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My Two Cents on the Baron Batch Injury and the Steelers’ Current Options to Replace Him

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Rookie Baron Batch is gone for 2011, Courtesy of Steel City Insider

Earlier in the week Rookie RB Baron Batch injured his knee and will be forced to miss the entire season.  As usual, I’ve been scanning the usual sports webpages (ESPN, CNNSI, CBS.Sportsline, etc.) and other Steeler Blogs (BehindtheSteelCurtain.com and Steelersdepot.com) over the last few days, and I’ve noticed numerous Steeler fans are buzzing about this Baron Batch injury.  While it is unfortunate to see bad luck in the form of a season ending injury befall any N.F.L. player (except Tom Brady of course), there is a contingent of members within Steeler Nation that seem to be taking the news very hard.  The first half of my article will be dedicated to providing a counterpoint to those distraught over Batch’s fate, and explain why Baron’s missing of the 2011 season will ultimately mean little to nothing to the fate of the Steelers and their running game.  In the second half of the article,  I would like to break down the impending battle between John Clay and Jonathan Dwyer for what should be the last RB spot (and probably one of the last spots) on the active roster/practice squad.

I hadn’t realized how many fans Baron Batch had gained in a few short months.  I mean, I couldn’t remember the last time a 3rd Down back drafted in the 7th Round got so much hype and love from Steelers fans.  After doing a bit of research I came to the conclusion that many were pulling for Batch more so for his character than his play on the field.  Batch is a guy who from his play and measureables at Texas Tech, illustrated a person who got the most out of his ability and was able to compliment the Tech pass-first offense nicely.  From his personal blog and an interview on rantsports.nfl.com, I gathered that Batch is a very well-rounded person with interests in writing, photography, and traveling.  It seems to me that Batch appears to be a very faith driven person with a squeaky clean image and a “grindy” mentality as a football player that many in the Steel City tend to embrace.  Moreover, this extra love and support for a hard-working player with great character was probably exhibited even more by Steelers fans towards Batch in the wake of the last few years when it looked like the Steelers were turning into the Bengals of the mid-2000′s and their roster was filled with guys garnering bad publicity.  I’m positive that this specific persona that Batch embodies made many Steelers fans giddy that a guy like this was on their team and wanted to see him succeed at all costs, and thus were ultimately angry about his injury.

However, character alone is not enough to get by in the N.F.L..  And to me, from reading numerous articles and comments on the situation, many in Steeler Nation desperately wanted him to make the roster for that reason alone.  This attention to positive character (Batch definitely has that) may have led some to overlook the bevy of players that the Steelers already have at the RB position.  Thus, I shall attempt to explain why I feel that those on the “Batch Bandwagon” may be overreacting a tad to the injury, and completely forgetting about the talent that he would have had to compete against on his own team in 2011.

Does Batch Really Matter?:

To answer the aforementioned question one must consider one thing?  Don’t the Steelers already have three guys at RB that are better than Batch?  In my opinion and the opinion of many scouts leading up to The Draft, Batch’s ultimate future at best is as a 3rd Down Back that can maybe come off of the bench to change the pace of the running attack during a game, and a Special Teams player.  However, the three backs in front of Batch possess similar skills that are at the very least equal to, or in almost all cases, better skills than Batch possesses as a RB.  All three, Mendy, Redman, and Me-Mo have adept hands, can block adequately, and can work in the passing game.  Plus, Me-Mo has been the 3rd Down guy for the last three seasons, and Redman began to show the ability to take some snaps away from Me-Mo in 3rd Down and passing situations in 2010.  From the trio’s performance in 2010, Batch could never unseat the “bell-cow” 20-25 carries a game guy in Mendy, he has nowhere near the power running ability of a Redman, and has nowhere near the experience as the 3rd Down guy Me-Mo.

Mendy should shoulder the load in 2011, with Redman and Me-Mo chipping in, Courtesy of The State (S.C.)

