Conner, Hunter Compete For Bigger Roles

With key pieces of the offense missing, younger Steelers are using the preseason to make an impression

Shelby Cassesse
August 25, 2018 - 8:29 pm
Justin Hunter

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - With Le'Veon Bell still not partaking in the Steelers preseason and Antonio Brown sitting out for Saturday's game against Tennessee, several Steeler hopefuls were able to see time with Ben Roethlisberger and the first-team offense. 

Running back James Conner got the bulk of the workload in the first two quarters, rushing ten times for 41 yards and catching six passes for 52 yards. Seeing Conner catch passes is a new look this season, and one that the second-year player embraces.

"As far as catching out of the backfield, I try to do a good job of, first off, protecting No. 7 then getting out into my route, making the catch and trying to get vertical and get some yards," Conner said following Saturday's 16-6 win over the Titans. "Something I've been working on, a little bit of everything. Really just trying to be accountable."

Ben Roethlisberger said he asked Conner to let him know if he felt winded during the game, but Conner never said anything. Roethlisberger added he's excited by what Conner has been doing.

"There were some plays called specifically for him and there was just times that he was open, whether it was a check down or finding him. So, I like that he gets out quick. He's checking when he doesn't have a blitz to pick up, he's getting out to where he needs to be and I'm really encouraged by that." 

Wide receiver Justin Hunter had his own break-out moment Saturday. In the first quarter, Hunter made a catch on the far-right side of the end zone. It was originally ruled out of bounds, but overturned on a challenge for a 32-yard touchdown. 

With a receiving corps that is still largely up in the air, the catch came at an opportune time for Hunter who said he saw a door open for him with the departure of Martavis Bryant

"When Martavis left, I looked at it like that, and I'm still looking at it like that. I'm trying not to lose the spot that I have right now and just keep working hard."

Hunter made two catches for 37 yards. His touchdown was the team's longest for the day. Roethlisberger targeted Hunter three times and said he has high expectations for the young receiver.

"I expect big things like we saw. You know, there was a little thing early in the second play that we would have had an 80-yard touchdown and so, for him to bounce back from that and make a play down the sideline for a touchdown, to me, shows resolve and shows that he's a guy that can put it behind him and move on and I want him to know that I've got confidence in him no matter what."