It’s been quite a difficult task to get much of a feel for how the running game of the Pittsburgh Steelers is shaping up this year, and for a very simple reason: when it’s come to the 11-on-11 tackling sessions, the two backs expected to be taking those carries have not been healthy enough to participate yet.
Starting running back Le’Veon Bell had his hamstring tighten up on him in the first practice of training camp, and he has been limited frequently since then. He has recently returned, but not quite to full participation, as he continues to sit out the tackling sessions.
Free agent signing LeGarrette Blount has been limited recently as well. He did not participate on Friday under the lights, and he joined teammate Bell watching from afar while a parade of unknowns toted the ball in tackling sessions and at the goal line.
The only other running back with the organization last season, Alvester Alexander, began training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform Listwith a groin injury. He was unable to get back on the field in a timely fashion in order to resume his campaign for a roster spot, so the team was forced to waive him injured.
They replaced him with running back Jawan Jamison, who joins the unintimidating stable of ball carriers during tackling periods that also includes the names Tauren Poole, Miguel Maysonet, Jordan Hall, and Josh Harris.
The latter two were recent signings, but the others have spent most of this offseason with the organization. Both former undrafted free agents, they have spent their short careers, when healthy, bouncing around between training camps and practice squads.
I can’t help but reminded of the words of Blount when talking about why he signed with the Steelers whenever I’m forced to think about the prospects of the team carrying one of these players as their fourth running back.
According to Blount, when head coach Mike Tomlin was recruiting him to sign with Pittsburgh, he told the bruising back that he felt the Steelers could do with himself and Bell alone what most teams asked three backs to do.
Rookie speedster Dri Archer would of course be the Steelers’ third back, but he fills a very different niche than the other two, and it would be difficult to ask him to be a starting running back with his small frame.
If Tomlin believes that the running game can thrive with the top two dogs, then I don’t see it as necessary to try to make do with a third just to have him. The current stable available to them is relatively unimpressive, whose shining moments tend to come in non-tackling sessions that favor the ball carriers over the defense.
Perhaps the most realistic hope for these unheralded running backs would be a competition to land a spot on the practice squad, as Alexander did last year, unless they really tear things up during the preseason. But then again, it’s not uncommon for nobody ball carriers to blow up a preseason slate and then go on to accomplish nothing.
If there’s one spot on this roster that I could see the Steelers targeting in post-cut waivers to try to improve the team, it would probably be the fourth running back spot. Failing that, it may be wise just to go along with the three that they already have, and rely on Will Johnson as an emergency ball carrier with a spare on the practice squad.