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Steelers 2013 Training Camp Battles: Jonathan Dwyer Versus Isaac Redman Versus LaRod Stephens-Howling Versus Baron Batch

Can you feel it? The Pittsburgh Steelers will report to Latrobe on Friday for the start of training camp, and we will finally have a lot of daily practice reports to talk about. With time ticking down, we will now move on to talk about the running back training camp battle that will take place over the next several weeks. This positional battle figures to be the best of them all as four players will likely be battling for the three roster spots. You can comment on this battle below and make sure that you also vote in the attached poll.

Training Camp Battle Setup: The Steelers running game was atrocious last year. Rashard Mendenhall never was 100% physically or mentally for starters and the offensive line once again suffered their share of injuries. From one week to the next, it seemed like the starting job was up for grabs. The Steelers addressed the position during the 2013 NFL Draft by drafting Michigan State running back Le\’Veon Bell in the second round. Bell is the future and possibly even the present, but he will need a supporting cast just the same. The four players who appear to be battling for three available roster spots on the 53 man roster are Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Baron Batch.

Jonathan Dwyer – Dwyer led the Steelers in rushing last year with 623 yards and that equated to a 4.0 yards per carry average. In addition, he topped the 100-yard mark twice in the middle of the season thanks in part to the offensive line being able to gel some between all the injuries that it incurred.

Over the years, Dwyer has become a more than adequate pass protector, and while he is not a huge threat out of the backfield as a receiver, he did chip in 18 receptions in 2012 for another 106 yards of offense.

The biggest knock on Dwyer ever since he was drafted is his level of conditioning at the start of training camp. The last two offseasons have included him training down in Florida, so we will have to wait and see if the Georgia Tech product comes into camp a little trimmer than he was several weeks ago when the Steelers wrapped up their offseason practices.

The Steelers change in offensive philosophy this year as it pertains to the running game will consist of more outside zone to go along with the traditional inside zone and power traps that we have come accustomed to seeing over the years. The Steelers want their running backs to be more athletic and decisive with their reads and cuts than ever before, and that is something we will all be looking for during the preseason from not only Dwyer, but the other running backs on the roster as well.

As far as special teams play goes, Dwyer has never been a huge contributor in that area, and he will certainly need to improve some if he is going to make the roster.

Isaac Redman – Redman was given every opportunity to be the featured back last year right from the start but nagging injuries resulted in him missing two games and in the end, he finished the season with 410 yards rushing and a 3.7 yards per carry average.

Redman has worked on his conditioning during the offseason and that included him working with a speed trainer. The results from his offseason work were obvious as he showed up for the offseason practices noticeably trimmer than he was last season.

Redman, like Dwyer, is generally considered a power back and that power is evident when the Steelers need a yard or two for a first down or when they get into goal-to-go situations. Whether or not Redman can adapt to more of the outside zone concepts that we expect to see this season is yet to be seen, but you can expect he will be given plenty of chances to show just how nimble he is during the preseason.

Redman is more than adequate as a pass protector and his 46 career receptions shows that he can be an option out of the backfield should the need arise.

As far as his special teams play goes, like Dwyer, Redman needs to improve in this area as backup running backs more times than not have to play on a few of the units.

LaRod Stephens-Howling – The Steelers signed Stephens-Howling, a former University of Pittsburgh product, during the draft after four pretty uneventful seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. While Stephens-Howling certainly isn\’t an every down back, he can run between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield. As far as his pass protection goes, he is adequate in that area even though he is extremely undersized, as he possesses a thick build.

One of the main areas that Stephens-Howling can contribute in 2013 is on kickoff returns as he has a 25.0 yard per return average via 163 returns during his career. Should he not win the return job in training camp; however, he becomes just another running back on the roster and very expendable. The Steelers don\’t want to have to use starting wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown as return men if they can help it, so it appears to be Stephens-Howling\’s job to lose heading into training camp.

