Rookie running back James Conner shakes a safety, gets mobbed by Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wasn't about to heap praise on a play that happened while players did not wear pads.

"But you guys are going to make a big deal about it," said Tomlin with a laugh. "So go ahead."

So here's the "big deal": Rookie running back James Conner hit safety Jordan Dangerfield with a video-game-inspired juke to free him up for a touchdown during the two-minute drill. Conner caught a pass from Josh Dobbs, and Tomlin looked ready to tell Conner to get out of bounds to save clock.

The move prompted Tomlin to joke Dangerfield "looked like a I-AA safety."

Conner got past his man and went all the way, prompting Antonio Brown and many other teammates to run to the end zone for hugs and chest-bumps.

The Steelers are easing Conner back after a minor shoulder injury kept him out of the preseason opener, but he got a heavy dose of reps during Monday's non-padded session. Conner is hoping to work his way back in time for Sunday's home game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Conner wasn't thinking about getting out of bounds, only playing football the way he knows how.

How long has Conner, who's looked quick and decisive in limited practice action, known he could play at this level?

"My whole life," said Conner, citing older brothers teaching him about toughness.

In other Steelers practice news:

  • After one of his quieter camp days Sunday, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger responded with an impressive day Monday. He went 3-of-4 with three touchdowns in goal-line work (and barely missed a fourth pass high), getting two scores from the slot, via a flip pass to Eli Rogers and a corner route with JuJu Smith-Schuster. In 11-man session, Roethlisberger hit five different receivers on six passing attempts.

  • Overheard: "Chick, you almost had it, dawg." --Roethlisberger to linebacker Anthony Chickillo in one-on-ones after a completion to a tight end.

  • Another big day for corner William Gay, who picked the backup quarterbacks twice, including a Dobbs pick in two-minute drill, prompting a collaborative dance with teammates.

  • Linebacker Ryan Shazier, safety Mike Mitchell, linebacker Bud Dupree and cornerback Senquez Golson were among the defensive players missing Monday's session.

  • Wide receiver Sammie Coates (knee, PUP) is progressing and working hard, said Tomlin, who isn't sure when Coates will return.