James Conner has always been a Pennsylvania kid. Originally from Erie, PA, Conner starred in college at Pittsburgh before moving on to become a featured back with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the last four seasons.
However, for one of the first times in his life, the PA product is moving out of his home state and across the country. On Tuesday, the Cardinals signed the back to a one-year deal for the upcoming season.
“I feel brand new and I’m excited for this opportunity,” Conner said. “It’s definitely a change in scenery for me and being in Pittsburgh for eight years, I felt I was just learning so many lessons and this time in Pittsburgh was just prepping me for where I’m at right now in my life and this journey that brought me out here to AZ.”
The Conner move helps the Cardinals backfield in a variety of ways. Although he’s dealt with injuries, Conner likely won’t be the starting back with Chase Edmonds in line to be Kliff Kingsbury’s number one.
Former Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake also signed with the Las Vegas Raiders in free agency, meaning the bird gang needed another back to help out Edmonds going into the upcoming year.
Conner’s presence and impact as a backup can add depth to the running back room and it helps General Manager Steve Keim in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Rather than drafting a running back out of necessity as a backup to Edmonds, the organization can have more room to make decisions instead of solely focusing on a halfback.
Conner was a 2018 Pro Bowler for the Steelers in a year where the 6-foot-1, 233-pound back picked up 973 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Although he’s missed many games due to injury over the last few years, he wouldn’t be expected to have the same amount of wear and tear as he did in Pittsburgh with Edmonds as the probable No. 1. Conner addressed his health during his media availability on Tuesday.
“I understand that it (injuries) comes with it and it’s part of the game,” Conner said, “but the only thing I can do is continue to prep myself and be ready and attack the problems as they come. They are not even problems. They are lessons and like I said, it’s part of the journey. I’ve been through things before and I am going to go through things in the future and the only thing I can do is continue to get my body ready, which I do year in and year out.”
When asked about the upcoming duo with Edmonds, too, Conner was filled with an eagerness to get on the field with him. In Arizona, Conner will work with Edmonds and his former running backs coach in Pittsburgh, James Saxon, who is now the RB coach under Kingsbury.
Edmonds is also a Pennsylvania product (originally from Harrisburg), and although they lived hours away and have not met each other in the past, Conner has liked what he’s seen from the Cardinals main back on film.
It’s a duo that will look to add to the Cardinals offense going into 2021.
“I just think it’s explosive,” Conner said of the Cardinals potential on offense. “…With Hop, Kyler, and Chase doing his thing already, I was watching film and was like, ‘Man, this dude (Edmonds) can ball,’ and I want to learn from him be a part of it and get to work with him. I can’t predict nothing but I know I can guarantee that I’m going to come in here day in and day out and work and put my head down and grind. I’m in it for the long haul. A 17-game season, I’m looking forward to it.”