Limited talent, questionable effort and forced optimism aptly describes the Pittsburgh Steelers running back situation over the past few years.
Prior last season, Ben Roethlisberger relied on the likes of John Clay, Mewelde Moore, Isaac Redman, Rashard Mendenhall, Felix Jones and Jonathan Dwyer to help balance the offensive attack. And at times it was just that — offensive.
Sure, Dwyer and Redman had a few decent performances, but both players are low-ceiling talents.
Moore was a reliable third-down target for Roethlisberger, but provided little help in the running game.
Mendenhall, on the other hand, had the talent to be a No.1 back. He had consecutive seasons rushing over 1,000 yards and another year where he just missed the 1,000 yard marker. Nonetheless, the Steelers offense never relied on Mendenhall the way teams should feature star running backs…especially running backs drafted in the first round (2008).
After years of embarrassing inconsistency and running statistics, the Steelers dipped back into the draft for a top-tier running back, Le’Veon Bell. When Bell was slowed last year by a foot injury in training camp, it looked like the Steelers had again failed to provide Roethlisberger with a real running threat. However, once Bell shook off the foot injury, he showed us all what the Steelers had been missing.
In his first game, Bell ran for two touchdowns on his way to eight touchdowns for the season. Not huge numbers, but still an upgrade over season’s past. Bell went on to gain 1,259 all-purpose yards in his rookie season, besting the great Franco Harris’ 1972 record of 1,235 yards. Impressive numbers for a guy who missed the first three games and on a team which had lost its punch at running back.
Speaking of punch, the Steelers sunk one on Bill Belichick this off-season with their big steal signing RB LeGarrette Blount. Blount became Belichick’s go-to back by the end of 2013 after outplaying the incessantly injured Shane Vereen and Mr. Fumble, Stevan Ridley. In two of Blount’s final starts as a Patriot, he ran for 189 yards and 166 yards in their post-season win and scored six TDs. Not even future HOFer Jerome Bettis scored six TDs in two games.
Blount appears to have a lock as the No. 2 running back and will get opportunities to prove he brings more than breather for Bell. Blount is not much of a receiving threat…another quality he shares with Bettis.
While Blount would seemingly be the powerback, rookie third-rounder and former Kent State running back, Dri Archer’s role remains a training camp secret. Archer has incredible speed and agility which will likely be used on punt and kick returns. This will allow Antonio Brown to rest and perhaps keep fans in their seats for kickoffs again.
On offense, it has been reported Archer is being used more in the passing game by Todd Haley. Haley certainly figured out how to use the shifty Jamaal Charles during his tenure as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Steelers don’t have much depth after Blount and Archer. If they can’t find a practice squad worthy backup on their roster, they will need to keep eyes on the waiver wire.
The 1-2-3 punch of Bell, Blount and Archer finally gives the Steelers a stable of running backs befitting a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform. Will the talent play up to their potential or will they find a way to let Ben [and the fans] down again?