Big Problems At Running Back And Wide Receiver For The Steelers In 2013?

By Jeremy Hritz

It seems a foregone conclusion that Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall are as good as gone. And the reasoning for letting both of them walk from the Pittsburgh Steelers organization isn’t completely connected to money: both are also responsible for creating distractions that were not conducive to team success.

Wallace’s unresolved contract issues seeped into the season and resulted in missed preparation in training camp, which manifested itself on the field in the form of a good but not great season, highlighted by a lack of concentration and too many dropped footballs.

Mendenhall’s return to the game was slowed by his rehab from his ACL injury, but his first performance in 2012 against the Philadelphia Eagles was promising. However, from there, he was injured again, and went AWOL on a game day and was subsequently suspended. His performance, sadly, was uneven and average.

For locker-room, production, and salary cap reasons, Wallace and Mendenhall have most likely played their final days of football with the Steelers. However, if the Steelers are prepared to watch these players don the uniforms of other NFL teams, they must have players of equal caliber in mind to fill these voids.

For as much as I have been critical of Wallace and Mendenhall, both have been productive during their careers with the Steelers. Wallace wasn’t overly productive in 2012, but he still snagged 64 passes for 836 yards and eight touchdowns. Can Antonio Brown replicate such a stat line without Wallace demanding coverage from the defense? While the Steelers have been productive on offense before with average talent at wide receiver, in the new NFL that scores points in bunches, it is foolish to believe that the passing game can get better losing the fastest pass catcher in football and replacing him with a rookie. What is scary is that this is exactly what will happen as the Steelers will not spend the money to bring in a solid free agent receiver. The Steelers will have to rely on hope and player development to compensate for Wallace’s loss, but the likelihood of that happening is unlikely.

While Mendenhall has always had a case of the happy feet, dancing too much instead of hitting holes, the Steelers witnessed first hand what happened when he was out of the lineup, and what resulted was the worst rushing performance since 2003. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer do not possess the speed of Mendenhall, and that was evident in the way that defenses played the run against the Steelers.

The same holds true at the running back position that does at the wide receiver position: the Steelers cannot expect to improve by subtraction. This is not to say that Mendenhall is the answer, but his departure will have to be filled appropriately, or mediocrity will be the only expectation in 2013.

Ultimately, the Steelers are going to have to rely on rookies to turn their offense around next season, and that is an unsettling thought. Rookies rarely start for the Steelers, so the assumption that a fledgling running back and wide receiver will not only start, but be productive is almost delusional.

This will be the case however, and the success of the offense will be a roll of the dice. The Steelers are averse to bringing in big name free agents, and as a result of the salary cap, they don’t have the resources to do so.

With all things considered, maybe the Steelers should at least try to make an offer to Wallace and see what happens; they have just about a good of chance of him signing as they do rookies lighting it up at running back and receiver next season.

  • The offense is going to have to rely on rookies to turn around? The offense is going to, as usual, rely on health. The offense was fine until Ben got hurt and for the season we already noted that it was basically the same offense we have had since Ben arrived.

    I agree we have to do something to help the offense but the idea that the offense last year was a problem that related to players, other than health, is a mistake. I think we need an elite replacement for Miller more than we need to spend a high pick on either WR or RB.

    Next year the players will be comfortable in Haley’s system and even more important, DeCastro and Adams will be answers instead of questions this season. I wouldn’t go offense with either of the first two picks unless you run into a significant BPA situation.

    I think Mendenhall might be a good bargain and worth signing to a one year deal so that he can rehab and get a better contract while getting us a better compensation pick and delaying the need to invest in a back for one year.

  • Garrett Hunt

    We still have Heath, Ben, Brown, Sanders, and an O-line that is looking better. If we could get an impact player Cordarelle Patterson or Nuk Hopkins I think the offense could perform better than last season.

  • HarryBackside

    BIG problems at WR. Antonio Brown is the only WR who is under contract beyond the 2013 season. Even if the Steelers resign Sanders after this year (and that’s a big “if”), the team still needs more bodies at the position. The Steelers really need to add talent to their WR corps.

    Another point worth mentioning. Both the Ravens and 49’ers lost conference championship games during the 2011 season. Those teams didn’t make the leap to the Super Bowl by getting better on defense, they did it by becoming more explosive on offense.

  • steeltown

    With Sanders being tendered and Cotchery on the final year of his contract, that leaves Brown and Gilreath as the only two WR’s signed past 2013.. when you think of it that way…. could really see the Steelers drafting WR very early

    I hope they give Cotchery a 1-2yr extension, he’s an excellent #3 or #4 on the depth chart and he’s only 30yrs old, he has a few good years left.

