James Conner was held out of Steelers practice for a second straight day Thursday, but Patriots fans shouldn't get too excited about him getting ruled out of Sunday's crucial AFC tilt... at least not yet.
The second-year running back could miss a second straight game after spraining his ankle in a Week 13 loss to the Chargers, but Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner doesn't want him rushing back to the field.
"I'd love to have him back, no doubt, but not if he's not healthy to do it," Fichtner said, per DKPittsburghSports.com.
Despite a three-game losing streak, the Steelers' reticence to rush him back is based in part on his heavy workload this season. Conner ranks sixth in the league with 253 total touches (201 carries, 52 receptions) this season, almost eight times as many as he had in his rookie campaign. He has also proved to be a capable fill-in for Le'Veon Bell with 1,376 yards from scrimmage, the ninth-most in the NFL.
"He played a lot this year," Fichtner said. "You think about how many touches and how many situations he's in... I know at the beginning of the year, everyone was asking about trying to get him out of the game because he was in too much. But he's been in there. I'm not going to just go on record and say he's a veteran already, in a year, but he is."
Pittsburgh's rushing attack could certainly use Conner against a Patriots run defense that is struggling mightily in recent weeks. Without Conner last week, Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley combined for just 32 yards on 16 carries in a loss to the Raiders last week.
Ridley has already gone on record with his desire for revenge against his former team, but that's a tall task for a guy with a grand total of 60 rushing yards this season.
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