David Chao, MD: James Conner Isn't Soft, Just Always Hurt

Steelers running back James Conner left the Monday Night Football opener early in the second quarter and never returned. How much time might he miss? The answer is minimal in my opinion and I believe he could have returned to play.

I am not calling Conner soft. After all, he beat cancer. However, he has never been able to stay off the trainers table during his career, having played in 14, 13, and 10 games each of the last three respective years. I am also saying the ankle injury was real, but minor. He did get taped on the sidelines and I am sure he wanted to return. Benny Snell Jr. was running well and ended up with 19 carries for 113 yards at almost a six-yard-per-carry clip. There was no reason to push it.

By video, there was no clear injury to Conner, lending credence to the mild nature of the ankle sprain. If it were more severe, it would be a violation of league rules to not report it to the media and TV broadcast in the second quarter when he left the game. Surely the league will question the delay but the Steelers answer will be simple. Conner injured his ankle in the second quarter but was able to continue and since his return was not in doubt and simply a coaching decision, there was no reporting requirement. My assumption is the ankle tightened up on the bench and then his return became officially questionable and was then properly reported to the public in the 4th quarter.

Adam Schefter confirmed these thoughts postgame

Head coach Mike Tomlin post-game would only say Conner (ankle) was being evaluated.

I believe Conner will be ready to go next week. However, there is no question Snell has earned more playing time. There is no reason to hurry Conner back. From a fantasy perspective, if you own Conner you should have already owned Snell, too.

The attention on the Steelers may involve Conner, but they have other much bigger injury issues. Already weakened on the offensive line with RG David DeCastro out with a knee issue, his replacement Steven Wisniewski left with a pec injury and RT Zach Banner left with a knee injury on back to back plays in the 4th quarter. Both could be season-ending and need surgery. The worry for Wisniewski is a pec tendon rupture and the worry for Banner is a right knee ACL tear as reported at www.profootballdoc.com. If this gets confirmed it decimates the right side of the offensive line and would have a much bigger effect on the Steelers run (and pass) game than the temporary loss of Conner.

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Written by
David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.