  • leon

    emac2 i would have to disagree with you wallace made antonio brown and sanders because every defense knew that to stop the steelers you had to double wallace so,that opened things up for brown they will not command the attention wallace gets because neither one of the are field stretchers like Wallace. and for him to miss camp he still had 836 yd and 8 tds,yes he dropped some passes but thats pretty good for a guy who missed camp .what was,browns numbers ? oh he was hurt and was,to busy fumbling him and sanders.And as for haleys offense it sucks just like ben said dink and dunk and when defenses defended the short pass dumb haley made no adjustments stop blaming the O-line thats a problem since 2005 and they l went to 2 SB with a,bumm line.haley had no play action plays and no deep passes in his offense so he didnt cater to his talent.Look at the ravens ahen caldwell took over thye was a,scoring machime and that took a lot of pressure off of ray rice,look what arians done with the colts so bottom line is haley sucks and if they let wallace go they will be an average offense that will be praying for the defense to bail them out as usual

  • steeltown

    They will draft a WR between Rds 1-3… atleast I would if I was them, like you said they need the bodies and they need more playmakers

  • leon

    mendenhall is a bumm let him go he runs like a girl

  • steeltown

    Another TE in the early Rds would be nice

  • alex

    yup, we need help on the big O, we gotta score…

    BUT, we also need to rethink our ‘rookie sit and learn rule’…

    in todays professional sports its all about youth and speed…

    2012 NFL rookie stats to swallow;

    * 5 QBs were over 3000 passing yards
    * 7 RBs over 500 yrds, 5 RBs over 800
    * 10 WRs over 45 receptions, 8 over 500 yrds.
    * 8 players over 10 TDs
    * 10 players w/ over 75 tackles
    * 7 players over 5 sacks
    * 8 players over 3 ints………..

    thats 30 offensive and 25 defensive rookie players who played major roles on there respective teams…this doesnt include special teams or offensive line players…so lets add a dozen more rookie role players to these numbers…that makes almost 70 major new role players…

    we sit @ #17 in the draft, and we cant find two or three major role players in the next draft that are ready to play in 2013?!

  • leon

    haley system sucks not am agressive offense,look at Gb ,Ne,houston ,saints,ravens,49ers denver all agressive offenses and my man arians i say after thos,year say goodbye to haley and his short offense

  • steeltown

    I would hope any Offensive skill players that are drafted will get thrown in the mix starting week one.. the Defensive players drafted are another story, as we all know it takes atleast one season to learn the defense

  • leon

    not realy jj watt brooks reed,clay Matthews all the same system amd they started day 1

  • Kevin Gobleck

    i am hoping more and more that we take care of these issues in rounds 1-3

  • leon

    Te is not a,big need

  • RW

    Yeah I agree – we really do need a WR, and we need someone who can start right away. It’s not unheard of for a rookie WR to make an immediate impact, but it’s awfully rare for such a thing to happen. My thought is that they need to bring in a big name WR from FA and find a red zone weapon in the draft, given that this year’s crop of WR talent is average, at best. We probably should release James Harrison – pass rushers are important, but not as important as defensive backs are becoming in this league. We need to adjust. Savings from such a move might allow us to back-load a contract of a nice veteran WR (like a Dwayne Bowe, who played with Haley, mind you).

  • Pete

    There are plenty of good WR to be had in the draft every year. Wallace was good but he was no Fitz, Johnson or Boldin. Not even close. It will be easy to replace Wallace and add depth to the receiving corp. The talent is there at RB as seen by 3 consecutive games of 100+ yards. Improve the O line and the running game will improve. Adios Wallace and Mendenhall.

  • Bradys_Dad

    Rashard is NOT a bum. He is a talented RB but has had a string of bad luck and bad decision making cloud his progress. We’d be foolish to let him go (assuming he could be kept at a reasonable fee). If he stays healthy and carries the ball higher he can be a game changer. Tomlin also has to stop this rotating madness. A back and the OL need reps to gel during a game. Under this new OL Coach and style of play Rashard could flourish. Let’s keep the pedestrian name calling for the Ravens. Steelers fans have more knowledge and class.

  • grw1960

    just because other teams play a 3-4. Doesn’t mean they have the same system.

  • I agree. I would love a high round WR, as well as another pick spent later in the draft on one. I’d also like to see RB, TE and OL addressed with one pick each, and a QB if we have one after addressing defensive needs. I’m sick of people talking about defensive draft picks. We were #1 last year. We can afford to drop down a notch or two in that area in order to help the offense.