Baron Batch – Batch is coming up on the two-year anniversary of the knee injury that he suffered during his rookie season. While he is a well put-together running back, that\’s pretty tough, he struggled to run the football between the tackles last season.

Of all the backup running backs on the Steelers roster, Batch will benefit the most from the use of more of the outside zone, as he is a running back that functions best out in space. However, he must show improvement in the power running game as he will occasionally need to run between the tackles ever now and again.

Batch is incredibly smart and good at reading defenses when it comes to pass protection in the backfield. This was evident more than a few times last season, and he is not afraid to take on a free-running blitzer when the need arises.

During the four seasons that he played at Texas Tech, Batch registered 140 catches for 1,111 yards in a wide-open offense, so he can be a threat in the passing game if used more in that area. He did have an unforgivable drop last year that would have gone for an easy touchdown and that simply can\’t happen again. As previously mentioned, Batch is good out in space with the ball in his hands and he is perhaps one of the best route running backs that the Steelers currently have on their roster.

Batch is more than adequate on special teams, and he will have to be again this year if he is going to make the final 53 man roster. If he should wind up being cut, he might have to consider becoming a full-time artist and food connoisseur.

Prediction: The only thing that we know for sure right now is that Bell is a lock to make the roster. He will hopefully be the starter in Pittsburgh for several years to come and whether or not he starts the season opener depends on how fast he can adapt to the Steelers offense as well as his ability to block. The Steelers will more than likely only keep four running backs and one fullback on the 53 man roster so that leaves three spots for these four players to fight over during training camp over. You have to like Stephens-Howling\’s chances of making the team as a return man, so that leaves us with three players fighting for the remaining two spots. Both Redman and Dwyer are scheduled to each earn $1.323 million in 2013 and the Steelers more than likely would like to free up some cap space by getting out from underneath one of those contracts. Batch is the wildcard here, and if he can show during training camp that he can be more of a complete back, I have a feeling that Dwyer could very well wind up being the odd man out when the dust settles. This should be the single best positional battle during training camp this year, and it will be fun to watch it play out.

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About Dave Bryan

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • steeltown

    Still not sure why most people have Dwyer as the odd man out, he’s nearly 5yrs younger than Redman, bigger, faster and more elusive as well. If we keep Redman as our #2 for the near future he’ll be 30yrs old next season, personally I would much rather have a 25yr old in his prime backing up Le’veon Bell and complimenting Stephens-Howling… that’s just me though

  • cencalsteeler

    Love our rb dilemma. Competition is a good thing, bring on training camp!

  • StrengthOfVictory

    The thing to love about Redman has been and always will be his ability to keep the wheels spinning and get those extra yards. On 3rd and 1, I will take Redman again, and again, and again. Grinding out those tough yards when they’re needed is a skill I don’t see the Steelers parting ways with.

  • Randy Neff

    Redman is slightly taller and more physical than Dwyer. I don’t think age factors into it much. Redman hasn’t logged many carries. I think it’s a waste of time worrying about who the backup will be years down the line. Those might be the reasons why some favor Redman.
    Camp will dictate which direction they go, but I think the odds favor 5 rb’s better than 6 wr’s before the practices start. I chose all making it in the poll. But other positions/injuries will factor in as well.

  • steeltown

    Age is always a factor with skill position players.. and Redman seems to have ankle issues to boot, but you’re right camp and preseason will tell the whole story

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    I think the Steelers will cut either Dwyer or Redman at the end of camp and then try to re-sign whovever is cut to something closer to a minimum contract. I think ultimately Batch becomes the odd man out.

  • VaDave

    It’s a good problem to have, but pretty much I’m Dave Bryan on this. Unless Dwyer is the clearly the best back of the bunch, and is the starter, I’m thinkin’ he’s a goner. $1.3 mil back ups that don’t play special teams don’t seem to hang around long.
    As for Redman’s age, with a good OL, backs are pretty much fungible if he goes down for the count, but historically, power backs seem to last a little longer. If we get three more years out of him, consider it a good deal for the team.

