NFL

NFL: Did Losing Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell Make the Steelers Closer? This Player Thinks So

Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 - James Conner

With Antonio Brown in Oakland and Le’Veon Bell on the Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense will be different this season. Granted, the team didn’t have Bell last season as he held out, but lacking both players will be a hit to the Steelers.

Normally a team would be worse when it loses two of its best offensive players. At least one Steelers player, however, thinks the change will bring the remaining players closer together and possibly make a better team. Can improved camaraderie make up for losing two players largely considered to be among the best in the NFL at their respective positions?

Lost production from Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell

Brown is considered one of the best wide receivers in the league — and for good reason. The 31-year-old has had more than 100 receptions and at least 1,284 yards every season since 2013. Plus, in the 2018 season, he set a career high with 15 touchdowns in just 15 games.

Officially losing Bell is less of an issue because they lacked him last season. However, the running back has also put up big numbers throughout his career. When Bell last played in 2017, he had a career-high 321 carries for 1,291 yards and a career-best nine touchdowns. The 27-year-old is also a threat for catching the ball out of the backfield; he had 85 receptions in 2017 for 655 yards and two touchdowns.

Running back James Conner takes over and weighs in

Now the No. 1 running back in Bell’s absence, James Conner thinks losing the two stars isn’t a bad thing for Pittsburgh. He told Pro Football Talk he thinks the team “became closer maybe because of everything.” Conner says that during OTAs and minicamp, “it was fun” to interact with his teammates. He went on to say there are “great vibes within our organization. We’re excited about the future, man.”

According to Conner, the Steelers won’t be thinking about Brown and Bell. He said he has “great respect” for them and “they’re great people,” but worrying about them and their new teams “can’t help us none.” Conner hopes his former teammates do well in the future, but “that’s behind us.”

Pittsburgh’s outlook for 2019

As Bell sat it out last season, Conner impressed as the starting running back. The 24-year-old played in 13 games, including 12 starts. He ran for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns on 215 carries. He also had 55 catches for 497 yards and a receiving touchdown. If Conner can put up similar numbers this season, Steeler fans can forget about Bell. If the 2017 draft pick was a one-season wonder, though, Pittsburgh will miss Bell more than expected.

The Steelers may have an easier time replacing Brown as JuJu Smith-Schuster takes over at No. 1. Coming off a breakout season, he had 111 receptions for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. With Brown on the West Coast, Smith-Schuster will get more targets from Ben Roethlisberger. But the 22-year-old will likely be the focus for opposing defenses, too.

Then there are question marks surrounding Roethlisberger. At 37 years old, he’s ripe for regression. Not having Brown on the field for the first time since 2009 will challenge the veteran quarterback more than ever.