Steelers preseason recap: Revisiting the running back battle reveals little change from 2012

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It's not for a lack of effort, but there doesn't seem to be much fundamental difference between the Steelers' running situation in 2012 compared to their performance in the 2013 preseason.

The smoke from the shoes of Panthers receiver Ted Ginn cleared Thursday, and the Steelers found themselves losers of four straight preseason games - their fourth winless preseason since 1965.

No worries. It doesn't matter. What does matter is how settled things are, and how questions surrounding the team's mos unstable position, running back, have been answered.

Except they haven't.

They Steelers ran poorly throughout 2012, minus a few games, and immediate judgment blamed the offensive line. Out goes Sean Kugler in comes offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. Max Starks isn't re-signed, and the Steelers toy with Marcus Gilbert at left tackle, before switching him with right tackle Mike Adams. Chris Rainey is sent packing as LaRod Stephens-Howling is signed and Le'Veon Bell is drafted.

A new coach, emphasis on a new scheme and two players brought in to handle regular downs and specialty packages. The result? Dwyer probably looked the best through four games, Stephens-Howling had perhaps the best game (40 yards on seven carries against the Giants), recently acquired Felix Jones looked the best at the end (and was the only running back to play in every game he was eligible to play in) and the Steelers tentatively declared Redman the starter - despite being hurt for a significant chunk of the preseason.

Or, in other words, they're exactly where they were last year.

Redman may be on the field over Dwyer on the Steelers' first play from scrimmage against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 Sept. 8. Dwyer may get the nod. One of them may be cut in favor of Jones.

None of the stability the Steelers worked this offseason to bring.

While Bell sits out with a mid-foot sprain that will likely keep him on the shelf over the first few games (a la Rashard Mendenhall last year), it's fair to expect a lukewarm battle between Redman and Dwyer for the starting position - while they slug it out with 10 and 11 carries, respectively. Maybe add two or three for Stephens-Howling.

What those players do with those carries is obviously what's important, but the question to ask is whether enough has been done by any of them to suggest this team can run the ball the way they've been envisioning over the last few months.

Perhaps it's not the runners. That's a fair concern. The offensive line, for all its hype and high draft picks, did little to assuage fears of their production as a group.

If both units are going to hit the ground running in the regular season, a few adjustments need to be made, and a few ailments have to heal. That's the simple conclusion. The one a bit harder to swallow is maybe all the emphasis and work was for naught, and fans can expect this team to run for less than four yards a carry again this year.

Just like the depth chart, it's hard to say what's more likely, and the only certainty seems to be anything in possible.

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