  • Ken

    If Bell is decent, Dwyer will be gone. It’s simple he makes more money than everyone but Redman. They don’t need to pay Dwyer to sit on the bench or inactive. Redman has his niche with the short yardage that he is very good at. That and his better attitude about conditioning will give him the spot.

  • CP72

    If Dwyer comes in out of shape I think he is odd man out. If he is in good condition then I think it has to be Redman. I see no reason to keep three big backs on the roster. I just have seen flashes from Dwyer that makes me think he is worth having around.

    I think I am one of the few Steelers fan excited about Stephens-Howling. I can see him filling a Mewelde Moore role in this offense. I think that was the plan with Rainey, but he was just to damn small. At the very least Stephens-Howling has pro bowl talent in the return game. That alone should earn him a roster spot.

  • patrick Mayfield

    Batch vs Howling might be the choice as I see it because although the team will carry 4 I think they dress only 3 typically, meaning you need 1 positional backup and 1 guy who is likely contributing on special teams. You have one guy inactive but that guy should not be someone who makes the team as a ST contributor. If LSH makes the team and is active, does it make sense to carry Batch as a gameday inactive? Hopefully he shows more (something) running the ball to justify getting a hat.

  • James Kling

    Plenty of rumors at draft time that the Steelers were looking to trade Dwyer. Could be that they are waiting to see what teams suffer injuries and then move him. He looks like the odd man out, IMO, unless he kills at camp.

  • Randy Neff

    Redman has 272 career carries. He likely has fresh legs for many more carries.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    If there’s one position age factors into it’s Running Back.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Bell, Dwyer, and Redman make the roster. Anyone else I am unsure of, but no way any of those 3 are out of the picture for the 2013 Steelers.

  • sgtrobo

    “Still not sure why most people have Dwyer as the odd man out”

    Why? Simple.

    Because he’s fat and lazy.

  • sgtrobo

    you’re confusing the dilemma here. It’s not a “dilemma” that we have competition for the 2nd string. The “dilemma” is that the 2nd string have proven to us they cannot carry a full load for more than 2 consecutive games at a time and still be moderately productive.

  • sgtrobo

    why would we pay over $2.6 mil to a pair of backups who have proven they cannot carry the load? Cut the perpetually fat lazy slob.

  • cencalsteeler

    I respectfully disagree. We shouldn’t judge Dwyer and Redman (I assume that’s who your calling 2nd string) based on the injury plagued ol of last year. With the ZBS, they may look like totally different backs, sooo we will see once training camp begins.

  • cencalsteeler

    I thought the same as you VaDave, but there are so many scenarios. What if they cut Redman and have Will Johnson fill his duties? They can save that money and keep Dwyer. What if McNeal opens eyes at camp? I posted earlier, McNeal plays special teams, is a kick returner and a rb., with some eye popping numbers to go with it. With the new scheme, I guess I am imagining a more finesse running style as opposed to the ground and pound we saw last year. Either way, we have a collection of rb’s who each have their own style of play, where last year the stable of backs were more oriented toward power running. It will definitely be interesting to see how it all plays out.

  • VaDave

    Those are some good points. I don’t see Johnson doing any Tailback duties at all. I suppose that’s possible. McNeal I know zip about, other than he is slight, and came from USC If I’m not mistaken. Maybe if we can get our OZBS cooking, he just may be the ticket. Our version of Charles from KC. He’s going to have to make one whale of an impression in a very short window. There are some differences between the backs, but the two that are the most similar, happen to be Redman, and Dwyer. I just can’t see both of them on the roster. But hey, what do I know anyway. You are right, there is a lot of different ways this could shake out that I’ve not considered. Good post.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Why wouldn’t we? You never know what can happen with injuries, and either one of those three could be the starter any given week. The running game is what proved not to work last year, but I don’t think you can point to one guy or position and say that was the problem. It was a collective fail. We’re not cap-strapped anymore, at least to the point of needing to cut somone to save money, and there’s no way you’ll convince me either Batch or McNeal are better than Dwyer or Redman. Those are the only 2 players that could take their jobs. We’ll most likely keep 4 RBs and LaRod probably gets the nod as a 3rd down option and KR.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    They could cut Dwyer and/or Redman and sign them back for less money after the pre-season. There is some risk of them going elsewhere, but not enough to justify having them both on the roster at 1.3M.

