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Mike Tomlin: James Conner is Steelers 'bell cow,' 'primary ball-toter'

Throughout his career, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has preferred a workhorse running back to shoulder most of the backfield workload.

2020 appears no different.

"There is no question about who our bell cow is," Tomlin said Tuesday, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Our bell cow is James Conner, and he is our primary ball-toter."

Conner has the talent to carry the Steelers offense, earning 973 yards and 12 rushing TDs in 2018, while adding 55 catches and 497 receiving yards with an additional score. Last year, however, Conner dealt with injuries that wiped out six games and took him out early in two others.

Conner still led the Steelers in rushing last year, but the 464 yards marked the first time in more than 50 years that the Steelers hadn't had a player rush for more than 500 yards. In three seasons, Conner has never played in more than 14 games, and he's missed nine the past two years due to injury.

While the plan is for Conner to get most of the workload, if injury strikes again, Benny Snell -- who reportedly looked good in camp -- Jaylen Samuels and fourth-round rookie Anthony McFarland could play a change-of-pace role.

"We have players with unique and different talents," Tomlin said. "We are not opposed to utilizing all of those talents."

If he has his way, Tomlin will ride Conner until the wheels fall off -- a phrase he once famously employed to describe his usage of former Steeler Willie Parker. Only injury should keep Conner from being one of the few workhorse backs in the NFL in 2020.

"You have a Pro Bowl-type of running back as a starter that, when healthy, is as good as any in the league," running backs coach Eddie Faulkner said of Conner. "You have a bunch of guys that skill sets fit what we look for, whether that is Jaylen Samuels and his versatility. Whether that is Anthony McFarland and his change of direction and burst. And, obviously, Benny Snell came in and did some good things for us his first year and [has] only gotten better. I just look around the room and see a lot of talented guys who can help us."

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