Steel City Underground

With Le'Veon Bell sitting out training camp, there has been a fever pitch regarding the backup running back competition. First-team reps on offense have been shared by veterans Fitzgerald Toussaint and Knile Davis, with local fan favorite and rookie rusher James Conner receiving second-team reps along with an occasional splash running with the starting offense.

Many fans were excited when the Steelers selected the University of Pittsburgh, and Erie, Pennsylvania native in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Fans have flocked to purchase Conner's jersey, making his the best selling in the league to date. Conner had a stellar collegiate career, rushing for 3,733 yards and 52 touchdowns in 29 games as a Panther. Thus you can imagine the collective gasp when Conner left practice earlier this week with an apparent shoulder injury. There was plenty of concern in regard to the severity of the damage.

On Wednesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin offered an update on Conner that is reassuring:

James Conner got an AC sprain, I told you I’d give more information on him, it appears to be minor days, we’ll see where that leads us.

The shoulder, an area very susceptible to instability and injury because it has more mobility and flexibility than all of the other joints in the body, can suffer what is sometimes referred to as a separated shoulder, shoulder sprain or acromioclavicular (AC) joint separation/sprain. An AC separation occurs when the ligaments that hold the collarbone to the shoulder blade (scapula) are injured or separated.

The severity of AC separation, an "AC sprain", can range from mild to severe. In mild cases, the ligaments are stretched; however, in severe cases, the ligaments are completely torn.

Conner returned to the field Wednesday to participate in stretching exercises with the team. He was not in pads and did not fully practice, but his participation appears to validate the minor severity of his injury. According to Dr. Popovitz, M.D., (NY Bone and Joint), the severity of AC separation/sprain injury is graded from 1-6 using what Orthopedic Physicians call the "Rockwood Scale". The scale considers the extent of ligament damage, the space between the acromion (the bony part of the scapula or shoulder blade) and clavicle (collarbone).

The most commonly diagnosed grades are as follows:

  • Grade 1: A simple sprain (stretched or partly torn) to the AC joint with minor damage to the ligament. There is no separation of bones.
  • Grade 2: A rupture of the AC ligament.
  • Grade 3: A rupture of both the AC and the nearby coracoclavicular (CC) ligaments. This often results in an upwards displacement of the collarbone that looks like a bump on the shoulder. The shoulder also falls downward with the weight of the arm.
  • Grades 4, 5 and 6 of AC separation are more severe and less common.

Based on Coach Tomlin's comments, we can assume, for now, this is most-likely a Grade 1 simple sprain.

There are a number of ways to treat the type of injury Conner is indicated to have; treatment such as rest, ice (to reduce pain and swelling) and of course limited activities. If the pain or symptoms worsen then we may see the team assign Conner to physical therapy or other forms of treatment added.

While Conner improves, we'll have to keep an eye on Bell's social media posts. The Steelers presumed starter has been teasing fans with videos of his workouts from Miami, Florida, while we wait for news on signing his tender.

For the time being, the Steelers will continue to work out other players, such as Toussaint, Davis, and a handful of camp hopefuls, at the running back position as they prepare for the 2017 season.

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