By Jeremy Hritz
With Chris Rainey’s explosive performance from Thursday night, a newfound dimension has now been added to the Pittsburgh Steelers stable of running backs. Heading into the second preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts, it seems that the horses in that stable are becoming apparent. Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Baron Batch, John Clay, and Rainey all combined for 104 yards on 35 carries, breaking down to 2.9 yards per carry, while securing five catches for 67 yards, the bulk of the yardage coming from Rainey’s astounding grab and go in the third quarter. It is almost guaranteed, with Todd Haley’s recommitment to the running game, the Steelers will keep four running backs, not considering the return later in the year of Rashard Mendenhall. What follows is a breakdown of the individual performances of the running backs against Philadelphia, along with their chances of earning a roster spot.
5 carries, 14 yards, 2.8 yards, longest carry: 5 yards
2 receptions, 4 yards, longest reception: 5 yards
Redman has clearly established himself as the Steelers starter, and there is no doubt that he will begin the season as the starter, barring injury. Redman looked patient, and his vision was excellent, though he did not break any large runs. Though lacking top-end speed, his running style lends itself well to a ball control offense, which is what he demonstrated against the Eagles. There is no question about Redman’s role with the Steelers this year, and even when Mendenhall returns, I believe he will still be the team’s primary ball carrier.
2 carries, 40 yards, 20 yards per carry, longest carry: 33 yards
1 reception, -2 yards, longest reception: -2 yards
Apparently in better shape than previous years, though not tip-top shape, Dwyer had only two carries, but he made both of them count, as he broke a 33 yarder that nearly went for a touchdown. Flashback to the 2011 regular season when Dwyer broke off a 76 yard run against the Titans, and a trend may be emerging that the third year running back has a penchant for the big play. He is thick like Redman, but not as physical, but he does provide for more explosiveness than Redman does. If he continues with similar performances in the preseason, he will begin the regular season as the number two running back.
19 carries, 41 yards, 2.16 yards per carry, longest run: 9 yards
Batch reflected his return to health in his ability to hold up even when carrying the ball 19 times against the Eagles. While none of his runs stood out as extraordinary, it has to be remembered that he was running behind a patchwork offensive line. The more important element of his work on Thursday was that he showed an excellent burst, and again, was durable despite the carries. Batch had no receptions in the contest, but he will be a player that will continue to build momentum in the remaining games. If he can make improvements in the remaining preseason games and live up to the hype he stirred up in last year’s training camp, he will have a place on the roster.
4 carries, 1 yard, .25 yards per carry, longest run: 14
2 receptions, 65 yards, 32.5 yards per reception, longest reception: 57 TD
There is no question that Rainey makes the team and dresses on Sundays, as he will figure prominently into the Haley offensive game plan. His ability to reach his top-end speed quickly and change direction without losing any of that speed, makes him a player that defenses will have to account for in their game plans. If Wallace decides to return, the match-up issues when both he and Rainey are on the field will be horrifying for opponents. While Rainey will not be breaking any tackles any time soon, if he gets a seam, or if he gets the ball in open space, he has the potential to score each and every time.
5 carries, 8 yards, 1.6 yards, longest carry: 9 yards
Clay will not be on the 53 man roster at the conclusion of training camp, unless one of the aforementioned backs are injured. Clay’s running style is characterized by power, yet both Redman, and to a lesser extent, Dwyer, bring those capabilities to the field. Clay is a serviceable player, yet he is not great, or even good at any one part of the running game in comparison to his teammates. His carries against the Eagles were nondescript.
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