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