Baron Batch, the forgotten man in the Steelers running back battle

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Steelers Baron Batch was basically a redshirt rookie in 2012. With another year of strengthening to the ACL he tore in 2011, he may be the darkest horse to make this roster, but he still could force the team to keep a sixth running back.

Last year's training camp was highlighted by the overhanging question of whether running back Rashard Mendenhall would be ready to contribute after tearing his ACL at the end of the 2011 season.

Same thing for Casey Hampton and Max Starks, both of whom tore ACLs in the team's playoff loss in January, 2012.

Heath Miller has the same issue this year.

In all of this, it's easy to forget third-year RB Baron Batch tore his ACL in the truncated 2011 training camp. After drawing praise from the coaching staff that year, Batch was turning into one of the more talked about sleeper prospects on the team. When he got his chance last year, he made the team.

While he wasn't exactly LaDainian Tomlinson in terms of production last year, it's easy to forget he was just a year and change from his own ACL tear.

One has to think this training camp will be Batch's first with both the experience of previous camps as well as a fully healed knee.

Considering the team brought in Le'Veon Bell via the second round of the draft and LaRod Stephens-Howling via free agency, Batch becomes the ultimate darkhorse in what will likely be the team's most competitive position battle this training camp.

Add incumbents Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman to Bell and Stephens-Howling, and fullback Will Johnson, Batch appears to be working to get picked up somewhere else. The team may have simply built up too much at his position to keep him.

But one has to wonder, especially watching how Mendenhall struggled to resemble the player he used to be even late in the year, whether Batch was all the way back last season. That in turn creates an interesting thought that maybe we'll see a fully healed and strengthened Batch, and make the Steelers think long and hard about the widely accepted notion the team will only keep five running backs this year.

They kept six, including Batch, last year, with only four receivers.

Is it impossible the Steelers go that route again? If Batch was good enough for the roster essentially as a redshirt rookie, barely a year off rehab for a significant injury, does he have something of a chance to make the team consider not keeping a fifth wide receiver from a group of, to be blunt, unappealing options?

It's hard to say Batch has no chance to force them to keep him, but he'll need to impress this training camp.

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