Remember when the Steelers supposedly “shored up” their running game during the offseason?
I know I do, and I was definitely intrigued to see how much one of the league’s least effective ground attacks (26th in rush yards and 28th in yards per carry) from 2012 would improve this fall.
Sadly for Pittsburgh’s coaching staff, recent injuries have absolutely ravaged the franchise at the running back position during the last month. What was supposed to be a position of depth has now turned into an absolute “casserole of nonsense,” and the Steelers are now left to scramble for solutions with only two weeks left before their first game.
Probably the biggest blow to Pittsburgh’s depth chart has been the injury-prone nature of rookie Le’Veon Bell.
The supposed “savior” of the Steelers’ running game has already dealt with knee and foot injuries during the last two weeks, and the mid-foot sprain is set to keep him out for six to eight weeks. Although Bell can return later this fall, one definitely has to wonder about his long-term durability and how much stability he can bring to the position.
Veteran Isaac Redman, who was listed as the co-number one running back with Bell on the depth chart, has battled a neck stinger recently and was held out of the Steelers’ last preseason game. Pittsburgh’s offense needs a battering ram-like Redman for red zone purposes, and his absence could kill the team in an area in which they struggled with last year.
After an impressive debut against the Giants, LaRod Stephens-Howling appeared to have sealed up the “third-down back” job. Unfortunately for the small-framed back, an injured MCL could keep him out for the entire preseason according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While “The Hyphen” can definitely be a “change of pace” guy at the position, his stature does not bode well for him to emerge as an “every down” option.
Batch has yet to do much in his professional career besides let passes clang off of his hands and average less than 2.0 yards per carry (25 carries, 49 yards). Had injuries not destroyed the depth chart, Batch would have likely been cut and his future is in doubt now that he is nursing a stinger as well.
With Bell, Stephens-Howling, Batch, and Redman nicked up, only running backs on Pittsburgh’s roster who are healthy right now are Jonathan Dwyer and the newly acquired Felix Jones.
Dwyer, who somehow has another chance to be the feature back, will likely have the best chance to win the starting job simply due to his experience. Although Dwyer was Pittsburgh’s leading rusher last fall (623 yards), his past weight issues and lack of speed are definite causes for concern heading into the regular season.
Jones has an outside shot of making the roster. Yet the window for him to shine is definitely closing by the day, and Jones will likely need to perform well on special teams to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
Only two weeks remain before the regular season begins, and this team cannot afford to have the same inconsistent production and revolving door-like nature at the position like they did last fall.
I am not afraid to say that I am not what one would call “confident” with the healthy players Pittsburgh has in place at running back. In fact, it would not shock me at all if this injury-plagued and inconsistent “carousel” produced less than the group from last year.
For now however, all we can do is play “the waiting game” and hope that some reliable options emerge before September 8th.
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