By Jeff Hathhorn

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — He was one of the bright lights from Sunday’s Pittsburgh Steelers’ preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons, but, Thursday afternoon, head coach Mike Tomlin called out his rookie running back from Pitt.

“James Conner played a heck of an offensive football game last time out, almost ran for 100 yards,” Tomlin said. “But he was JV as a special teams performer.”

Ouch. Especially for Conner who is not only a physical offensive player, but was a significant contributor on defense in Pitt’s bowl win in Detroit his freshman year.

“I’m challenging him in a big way,” Tomlin said. “We expect him to give us quality contributions in the special teams game when he’s not playing running back. It’s reasonable to expect that.”

Did the inspirational rookie from Erie hear what the coach said?

“You got to, you’re not on full scholarship here,” Conner said after practice on Thursday. “If you’re not contributing, they will find somebody else. So you have to take the challenge and hear it loud and clear.”

“He hasn’t done anything wrong, but there is a certain urgency that we need to see in terms of his growth and development,” Tomlin said. “He hasn’t had a lot of physical work in that area because he’s missed some time in the spring when we were teaching.”

Conner missed most of the OTA practices on the South Side, and a number of workouts during camp in Latrobe due to injury. Conner also never played one down of special teams at Pitt.

“He’s got a lot of ground to make up,” Tomlin said. “I’m sure he’s capable of doing it, but I’m going to apply a little pressure in that regard.”

“I’m a football player, once I figure out the mental part of it, I’ll be okay,” Conner said.