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.
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).
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.