2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Running Backs

Today we continue on with our look at the training camp roster battles for the Pittsburgh Steelers by looking at the running back position. The two things we know for sure right now is that Isaac Redman is the starter and that Rashard Mendenhall is all but guaranteed to open the 2012 season on the PUP list, where he will not count against the 53 man roster.

In all likelihood the Steelers will carry four running backs on the 53 man roster this season and currently there are four young backs battling four three spots behind Redman. Those four backs are currently Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, John Clay and Chris Rainey.

Let\’s have a look at those four players.

Jonathan Dwyer – Dwyer has all of 43 snaps on offense in his first two seasons in the league, but that makes him experienced compared to the other young running backs battling for roster spots. In those 43 snaps Dwyer has 25 carries for 151 yards, and that includes a 76 yard run against the Tennessee Titans in the week 5 game last year through a massive hole. Dwyer also has 1 reception to his credit for 6 yards in addition. While he didn\’t see much playing time on offense, he did show glimpses of good pass protection, something that most young running backs are known to struggle with. Unfortunately Dwyer saw his season come to an end after suffering a broken foot late in the season and it landed him on injured reserve as a result. He has since recovered and was able to attend all of the OTA sessions and mini-camp this off-season. A big knock on the Georgia Tech product so far has been his conditioning and ability to keep his weight down. General Manager Kevin Colbert noted that himself this off-season and Dwyer has said that he planned on training hard the month before training camp down in South Florida in an effort to arrive at camp in tip-top shape. Special teams will be an area that all young running backs on the roster must be able to do and Dwyer recorded 2 tackles last season. With Mendenhall likely to miss at least the first six weeks of the season, Dwyer figures to open camp as the backup to Redman. That spot is anything but locked in stone for him though and he is far from a lock to make the 53 man roster. With three running back spots likely up for grabs, Dwyer will have to stay healthy and pick up where he left off last season before getting injured.

Baron Batch – Batch, the Steelers seventh round draft pick from last year, was having one hell of a rookie training camp before tearing an ACL right before the Steelers first preseason game. Surgery and rehab followed and he finally was able to discard the blue no-contact jersey in mini-camp and he should be ready to attack his second training camp now. The biggest battle for the former Texas Tech running back will be trusting that knee early on and Batch has said as much himself. In college he was used in a spread offense and is a threat out the backfield as a receiver. He also showed the ability to run between the tackles in college and his size and skill set make him a perfect candidate to replace Mewelde Moore as the Steelers third down and change of pace back this year. Batch is incredibly smart and fearless, so pass protection shouldn\’t be an issue for him, nor should learning the new offense. Special teams contributions go without saying and this will be another area where Batch will need to prove his worth in the preseason. I really like his chances of making the 53 man roster as long as his knee holds up.

John Clay – Not too many running backs can say that their first carry in the NFL went for a touchdown, but Clay certainly can. The Steelers undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin spent most of his rookie season on the practice before being promoted for the week 16 game against the St. Louis Rams. He played a total of three snaps on offense in that game and 17 snaps the following week against Cleveland after Mendenhall suffered his knee injury. Clay ended the regular season with 10 carries for 41 yards and the lone touchdown. Clay is regarded as a power back and is most likely in a battle with Dwyer for a roster spot. He is not an accomplished receiver by any stretch of the imagination as he caught just 11 passes in 37 games while in college. Of all of the young backs on the roster, Clay might have the biggest uphill battle of the group. He is a pure inside power runner that is not one to run away from people. He is powerful though and can break tackles. Should he make the roster he very well could be used in some short yardage and goal-line situations. One thing that he is not, is a third down back as he needs quite a bit of work on his recognition and pass protection.

Chris Rainey – While Rainey, the Steelers fifth round draft pick back in April, might be the last on this list, he likely is the closest thing to a roster lock of all the young running backs. All off-season the Florida product has been noted as being incredibly fast and great out in open space. He figures to be used similarly to the way that Dexter McCluster was used by Todd Haley in Kansas City. Rainey can line up as a wide receiver and is an accomplished route runner. He possesses great hands and is the type of player that can create an explosive play every time he touches the football. Due to his size, Rainey will never be an every down back that can run between the tackles on a consistent basis and he is a liability in pass protection as well. Despite his size though, Rainey hardly ever took a hard shot in college because he is so elusive. He is the type of player that you try to get the ball to at least 5 to 7 times a game be it through the air or on the ground. Contributing on special teams should not be an issue for Rainey as he can return both punts and kicks. In addition to his return abilities, he also blocked a school record 6 punts at Florida. I will be really shocked if he does not make the 53 man roster as he can serve not only as a backup running back, but as a backup wide receiver as well. Players that are that versatile and that explosive are hard to keep off the roster.

In summation, I think that Dwyer and Clay is most likely the battle within the battle to watch here. Rainey I see as a near lock and the status of Batch revolves totally around his knee in my opinion. The Steelers could throw a curve ball and decide to keep just three backs in total, but that would really surprise me. As we sit here in late June it also would not surprise me to see another running back added into the mix before the start of training camp with Mendenhall being sidelined. Last year the Steelers carried 6 healthy running backs in their first preseason game against Washington. Will it be a veteran, or will it be another undrafted type? It is hard to say at this point.

