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.