PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh running back James Conner's aching right shoulder will keep him out of the lineup for a third straight game when the surging Steelers visit the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Conner took some reps with the scout team on Thursday but declared himself out as the effects of the sprained AC joint he suffered in late October continue to linger. Conner initially hurt the shoulder in the final minutes of a victory over Miami on Oct. 28. He briefly returned against Cleveland on Nov. 14 but managed just 16 yards on six touches before exiting.
“I just wasn’t ready to come back," Conner said. “Tried to fight through it but wasn’t able to. I wouldn’t say (it was a) mistake but I tried to give it a go and just wasn’t ready."
A Pro Bowler last season after taking over for Le'Veon Bell, Conner appeared to be emerging from a sluggish start when he ran for 145 yards against the Dolphins before going down following a 6-yard carry just before the two-minute warning. He declined to give a timetable on when he'll be ready to go.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead," Conner said. “Hopefully I can get out there as soon as possible. But this week? No.”
Rookie Benny Snell has taken over during Conner's most recent absence, running for 161 yards and a touchdown in victories over Cincinnati and Cleveland that kept the Steelers (7-5) in the race for a playoff spot in the AFC. Conner praised Snell's development, calling the fourth-round pick's development “great." Snell is part of a committee that includes Jaylen Samuels, Trey Edmunds and Kerrith Whyte. Pittsburgh has gone over 100 yards rushing in consecutive weeks for the first time this season and will get center Maurkice Pouncey back following a two-game suspension for his role in a late-game brawl against the Browns last month.
“I’m proud of them," Conner said. “They’re doing great. All of them ... it’s been a group effort. It’s been cool to see.”
The shoulder problem has put Conner in a delicate situation. He has one year left on the contract he signed after being selected in the third round of the 2017 draft following a spectacular career at the University of Pittsburgh. Though he's been highly productive at times — he topped 100 yards five times in Pittsburgh's first nine games last season — he's also had trouble staying on the field. His rookie season ended with a knee injury and a leg injury forced him to miss three games during the Steelers' second-half collapse in 2018.
Conner switched to a larger set of shoulder pads against the Browns in hopes of better protecting the shoulder but it quickly became apparent he couldn't continue. It's also led him to use an abundance of caution this time around.
“Obviously I’m a competitor and I want to be out there,” he said. “Just ain’t ready.”
NOTES: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) did not practice and will not play against the Cardinals. ... WR Dionate Johnson (illness) was a full participant after being limited on Wednesday because of an illness.
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