Baron Batch Must Convince Steelers To Carry 5 Backs

By Matthew Marczi

For quite a while, I had been holding out hope that the Pittsburgh Steelers would carry five running backs in addition to fullback Will Johnson. My hope was contingent upon the theory that fourth-year back Jonathan Dwyer would be the odd man out should the team only carry four backs because he is too similar to others on the roster and is not a significant contributor on special teams.

As time goes on, however, I am becoming increasingly more convinced that the team will indeed carry only four running backs, despite the fact that they carried five as recently as last season. However, it seems to me that it will be Baron Batch as the odd man out.

Of course, it is no secret that when Batch has had the ball in his hands, not much has happened. On 25 carries during the regular season, he managed just 49 yards, though he did have one touchdown. He also displayed little elusiveness characteristic of smaller backs such as himself, forcing just one missed tackle on those 25 carries.

And sometimes, when the ball should have been in his hands, it came out. Batch had one massive drop of a wide open pass off a gadget play that surely would have resulted in a touchdown. Such an egregious mistake is unacceptable from a player who receives so few snaps.

However, Batch did serve one role well, and that was as a pass protector, allowing just one hurry on 23 snaps as a pass protector as he helped the Steelers’ backs finish on top of the league in  pass blocking efficiency.

Batch was also a significant contributor on special teams, logging 138 snaps in that capacity while registering four tackles. As a fourth or fifth running back, of course special teams was a major responsibility for Batch. Still, when the team needed a roster spot, he was released in late November and signed to the practice squad. While he returned later in the season and played in two more games, he suffered an arm injury that ended his season.

Batch was an early training camp darling during his rookie season before tearing his ACL, showing explosiveness and elusiveness that hasn’t been seen from him since. Thus far, two years removed from the injury, there still appear to be no signs of the excitement that made him a camp sleeper pick back in 2011.

What’s more, there also seems to be a decline in other areas of his game. On Thursday, Ray Fittipaldo wrote on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Plus blog that Batch twice got chewed out by coaches, first by running backs coach Kirby Wilson for missing the hole on a running play, and then by special teams coach Danny Smith for holding up a drill by taking his time back to a huddle.

This is not the first sign of an issue, either. Earlier in training camp, several have reported that Batch has been unimpressive in the backs on backers drill. We all remember the story that Batch tried to pick a fight with second-year linebacker Marshall McFadden, but that was just one of multiple poor reps for him.

In order to make the roster, Batch will have to show a lot more than he has since he sustained his knee injury as a rookie, because his performance in 2012 certainly does not merit a place on the roster at the expense of another back. Early indications suggest that he is not off to a good start.

Meanwhile, Dwyer is in the best shape of his professional career, and Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider recently indicated that he is a roster lock at this point for his performance in training camp thus far.

What’s more, Mark Kaboly notes for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Coach Smith has Dwyer on wedge duty on special teams a year after he logged just 19 special teams snaps. If Batch wants to make the roster, he must convince the team to carry five running backs after all.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • steeltown

    I doubt we carry 5RBs this season. If Dwyer can contribute on special teams… the choice is clear

  • Dom

    This is an honest question, has Dwyer ever contributed on special teams? I always thought that was why he might not make the roster.

  • James Kling

    Batch is a high character, hard-working guy. Wish him the best if he can’t latch on again here.

  • steeltown

    I think not.. but if Coach Smith is using him as a wedge guy in coverage and he excels at it, the choice is clear

  • Shannon Stephenson

    After a tough year for him last year he may doubt his abilities. I had McNeil ahead of Batch before preseason because of his poor play last year. They say it takes about 1 year to really recover from a major knee injury so I kinda have to over look last year but being it isn’t the Batch of his rookie year it maybe the end for him. I would like to see all of the players do well and wish him the best

  • JohnnyV1

    They will not carry 5 RB’s and 1 FB, not happening. 4 RB’s and 1 FB, most likely, 3 RB’s and 1FB possibly.

  • dgh57

    I was kinda seeing this coming in that we had injuries at RB last year and he was healthy but still played very little. His showing when he did play didn’t help his cause either!

  • Putter

    …until they add another football to the game, they can’t keep 5 RB’s…and if they’re not going to get the ball (5th RB), why would we want to keep/pay them.

  • Matthew Marczi

    As I wrote toward the end of the article, he only played 19 snaps on special teams last season, although I do believe he did contribute more consistently–when he was active on gamedays–on teams previously. Of course, when he was active last year, typically he was the starter, so of course he was not going to play on teams in those games he was being counted on to carry the load. I do think that he has the capacity to play teams though, and that’s what counts in 2013.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I’ve always wanted to try his salsa. He could turn that, and his painting, into a business.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Agreed, but they did it last year, so it’s not an insane thought.

  • Matthew Marczi

    It is not all that uncommon for teams to carry five backs, although it is becoming increasingly more rare. The Steelers did do it last year, but that included some unique circumstances, such as Chris Rainey’s varied skill set and Rashard Mendenhall’s recovery from injury.

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    The more injuries there are, the more likely it is that Redman or Dwyer will get cut for cap purposes. Although there is some risk of losing them, they could still pick them back up at lesser salaries.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I agree. Although I am looking forward to seeing how he looks in the preseason games, the reports from training camp thus far have not been encouraging. Still, there is a long way to go. I was surprised to read Jim Wexell describe Dwyer as a lock though, even if I’m inclined to agree.

  • Douglas Andrews

    B Batch’s problem have been when he gets his opportunity to play he makes crucial mistakes. He misses blocks, he takes the wrong hole when carrying the football, and the drop after the gadget play was atrocious. He doesn’t have alot of positive tape when he’s in on offense. Now he may excel on ST but i don’t think it’s enough for him to make the 53.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Well, I will say that I do feel that his pass blocking was strong a season ago. Other than that, I agree. Plus, as I mentioned in the article, it doesn’t sound like he’s been doing too great in that area during training camp either. But he has the opportunity to make up for all of that during the preseason.

  • JohnnyV1

    No, you’re right, not insane and they did do it last year. I think we all have high hopes for Bell being a 3-down back and we can use the extra roster spot, or two, for other positions so we can develop down the road.

  • Douglas Andrews

    He really is going to have to start making some big plays soon. The other guys have already shown what they can do with the football. I liked Batch coming out of college and he was a training camp stud tip he tore up his knee prob would have been the replacement for M Moore that same season. We’ll see what he’s got in the preseason i’m not against keeping him on the 53 he just hasnt done much to help his cause lately.

  • Joe

    This Seriously sounds like a slander article with some kind of motive. Do you have Baron Batch confused with someone else? Seems he is being singled out for “holding up the drill”. Please list every single player in all of training camp who has ever “held up the drill”, that would be virtually every player on the roster at some point. Batch is as high character guy as there is in the NFL or even planet Earth.

  • Joe

    I’m not arguing any of his athletic ability or talent factors or him even making the squad, but to go after his character and note “how many times the coaches yelled at him” is ridiculous and stupid. Going after his character saying it’s a reoccurring issue and is one of multiple poor reps for him is way off the mark. There isn’t a player in the locker room who doesn’t love Batch, and all the coaches seem to be a fan of his character, I’ve been to several of the camp practices. Again I’m not saying Batch even deserves to make the squad, but this article couldn’t be farther off the mark with his character. I’ll be rooting for the kid.