Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp Primer: The Running Backs

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Let's continue with our breakdowns of each and every positional battle that will sort itself out when the Pittsburgh Steelers open their 2010 training camp in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. We began with the quarterbacks and tight ends, now let's move on to a position that should take on more importance in 2010 than the past two seasons - the running backs.

Overview

Following the Steelers disappointing 9-7 finish to the 2009 season, team president Art Rooney Jr. publicly stated that the Steelers would be renewing their commitment to running the football in 2010 and beyond. Following a year in which the team missed the playoffs despite setting numerous franchise records passing the ball, the proud franchise would revert back to 'Steelers football'. Considering Ben Roethlisberger's situation, the make up of the offensive line, and how Rashard Mendenhall performed last season, Steelers fans can only hope that Rooney's promise is put into action by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

The Man

That would be Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh's first-round draft pick in 2008. After missing almost all of his rookie season after having his shoulder obliterated by Ray Lewis, Mendenhall gave Steeler Nation a taste of why the Steelers pounced at the opportunity to select the former Illinois star.

After being benched by Mike Tomlin for Pittsburgh's Week 3 tilt against the Cincinnati Bengals, Mendenhall had his coming out party as a pro against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday Night football the following week. Credit Tomlin for the motivational mastery - Mendenhall hadn't been paying attention to the little things in practice earlier in the year. That wasn't an issue for the rest of the year. Mendenhall finished the season.

Mendenhall's final 2009 stats

242 carries, 1,108 yards, 7 TDs, 4.6 Y/A, 25 receptions, 261 yards, 1 TD

 

Competing For Carries

The Steelers are hoping that a legitimate number two emerges to compliment Mendenhall now that Willie Parker has taken his act to Washington D.C. Here are the candidates.

  • Mewelde Moore - One of Mike Tomlin's hand-picked free agent acquisitions during his first year in Pittsburgh, Moore has done a little bit of everything the past three seasons. He filled in as a regular ball carrier in 2008 when Parker and Mendenhall were both injured; he has been the offense's 3rd down back; he's been an adept pass catcher out of the backfield; returned punts and generally been everything the organization could have hoped for when they inked him to a modest three year deal. FOr as good as he's been, Moore has limited upside at this stage in his career as a regular ball carrier. And despite having great instincts finding seams to slither through, Moore has proven that he's not much of a short-yardage or goal line force. That's not to say he can't carry the ball 8-12 times per game if necessary, just that he might be better suited as the team's third down 'back and not as a regular part of the rotation with Mendy. 
  • Jonathan Dwyer - A more suitable candidate to emerge as the team's number two rushing threat could be rookie Jonathan Dwyer, a 6th round draft pick from Georgia Tech. Dwyer could easily be the steal of this year's draft if he can help the Steelers solve their short yardage and red zone woes. Dwyer, unlike fellow bruiser Frank Summers, is more versatile and nimble than his 235 pound frame suggests. He ran over, past and around ACC competition for multiple years before testing poorly at the Combine and sliding down draft boards.

Also In The Mix

Rounding out the depth chart at RB are Summers - whose days may be numbered if he can't stay healthy and productive on special teams during camp and the preseason - and 2009 practice squad ‘backs Isaac Redman and Justin Vincent. Redman and Vincent will both have opportunity to prove they're more ready and capable to carry the ball occasionally in Bruce Arians' offense.

What To Expect

Well, if all goes according to plan, Mendenhall should see somewhere between 320-360 carries this season. If he can stay healthy that is. Moore, who is scheduled to make nearly $2 million in the final year of his contract, could be a salary cap casualty if the team feels sufficiently confident in the trio of Dwyer, Vincent and Redman to assume the pass-blocking, pass-catching and occasional rushing duties that Moore has shouldered so capably in recent years. It's a safer bet though that the Steelers coaching staff and front office retains Moore for insurance purposes considering the lack of experience on the depth chart.
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