Le’Veon Bell has yet to carry the football for the Pittsburgh Steelers, yet there is a lot of buzz around the young running back and his ability (or potentially lack thereof) to be the featured back. With the addition of Bell, there are four backs on the roster – Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, Baron Batch and Bell. And with Bell’s addition, the thought of getting another back through free agency (like Amahd Bradshaw) is pretty much over. It’s obvious that there will be quite the competition at running back, but who will be the featured back not only in Week 1 but for the entirety of the season?
None of these backs are exceptionally fast like previous Steeler backs, such as Willie Parker or even Mendenhall. All of these backs are pretty much listed as ‘fat backs’ – a little extra junk in the trunk or consisting of a frame built for power over speed. But if we are to look at all four backs and consider the ability to pull away from pursuing defenders, then Dwyer has the edge. His 40 clocked in at 4.48 s. With all of these guys still particularly young, we can assume that their times have not changed over the last four years as our comparator. Bell came in at 4.6 and is slower than the others.
The days of Jerome Bettis are good and gone. Unfortunately for every RB post the Bettis-era, they have had to come under that scrutiny and comparison of being as powerful a back as Bettis. None have met that challenge appointed by Steeler Nation, so it’s hard not to say that most backs since Bettis have been a disappointment in that department. So how do these four rank on our power meter? My measuring stick is mainly the ability to break tackles and getting those precious yards after first contact. Batch is weakest in this department. He did not rack up many yards after contact and always seemed to go down in a dead stop heap when hit by defensemen. Redman and Dwyer, at least in size, appear that they would be evenly matched. But, power and yards after contact were his brightest spots last season. Dwyer constantly fought for every single inch on the field. At times he would drag a defender or two with him. Or, he would bowl one linebacker and then another and then take out a safety for extra measure before getting dragged down from behind by pursuing linemen. Quite frankly it gave a spark to the run game and helped him get the starting role after Redman struggled right out of the gate. We have yet to see how Bell will perform in the NFL in the Power category. He is taller than your average back which could be a problem in lowering that shoulder into opposing defenders as well as being and easier target to hit with that taller frame. His 230lbs. should help him muscle his way, but he’s going to have to be good at technique to overtake would be tacklers
If Mendenhall were still with the team, he certainly would be at the bottom of this category. His twinkle toe habit was costly and usually hurt momentum of any ground game being established. North/South is important, but the East/West is key, especially in a zone blocking scheme – once blocks are set the back needs to recognize the hole quickly and make the right cut. Redman and Dwyer are powerful backs, but also possess the ability to cut well. However, Redman seemed to find ways to sneak through a small hole more often than the others last season. Bell is again criticized for his larger frame and is noted as struggling with his vision to recognize a lineman starting a push for a hole in the line. He often would run up behind his lead blocker instead of making a cut to get around and break it down field.