weeks -- assuming he isn't traded -- the question will be what will happen with James Conner's workload?
The second-year back has had an up-and-down season but is one of only four running backs with 300-plus yards rushing and 200-plus yards receiving through five weeks, joining Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon and Saquon Barkley. He's averaging 4.1 yards per carry, 10.9 yards per catch, has five touchdowns and earned six plays of 20-plus yards for the season.
Conner proved in Sunday's blowout win versus the Falcons he could be the engine of the Steelers offense when Ben Roethlisberger and the passing game ever start slow. Conner churned out 110 rushing yards on 21 carries, 75 receiving yards on four catches and two scores in his best day as a pro.
Big Ben told 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday he believes Conner shouldn't be shelved even when Bell returns.
"The good thing is that I'm not the coach, right? I don't have to make that decision. What I would say is, I don't think we put James] on the shelf by any means," he said, [via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"Now granted, I think Le'Veon's one of the best in the business, I think we all understand that and can agree on that. But what James needs to understand -- and he's gonna say the right things, and he should [as] a younger guy with a veteran, awesome football player ahead of him -- but when Le'Veon comes back, in no way, shape or form should James just say, 'OK, it's all yours. I'm gonna sit back and when you need me, use me.'
"And I will push for James to get as much run as we can because we've seen some great things from him in all phases of football. He's picking up blitzes, he's catching the ball, he's running hard and making plays and playing with a passion, so we need to keep using that."
The Steelers head to Cincinnati to face the Bengalson Sunday, then have a Week 7 bye before a tilt versus the Cleveland Browns in Week 8. Bell could report during that period.
It's clear Steelers players are preparing for life after Bell. They can read the tea leaves better than anyone, and know that even if Bell plays this season, he's almost certain to leave in 2019.
Roethlisberger seems comfortable with the transition from Bell to Conner and is giving the younger back a vote of confidence in advance of that eventuality.