Previous Training Camp Roster Battle Post
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Defensive Ends
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Wide Receivers
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Tight Ends
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Kickers
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Cornerbacks
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Safeties
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Roster Battles: Nose Tackles

  • shawn

    You’ve made as much order out of this chaos as anybody else, I guess.
    It’s a twisted tale for us at RB ain’t it?
    Haley seems to like RB by committee. But we are supposedly reinventing the FB.
    It would lend itself to keeping an extra back this year, yet I see no place to remove a player.
    Half (three anyway) of our contestants are coming off of IR.
    Rainey may survive the new patty-cake NFL, if he can he hold on to the ball.

    I am cautiously excited about Rainey, he could solve a few roster problems. For a fifth round selection? Regardless of actual outcome, this is a real chance to catch lightning in a jar. The only way to hit a home run is to swing that bat.

  • Steel Hurtin

    Dwyer has more upside than Clay.. Does Clay still have PS eligibility?

    Every year Dwyer puts on a show in the last preseason game against the Panthers. Makes him tough to cut, lol.

  • Delilah

    I’m curious to know which of the RBs has practice squad eligibility. Obviously, we can take Mendenhal & Redman out of the discussion. I would think that if all these guys remain healthy by the time the final cuts come, that the odd man out will go to the PS. In fact, that may factor into the decision. If it’s close between two guys as to who gets the final roster spot, and one is PS eligible, and the other isn’t, I would think you stash the eligible guy on the PS. Rainey would be PS eligible, but you almost certainly wouldn’t be able to pull that off as another NFL team would claim him. I’m not sure if Dwyer was activated enough times to no longer be PS eligible. It seems Clay was used sparingly enough that he would be PS eligible. And Batch appears he would be PS eligible.

    I agree with Dave’s assessment of the RBs. It seems that Clay is definately capable of carrying the ball and run with a pounding style, but he probably is in need of more seasoning before he is fully NFL ready (recognition, pass protection, pass catching, etc.). So, if everyone remain healthy, he is probably the odd man out, and goes to the PS. Of course, if one of these guys get injured, that helps make the keep/cuts decision easier, and that is always a possibility. I think Mewelde Moore got to avoid being cut last season due to Batch’s injury.

    I am a little worried about the Indy Colts. I’ve been reading that they don’t have the best stable of RBs. Aside from our old friend, Mewelde Moore, they have a bunch of young no-namers (I suppose you could say the same thing about the Steelers). I think you can bet that our other old friend, Bruce Arians, will be watching the Steelers cuts very closely. He knows the talent as well as anyone. Look for the Colts to possibly pick up whichever RB the Steelers cut & try to stash on the PS. In fact, aside from the RB position, look for Arians to possibly claim other Steelers offensive position cuts too.

  • JBPitt11

    I think it could come down to what kind of shape that Dwyer is in. We all saw some flashes from him. I think it’s his job to take but with Mendy being out…They will have ample amounts of carries to win (or lose) this spot.

    I’m pretty sure that Indy is comfortable with Donald Brown and Delone Carter. They both have talent…that team was just that bad last year.

  • AndyR34

    Many good points there, Delilah! I agree with Dave’s analysis, also. I think Clay has the least upside…or mosted limited skill set…of all of these guys, so he is the first candidate for the PS. However, there is a roster spot open with the T. Smith cut, so we shouldn’t be surprised if the FO brings in another RB for camp. That would/could change things plenty!

  • SteelersDepot

    Clay, Batch & Rainey all have PS eligibility. Dwyer does not.

  • Bleebo77

    I know there are a lot of unknowns, but regardless of who they carry into the season, any thoughts about what will happen when Mendy comes back?

  • SteelersDepot

    Really hard to say as we could be talking realistically around week 9-13 when that happens.

  • shawn

    Dwyer was actually impressing me with his blocking. I think RB is a position well served to heal during the off-season. If Dwyer has his act together for camp, I’m happy. These guys take poundings, it’s not like WR, where conditioning is the luxury worth fighting for.

  • Pete

    I like our backs, very workman-like, pound it inside, and the change of pace guys. I think there’s a real sense of balance here with the backs the Steelers have. Rainey looked good in shorts but we’re hoping he looks just as good when the bullets start flying. The ACL think with Batch is a question mark. Will he be able to mentally overcome the fear of playing full out with the knee? I sure hope so because I think he has a lot of potential. Good analysis Dave.

  • Ahmad

    The way I see it, Redman, Batch, Dwyer, and Rainey make the 53 man roster. Clay doesn’t really offer much in my book, though the Steelers may decide to keep him on the PS if he’s elligible.

  • SteelSpine

    Good analysis, Dave.

    When Rainey was drafted that told me Barron’s knee was a huge question mark because we had no homerun threat at RB. Not that we need a homerun threat, remember Bettis.