  • leon

    dom caperand dick lebeau same system where you been ? and how long ypu n a steeler fan not to know that

  • leon

    ii do belie behind that same line dwyer first carry went for 70 plus yards so did clay,rashard n he got in negative yards he is a bumm

  • leon

    no bowe stinks and so does haleys offense,yeah be stupid and cut harrison you’re best pass rusher and rely on fat Woodley who had zero sacks s year and worilds who only plays good onthe left side go figure. bowe really tje offense will really be average

  • steeltown

    How so… Miller might not be ready and fully recovered come time for the season to start. Pope wont be re-signed. That leaves Paulson, McCoy, newly signed often injured Pianalto and the hybrid FullbACK Will Johnson.
    I like W.Johnson, but it pretty much means Paulson would be the #1… thats not a good way to start the season

  • steeltown

    You are talking about two of the best players in League when speaking of Watt and Mathews, not to mention Watt played DE in college and didnt have to transition to a new position like DE that are groomed to be OLB’s in a 3-4.. thats alittle different.

    They also arent playing in Lebeau’s system

  • Jollyrob68

    They need to play their rookies. Wallace & Brown played well as rookies. would of been even better if they trusted them from the beginning.
    a Rookie RB can handle the load just play him. Also a TE like Ertz or Eifert would contribute from day 1.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    When people talk about our biggest “need” I sometimes marvel at how they can come up with ILB. Or OLB. Or NT. Or even S. Yes we need depth in all those positions but at least we have some kind of player waiting in the wings at each of those positions who know the defense. Even if they’re only average in talent.

    The NFL has gone pass happy. Last year at full strength we ranked 22nd in points scored. And as of right now, on opening day we’re lining up with Brown and Sanders as our top 2 receivers. And David Paulsen as our top TE. If there was ever a year to draft a WR or TE in the first round this is it.

    Either Cordarelle Patterson or Keenan Allen should be available at 1.17. Or we could trade down and pick up either Eifert of Ertz plus an extra pick. I’m all for the BPA (blah-blah-blah) but we need help at WR and TE on day one (literally) or we’ll likely be looking at 8-8 again.

  • alex

    since 99′, with Zereoue @ #3, your only 4th round pick or better @ RB is Mendy (fast Willie was an undrafted FA)…if hes gone, then, guess what boys and girls, its time to draft the next great RB to place on the list of Steeler studs…

    and since Miller @ #1 in 05′, Spaeth is your only pick at the 5th round or better…

    see what im sayn’…

  • Maybe you’re not such a bad guy after all.

  • walter mason

    Where do you all get the false belief that it takes at least one season to learn Lebeau’s system? This keeps repeating itself here on this forum. I believe Kendrell Bell played all 16 games as a rookie linebacker and I think even Woodley started in his first year as well, both 2nd round draft picks.

  • walter mason

    Haley was not the Steelers first choice. He wasnt the second choice either. It seems he was hired as a last choice.

  • steeltown

    I guess i should say the coaches ‘like’ to groom the players into the system for atleast a year, especially DE’s converting to OLB and DB’s…and most times they dont need a rookie to start right away, which would be more of the same this season, unless a starter goes down a rookie defensive player wont see the field much where as a rookie offensive (WR, RB, TE) player will see action. obviously when players like Hampton, Woodley and Polamalu are drafted they’re already better options from day one then whoever was starting that position the year before

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Dwyer is a really good HB not sure why no one else thinks that…the inconsistant line play is more at fault then anything. I still believe we can resign Mendy for a good price and draft a decent WR in the 3-4 round that will develop nicely for us. Loosing Wallace, Mendy and Rainey could be a big blow since all are big play makers but the Steelers will figure it out.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Hahaha. Truce.

  • grw1960

    Duh yes I know all that,the basics might be the same but the complexities might not be, Capers and Lebeau are not the same people.
    I have often wondered if Lebeau’s system isn’t to complicated? Because of the fact rookies seem to struggle in it. Troy started as a rookie but looked terrible in his first year. He didn’t grap the system yill his 2nd year either.


    Hey J.H. you are spot on. Everyone wants to be optimistic since this is the dawning of a new season but i have a lot of trepidation just like you losing productive players and relying on rookies to step up is not impossible but it is unrealistic and risky, roll of the dice like u said. I have one glimer of hope to cling to though and that is we have always risen to the top after an off year and returned to play better than the previous year so hopefully this will be the case. I am nervous, wary, and unsettled about the upcoming season because I do not see the talent pool improving on offense, hopefully we can get more turnovers and ball hawking from an outstanding defensive unit.

  • RW

    I hope you’re kidding. When Bowe was with Hailey, he had three 1,000 yard season’s and would have had a fourth if it weren’t for an injury. He also had one year with 15 touchdowns. And all that time, who was his QB? I’m not saying those are big time, amazing WR numbers, but it’s definitely at least above average. Also, at some point you have to be responsible with your money. The steelers could grab a younger, more important piece of the puzzle for the amount they save with Harrison. Why is that “stupid”? Look, we already messed up by giving Woodley a ton of money, so we can’t cut him. We have to make sure he’s properly motivated at this point to get the most out of him we can. Plus, at some point you have to let the young guys step up.