While I must add that Batch was having a good shortened training camp, performance in two weeks of camp doesn’t always equate to success in a real, live, game situation.  In reality, Batch was a guy was fighting to be a 3rd string RB at best this season, and that would have been if he had beaten out Me-Mo.  His positive character qualities and overall personality made him likable as a person and I understand caused many in Steeler Nation to root for him.  Yet should character quality and personality ultimately count for everything and allow him a roster spot when there are 3 guys ahead of him on the depth chart with experience and one of them having a very similar skill set as a 3rd Down Back?  To me the answer is no, because there are plenty of other holes to fill on the roster already (OL), and plenty of other positions that need depth (S, CB).

Final Analysis:

I understand the naysayers that will read this article and not understand the true point that I am aiming to make.  If this article seems terse, I apologize.  However I do want to be blunt towards those those that are overly upset about Batch’s injury and fail to see this situation from a cliched “glass half full” perspective.  In 2011 I ultimately feel that the Steelers are actually in great shape at RB entering the season.  They retain their solid trio from 2010 with Mendy and Redman leading the way, and have Me-Mo as the experienced and effective 3rd Down guy.

It’s sad to see a player with such great character get hurt and miss an entire season.  Nevertheless, I cannot stress the point enough that the Steelers are fine at RB and the three guys they have with oodles of experience indicates that a step will not be lost and the position is fine.  Would Batch have made a difference on Offense during the regular season?  I don’t know.  Odds are he would have had a lot of trouble getting on the field.  He may have contributed on Special Teams, but to think he would have wowed everybody in year 1 on Offense and taken significant snaps is a tad far fetched.  His image as the “grindy,” overachieving, and character driven guy made Batch easy to root for, but could he have beaten out Mendenhall, Redman, and Moore?  I highly doubt it.  He’s a 3rd Stringer at best, and I feel that those so distraught by the injury should take a second to think if they would act the same way if a Crezdon Butler was hurt.  Or how about a Keith Williams?  The way people seem to be sounding on some of these websites its as if Mendenhall or Wallace went down.

I will conclude this first part by saying my peace to those overly distraught by Batch’s injury: The N.F.L. is not a guaranteed league.  It stops for nobody no matter how great their character is or how “grindy” they may be.  Injuries and misfortune happen, but above all, the N.F.L. is a business.  And if a player is unable to play and make a return on the investment made in him he is cut. Thus, it’s all up to Batch to come back in 2012 and earn a spot on this roster.  And who knows?  Maybe he can make the team and beat out Me-Mo.  Or Me-Mo will have been cut and the job is his for the taking.  I’ll be rooting for him, because I like a good redemption story.  But seriously folks, let’s all just calm down, because when your team’s biggest injury is to a 7th Round pick and backup 3rd Down Back, you’re pretty darn lucky.

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  • AdamMeckler

    Me-mo is incredibly slow, old, and useless. That is the full extent of the reason why I was so excited to see a new third down back emerge from the pack of draft picks. The fact that he’s a stand-up guy, and Pittsburgh seems to be devoid of them as of late, just adds to his appeal. I think you’re right, it’s not the end of the world that he’s been hurt. The Steelers RB core is one of the few positions with some depth. That being said, I’ve written numerous articles on why I think Me-Mo is useless (seems like common sense to me), and would welcome some new blood in to the RB core, either from Batch or from some of the other new guys.

    Me-mo is on the roster because Tomlin likes him and knows him from his MN days. That’s the only reason. I get that, but I think eventually we have to admit that he’s no longer the “Chain Mover.” Mendy and Redman are clearly the duo tandem. Everyone else should take a back seat.

    I’m particularly interested in John Clay now that Batch is out of the picture. Nice change of pace back would be great. Clay has a long time to go before he’s NFL ready, though.

  • craig.gottschalk

    Totally agree with Adam. Me-Mo is too slow and fails to excel as a blocking back. I think a 3rd down back’s primary role is to be a damn good pass blocker for the quarter back. Me-Mo, not so good at that. He’s better out in the flat. I too was very excited to see some new blood.

