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James Conner was eager to turn his storyline back to football

PITTSBURGH -- Despite being one of the league's most popular rookies, running back James Conner remained low-key through training camp, stressing to the media his desire to blend in and be a football player.

On Sunday night, Conner had an ear-to-ear smile in the locker room. The third-round pick, whose inspiring return from Hodgkin lymphoma remains a popular storyline, finally got to be a football player.

"I enjoy running the football," Conner said after his 20-carry, 98-yard performance in the Steelers' 17-13 win Sunday over the Atlanta Falcons.

With Le'Veon Bell still out of sight for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Conner worked to make himself useful. Conner said he was mentally ready for a big workload, shrugging off a slow start that included two third-down drops in the passing game.

“Got my mind right early before the game. I knew it was going to be a workload," Conner said. "Coach (Mike Tomlin) had stated that. Man, just having fun playing football. This is what I asked for.”

The Steelers wanted to get a close look at Conner, a third-round pick who was limited in training camp with a shoulder injury. Tomlin let Conner play well into the fourth quarter, and Conner started breaking off chunk yards after gaining 13 yards on his first five carries.

“I thought he represented himself well, particularly from a conditioning standpoint,” said Tomlin, who added that the backup running back depth chart remains fluid with Conner, Knile Davis, Fitzgerald Toussaint and others. “For him to be able to execute a large number of snaps like he did was encouraging.”

Conner, however, was still kicking himself over the drops, both of which would have gone for first-down yardage.

“That’s unacceptable,” Conner said. “I trust my hands. Those are catchable balls.”