Steelers RB Benny Snell proves 'ready to answer the bell' in Week 1

Preparation is paramount in the NFL, and Benny Snell's Week 1 performance served as a prime example of that lesson.

Listed as Pittsburgh's second runner behind lead back James Conner, Snell didn't begin his second professional season with the greatest expectations. After seeing double-digit carries in less than half of his first 13 NFL games, he couldn't exactly expect a heavy workload. The spotlight is now trained on Snell, though, after he exploded for 113 yards while filling in for Conner on the national stage of Monday Night Football.

"(Snell) was ready to answer the bell when called upon," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said following a 26-16 win over the New York Giants, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Conner exited early in the opener due to an ankle injury, forcing the Steelers to turn to Snell, the former Kentucky star who averaged 3.9 yards per carry on 108 attempts in 2019. Snell shattered that mark Monday, posting an average of 5.9 yards per carry thanks to three runs -- of 14, 21 and 30 yards -- that made up more than half of his total.

For a player who can count more on special teams reps -- don't worry, he still fulfilled those duties -- than he can carries, it was encouraging to say the least.

"I worked hard," Snell said, "and I did what the Steelers told me to."

They might be asking for more of the same in Week 2 with Conner's status still up in the air. Tomlin told reporters Monday he'll "leave the light on" for Conner to return for Sunday's game against the Broncos but noted that Snell demonstrated he can carry a heavy load himself.

Conner's latest ailment might have derailed the Steelers' offense in previous years, when the unit would be forced to turn to the likes of Jaylen Samuels and others. Snell's Monday night performance offers proof that Pittsburgh might be just fine without Conner if the usual starter has to miss some time.

"We've talked openly about the maturation process, the things that you can expect from a second-year player," Tomlin said. "He showed signs of that from the very beginning of this team-development process ... so I wasn't surprised by what he was able to do. He's a quality player and one that's maturing and emerging."

While it is encouraging, it is just one week and came against one of the worst teams in the NFL last season. We'll need more proof before we can put him on the list of breakout stars. But there are much, much worse ways to start your second professional season.

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