    I think character goes a lot further than you are giving credit, Dom. Look at all that hugely talented players out there who have pretty terrible character – Owens, Moss, Burress, Tiki, Cutler… the list can go on. These guys all have pretty crappy character on the field (and some off). Lax efforts, ‘me’ attitudes, ‘give me the damn ball’ mentality and don’t pull through in the clutch. Look how far these guys have gone in the NFL – not far once their ‘talent’ begins to diminish. Batch is the kind of guy that you know will pull through for you because of the way he characterizes himself. He reminds me of Polamalu in many ways, minus the superstar talent. I think that’s why Pittsburgh Steelers fans latched onto this guy so quickly. Not because they were starving for a ‘good character’ to counterbalance all the junk from the offseason, but because it’s hard not to love a perceived underdog and that ‘blue collar’ mentality that is synonymous with Pittsburgh itself.

    Just because he was a 7th rounder doesn’t mean he’s any less important than some of the other guys on the team. The Steelers’ FO is too smart to treat ANY PICK lightly. Batch was a calculated and important move.

    I’ll tell you why I wouldn’t give two shits if Crezdon Butler were knocked out for the season – because he’s had his shot. He’s shown about as much promise as moth staying away from the flame. Batch is a different story, a different person. I don’t think the team will be any worse off without Batch, but it really sucks that he couldn’t make the team this year because of the ACL tear. He’ll be back, then we’ll see who’s eating crow over that 7th round pick.

    It will be interesting to see where Clay ends up. I’d like to see him make the team. But, I still think it will be the same trio as last year.

  • DomDiTolla

    Batch will get himself another chance next year and I hope he takes advantage. But hey, Colbert may decide to draft/sign somebody else to compete with him in 2012. Or Tomlin/Arians could possibly work Redman or even Mendy in for some reps on 3rd downs this year and see what pans out. Who ultimately knows? Something positive could come out of this whole situation, and that’s all we can hope for.

    Plus, if Batch doesn’t end up sticking with the Steelers it’s not like it’s a freakin’ travesty. The guy won’t be in the “Total Bust Hall of Fame of the 2000′s” with the likes of massive underachievers like Alonzo Jackson, Keenan Lewis, Kraig Urbik, Ricardo Colclough, Limas Sweed, Anthony Smith, Matt Spaeth, Willie Reid, etc.. A 7th Round pick that doesn’t end up working out is not as big a deal as the pathetic careers that these overrated clowns turned in which I listed above. Running Back is arguably the most replaceable position in the N.F.L., and finding a 3rd Down Back after Me-Mo leaves won’t be as difficult as finding replacements at other positions in the event Batch doesn’t end up working out.

    I’m simply stating that before we go on fawning at how great a player that Batch is, and how his character will never allow him to fail, let’s just wait and see how he performs in an actual regular season (or even preseason) game first. I hope you guys are right about him, because they will need another 3rd Down Back after Me-Mo leaves after this year. And if Batch fills that role, great, and if he doesn’t, no worries and nothing to get upset about, I trust that Colbert can find somebody to fill the void.

    The biggest reason I wrote the article from a “glass half-full” perspective was to illustrate to Steeler fans that despite Batch’s injury, they’re going to be just fine at RB. And that complaining about how he was going to make a world of difference before he even stepped out on the field for the regular season, let alone preseason, is moot because he’s gone for 2011 and nothing can change that.

    Unfortunate shit happens to good people like Baron Batch. That’s life, and that’s the way of the N.F.L. in general. I say that Steeler Nation should consider themselves lucky that RB is one of the few positions with depth on the roster. I’ll be rooting for him, because it’s a shame to see a player leave the game due to injury as opposed to diminishing play.

    I do intend to take the calm approach and not lose any sleep over Batch not playing this season. Injuries happen in football, it’s not fair, but they don’t discriminate on who the player is. Thus, I sure as hell won’t complain about things such as an injury that happened almost a week ago, because that’s what unfortunately happens in the N.F.L..

  • RichWagner

    While You are right about Batch not making a difference this season. I too was encouraged to see a rookie RB start training camp off so well. Especially having to pick everything up in such a short time this year.

    At least now there is no chance of loosing Batch to another team. Hopefully he stays close to the team so he can learn and prepare for next years training camp opportunity.

    Then we will all know what the Steelers actually have in him.