  • James Kling

    LSH makes the team. He’s the best KR option right now, he’s the best speed back (only sub-4.5 RB), he can catch it out of the backfield.

  • Shea Fahr


  • Shea Fahr

    Dwyer’s arrow points up. Ok, he is a little “Frumpy” but we have had a few other backs of that same type of frame that did pretty darn well for us including SB appearances. We will know how this is progressing in the next few weeks for sure.

  • VaDave

    Interesting point. Well, we tried to trade Dwyer with no success…. hummm, now you got me thinking…. What do you think about this McNeal kid from USC? He could be really good running our outside ZBS like Charles of KC.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Dwyer doesnt shy away from many hits either…I agree Redman is more physical but Dwyer is by no means unphysical.

  • sgtrobo

    why wouldn’t we waste $2.6 million on 2 backups who offer nothing the 2nd rounder can’t do? Why keep both? Redman in short yardage, let Dwyer go somewhere else and be fat

  • sgtrobo

    not interested in Dwyer. He’s shown his true colors over and over again. He had the job practically giftwrapped for him and he quit.

  • sgtrobo

    “Dwyer’s arrow points up”

    well, his belly points down, and that’s the problem. I wish people would stop comparing him to Bettis. He’s absolutely nothing like Bettis whatsoever.

  • Pat Lopez

    Is Curtis McNeal on our roster? If so, he has just a good of as a chance as these RB’s do. I am not high on McNeal, but Batch is no the same RB after the injury. Stephens-Howling was an average RB at PITT (college) not the Steelers. Dwyer and Redman were big disappointments last year and did not deserve the million dollar tenders they received. Unless you have a premiere RB, RB’s are a dime a dozen in the present day NFL. I would look to the waiver wire for a free agent. I would not be disappointed if all 4 RB’s mentioned in your article get cut.

  • Shea Fahr

    Who compared him to Bettis? or Morris for that matter? I am just saying he does not need to look like a Greek God to get the job done. He has over a 4 yard average.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    We already allocated the money to the two, and they fit just fine under the salary cap. Why cut a player when we can not only afford to keep them, but also don’t have anyone better to fill their spot?

  • sgtrobo

    Redman and Dwyer are redundant. Why keep 2 of the same thing?

  • Ken

    If you get excited about Mewelde Moore that shows how poor the Steelers 3rd down backs have been. There should be a poll of the best third down back every for the steelers. I cant think of one….

  • danjay84

    he didn’t quit he had turf toe you moron

  • danjay84

    after watching all of dwyer and LSH’s career touches and most of batches and redman, dwyer and LSH are the better backs, more talented, dynamic, elusive, etc. redman and batch are pretty close talent wise. dwyer didn’t quit last season or just start sucking or do something to lose his job, he had turf toe which is a serious for RBs… one reason why guys like McFadden have never prospered. It can be re-occuring so i worry about dwyer but he deserves to be RB1 or RB2. stephens-howling is so underrated it’s ridiculous, he should be getting at least 1/3 of the touches just based on his ability to make big plays. he’s 5’7″ but he’s not tiny and he runs hard, eludes and breaks tackles regularly.

  • Milliken Steeler

    But his ankles don’t count?

  • Milliken Steeler

    Redman is quicker and shiftier than Redman which is why Redman is considered short yardage. You really need to look at some of Dwyers runs despite a patchwork and injured line. The man can run. The problem is, the man can eat too.

    If he is actually in shape, it highlights his strengths over Redman that much more.

  • sgtrobo

    wrong moron.
    he quit multiple times moron.
    he tapped out moron.
    he’d get tired after 1 or 2 runs moron and take himself out of the game moron.

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