Thanks to four seasons and 2,302 rushing yards' worth of production, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin knows running back James Conner very well.
That familiarity is the foremost reason as to why Tomlin doesn't want Conner to have a happy homecoming Sunday when the Arizona Cardinals face the host Steelers.
"We can't allow James Conner to do what James does," Tomlin said of the running back he selected out of Pitt in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. "Know and love and got a lot of respect for James. He is a legitimate tough guy, a big-time competitor. Expecting nothing but his absolute best coming back into Pittsburgh because I know him."
Conner was with the Steelers from 2017-2020, emerging as a Pro Bowl back in his second season when he rushed for a career-high 973 yards and ran to 12 touchdowns. A cancer survivor who ran strong and was emblematic of Pittsburgh toughness, Conner signed with the Cardinals ahead of the 2021 season, becoming a Pro Bowler once again with a 15-TD showing.
Tomlin is well aware of the 28-year-old's nose for the end zone and wants his defense to do its best to keep Conner from sniffing six.
"Aside from his will and intangible things, man, his skillset," Tomlin said. "When he gets into the secondary, he's tough to deal with. He's a combative runner. He has a nose for the line to gain and the goal line -- he has for his entire career. He's always been a touchdown scorer."
Connor hasn't found the end zone since Week 3, however. On the year, he's rushed for 526 yards (5.06 per carry) and two touchdowns in eight games, having missed four contests after a knee injury landed him on injured reserve. He's coming off a season-low showing of six carries for 27 yards against the Los Angeles Rams.
However, Conner figures to be motivated to play in front of the Three Rivers crowd once again on Sunday.