Don\’t Throw Out Batch With The Mendenhall Bath Water Just Yet

The prevailing sentiment around Steeler Nation since the Pittsburgh Steelers activated running back Rashard Mendenhall from the PUP list on Friday is that second year running back Baron Batch is now on the outside of the bubble looking in and pretty much destined to be a member of the practice squad, assuming he is not picked up by another team.

What most people seem to be basing their reasoning on is pure position numbers without responsibly looking at the best 53 players on the roster. An easy way to point to how numbers are deceiving sometimes, in regard to positions, can be easily pointed out by looking at the wide receiver position last year. The Steelers entered the 2011 season with a whopping six wide receivers on their 53 man roster, with the sixth being Arnaz Battle. Was Battle kept because of his tremendous upside as a receiver? No. Did the Steelers necessarily need 6 wide receivers on the roster? Some would say yes because Jerricho Cotchery was battling a hamstring injury early on, but based on the 4 snaps that Battle received on offense in 2011, all of which came in week 1 against the Baltimore Ravens, the real answer looking back is, no. Battle was a good special teams player that just happened to play wide receiver and that was the reason he was kept on the 53 man roster.

As I pointed out on Friday, it is not out of the question that this year the Steelers could decide to carry only four wide receivers on their 53 man roster, especially considering that those presumed to be battling for a fifth spot have failed to rise above one another. Just this past week head coach Mike Tomlin told David Todd that it depends on what day it is, when he was asked if any of the young receivers had separated themselves from the group yet. At this point it would not be out of the question to see the best of that group come the end of the preseason be signed to the practice squad. In the mean time, Chris Rainey could certainly serve as a fifth wide receiver considering his skill set.

So what exactly has Batch done so far? First and foremost the health of his knee and conditioning level was tested in the first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He carried the ball 19 times and was targeted out the backfield once. That one pass to him from quarterback Byron Leftwich was behind him and at his feet, so you can\’t pin that on him.

So what else did Batch do? Mike Prisuta of DVE Radio reported this past week that Batch, Sean Spence and Chris Carter were three players he noticed that saw work on every punt, punt return, kickoff and kickoff return special teams unit against the Eagles. While I have not verified this, Batch was spotted quite a bit on these units throughout the game. That is a pretty important observation there and one that most fail to figure into their rash assessment of Mendenhall returning and what it means to the final 53 man roster now. In short, these people must not have ever heard Tomlin ever say, “The more you can do, the more you can do.”

While the early return of Mendenhall from the PUP was unexpected, there still is no guarantee that he will be ready for the first game against Denver. A more realistic speculation of when he could likely see his first action would be in week 5 which follows the Steelers bye week. Any earlier than that would be another surprise on top of the surprise that he did not start the season on PUP.

While Batch is not as electric as Rainey is, he can be used in similar type roles, especially on third down. Batch showed in college that he is no slouch as a pass catching running back out of the backfield and his ability to both recognize the blitz and pick it up also jumped out on his college tape. Now of course this is the NFL and not college, but the skill set is certainly there and has been seen observed by several in the media thus far in camp.

With three preseason games yet to be played, how Batch not only plays on offense, but how often he is used and plays on special teams are key things to pay attention to moving forward. While most will easily fall into the trap of the news of Mendenhall returning and combine that with positional numbers to hastily draw their conclusions when it comes to Batch making the 53 man roster, I advise not to throw the Texas Tech product out with the Mendenhall bath water just yet.

  • jeff porch

    it makes no sense to do that we never kept 4 wr its just to risky and wallace need time to get back to his football legs just like clark out week1 we will have 5 saftey`s 5 wide outs noy tryin to battle you guys are great i read website all the time

  • Koleman Dudek

    Rainey would be slot receiver, better option than all the young receivers

  • Bob Francis

    Another factor to consider is that Todd Haley is now the o-coordinator. Football Outsiders Almanac has some interesting stats on Haley’s formations in ARI and KC, but bottom line is that he uses multiple WR sets a lot less than Arians did, instead preferring 2 RBs in the backfield and TEs. That might mean that an extra RB is more valuable than a 5th WR, esp. if Rainey can serve as the 5th WR when formations dictate. The Steelers can stash a WR or 2 on the practice squad in case of injury to one of the top 4.

  • SteelSpine

    With all due respect, I always read many sources & I never heard/read anything indicating “prevailing sentiment Barron Batch on outside of bubble looking in.” Rainey is a rookie & too skinny/small to ever block any blitzer, Rainey’s size implies to only receive or carry or decoy, vs Barron if-healed is pegged for the 3rd-down RB position Barron was drafted to be last year. During this recent draft noone could predict if/how much Barron could recover from his knee injury & that required drafting whichever backup plan available after drafting for more-desperat needs in top several rounds.
    Mendenhall was re-activated early now because & right-after the injury to his backup Redman. Redman was in much pain & fixing that groin is not automac quick-fix, & obviously a halfback cannot play till groin becomes better than just occasionally-better. That need to therefore reactivate Mendenall was obviously in-case Redman is not ready physically til after Mendy is ready. Look at that timing of when they reactivated Mendy, rgardless of what Colbert mightta said. Steelers staff had priorly (all offseason) indicated they were prepared to wait til 6th week of reg season via Mendy on PUP, even tho they probly knew there was a chance Mendy might be physically ready for i.e game 3 or 4 of reg season. That was until Redman hurt is groin. A minor additional reason is Clay went on season IR. Had to take a chance reactivating Mendy becauswe we have no big RBs.
    If Barron is fully healthy, I dont think there is any intention of moving him to the practice squd. Third-down RBs play special teams, always been that way. So playing a backup RB (Barron) on special teams does not at-all mean he is pegged for going to the practice squad.

  • SteelersDepot


  • SteelersDepot

    With all due respect you should re-read the post. Being a backup running back comes with special team duties. Also this IS being discussed on various blogs & message boards since Mendenhall was activated, you just haven’t noticed it yet.. Many believe Batch is the odd man out now, but I firmly disagree.

  • zyzak

    Really happy that Mendenhall will be back sooner than later, he’s the only proven RB on the roster