    A funny thing about RBs who in-the-past Steeler staff critized for being overweight out-of-shape, those same RBs were destroying defenses. Examples:
    – Long ago, Steeler RB Ernest Jackson long ago was “built like a garbage can”, sloppy build. Yet he ran thru & over defenses to make the pro bowl that year.
    – During each of Redman’s first 2 preseasons, Steeler staff said he was out-of-shape. He had no muscle definition. Yet he destroyed Steeler defenses in training camp & ran thru & around oppenents in the preseasons. Steeler brass never seemed excited about Redman as they should be & one of the reasons seemed to be his shape. They kept him suppressed low on the depth chart. What matters is how well played on the field, not how sculpted a player is! Supposedly Redman “doesnt have the speed to turn the corner” & that has therefore limited what plays our offense could call if Redman was playing in-place of Mendenhall. But Bettis certainly never had the speed to turn the corner, & he did ok!
    – So when I hear Dyer is overweight & out-of-shape, never fear, Steeler fans, that could be a sign of something good for us!

  • Tim

    What is the difference between the injuries to Mendenhall and Adrian Peterson? As I understand it, they were injured 1 week apart from each other, and yet the consensus seems to be that Mendenhall is “guaranteed to open the season on the PUP list,” and Peterson is looking like he’ll be ready for the opener.

    Was Rashard’s injury worse? Is he not as good at healing/rehabbing? He’s more than 2 years younger, which should give him a slight edge at healing, if anything.

    Does it have more to do with who the other RBs are, like we need Rashard less than they need Peterson, because we have so many other good backs? There’s less need to rush him back?

    I’ve been looking at it like we’ll have to wait and see because he might be ready, and everyone thinks I’m retarded. Rashard said don’t count him out for week 1 and everyone’s like, “Yeah, yeah. Of course HE says that.” Peterson says the same thing and they take it as fact

    Just curious, because everyone seems so positive that he won’t be ready by the first or second week.

  • SteelersDepot

    Keep in mind that Peterson had surgery two and half weeks before Mendenhall had his and although Peterson is saying all of the right things, it is not set in stone he will be ready by week one.

  • kevin

    I don’t believe that the Colts can take a Steeler cut and put him on the practice squad. They can claim a player, but I think they need to sign him to the active roster if that player is coming off of waivers. Any team would have the right to sign a player to the practice squad, but only if the player clears waivers. It is likely that the player would have rejected a Steelers offer to be on their practice squad or the Steelers had not offered it. In rare cases, players will reject practice squad for their training camp team to sign onto practice squad elsewhere because of a better chance of being signed to the active roster. I say it is rare because the majority of a team’s practice squad roster each year appears to be guys who were with the team in training camp.

  • kevin

    With Bettis it was never about his speed, but more about his power and footwork. Bettis may have been the most nimble running back over 240 that this league has every seen. Bettis could make cuts that a guy like Mendenhall would be proud of. Redman cannot.

  • NW86

    Agree with the player analysis, but I’m not even sure it’s a lock that they keep 4 halfbacks before mendy comes back, especially witha fullback also likely on the roster. Normally there would only be 4 slots including the fullback, but Maybe since Rainey can also fill the role of the 6th WR and play special teams, they can squeeze them all in.

  • Kevin, you are right that any PS player has to be signed to the active roster, but I am not sure how waivers work at this point in the offseason.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I believe Dwyer has the ability to be the starter…but Redman has a HUGE HEART…sometimes that is hard to overcome

  • Reader783

    Is it possible that they keep Rainey as a special teams guy? Is there a spot on the roster for a guy to return punts and kicks, or is is ability to return going to help him beat out these other guys?

  • SteelSpine

    Definately Steelers would keep a position on roster who’s only playing time is to return punts & kicks if the guy is good at it. That’s based on:
    – Other teams have done it.
    – Steelers did exactly that – Stefan Logan was same small size as Rainey & lasted a couple years as only being a returner. Stefan wasnt even drafted, so Rainey costing a draft pick figures will get even more benefit-of-the-doubt kept.
    – Antonio Brown moved up to starter & therefore off special teams.
    – Emmanual was moved off of special teams.
    Someone’s gonna say that slights Rainey because surely Rainey’s going to play so much at HB & slot-receiver this year. But Stefan too was listed as a WR/HB yet ya just wouldnt get down to using him at that if the bigger depth guys are healthy & decent at those positions. If Barron healthy that’s our 3rd-down HB, Emmanuel is our 3rd/slot receiver, & competing for 3rd-thru-5th receiver positions are bigger dudes in Clemons etc. I think Steeler staff bet that Rainey will be good as a KR & PR.

    Yep ability to return is going to help Rainey beat out our WR depth. The 4th thru 6th receivers on depth chart have to be good contributors on special teams, to pay their way to be kept on the roster.

  • SteelSpine

    Good point. Other NFL players can show off their sculpted muscles but Redman is a John Maddon type of guy with a nose for the endzone & nose for getting it done.

  • They also say that if Adrian Peterson actually IS back for the opener it will be a medical marvel. The reason people take his claim seriously is because, well, he’s ADRIAN PETERSON. He is a singular athlete. Nothing against Mendenhall, but he isn’t Adrian Peterson.