"We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We're going to survive, we're going to live on."
Those emphatic words were pre-triumphantly voiced by Bill Pullman in the 1996 summer blockbuster, Independence Day. And even though he isn't battling aliens threatening to destroy both Earth and Judd Hirsch, I feel this passage perfectly sums up the urgency of a certain Steeler utility-man with a world-to-prove this preseason.
After one game, Pittsburgh Steelers RB Dri Archer is not going quietly into the night.
A bit dramatic? Yes, but the second-year back-of-all-trades absolutely needs to establish himself as a valued supporting actor to an all-star cast much like Jeff Goldblum contributed to the brilliance of Will Smith in the aforementioned sci-fi classic. And as we've tirelessly mentioned here the entire offseason...it has to happen now for Dri.
The Hall of Fame Game was a positive re-ignition for the diminutive weapon. Archer showed off his versatility against the sort-of-Vikings lining up at both running back and receiver, in addition to his punt and kick-return duties. Archer ran the ball four times for 24 yards and caught six passes for 33. Add in an electric kick return in the second quarter that spanned 34 yards and the Kent State Golden Flash accounted for 91 all-purpose yards. His statistical attainment most definitely was not spectacular enough to be worthy of the name of the particular game, but surely a step in the right direction.
More encouraging though for Archer and skeptical Steeler Nation is the fact that his positive stat line doesn't fully tell the whole story. There were golden flashes of brilliance noticeable. It wasn't actually what he did, but more how he did it. At one point in the first quarter, Archer took a handoff and found himself trapped in the backfield by an unblocked defender. A four-yard loss was imminent. But that's when Archer did his best Houdini impression and turned a loss into a gain of a yard. Also in the first quarter, No. 13 ran a draw play, converting a third and 14 into a first down. Archer extended drives three times for a new set of downs on third down.
His six receptions also may promise a to be a new wrinkle in the offense. In addition to catches out of the backfield, Dri made grabs spread-out wide and in the slot. This versatility adds an extra option to Ben Roethlisberger's already vast arsenal.
To be fair and objective, it was a far-from-perfect night for the sophomore Steeler. A muff of a punt after a defensive stop late in the first half was disconcerting. It took a lot for the Steelers to take the punting duties away from the all-everything Antonio Brown and Archer must prove to be error-free in this aspect of the return game in order to keep their star fresh and injury-free. Also, he needs to be an effective alternative to Antonio to establish good field position, much in the game-breaking manner that Brown did.
Also, Archer was unable to pick up a blitzing defender, allowing a sack. This is one of the places in which Archer's size becomes a detriment. However, the Steelers may not insert him in pass-blocking situations on many occasions.
In our "Rags to Riches" series earlier in the off-season, we identified a few factors that were critical to Dri's success. One was the team needing to create formations to maximize the potential of Archer's speed. Todd Haley has obviously been in his laboratory mixing up recipes with Dri in mind. That was evident in having him line up all over the field.
Another was the need for Archer to restore his confidence in his abilities. His belief in what he could do was noticeable in his body language and in his performance. Against Minnesota, Dri Archer ran with bravado and authority.
It's not lost on me the fear that this is just another example of a preseason hero coming back down to Earth and becoming a regular season zero. Remember that Archer shined last year in exhibition action. We also can't forget that because of an extra preseason game, the first installment showcased stars in street clothes and featured a plethora of lower-string players that won't be on the roster for even the third preseason game. With a few exceptions, both fan bases were more or less rooting for laundry.
The good news remains that Dri Archer is not needed to be a headliner. With the names of Ben, Bell, Brown, Bryant and Miller up in lights, he simply needs to be an occasional scene stealer. With a competent threat such as Archer on the field, that's one less man shadowing Brown. And it means the other mentioned stars along with Martavis Bryant, Marcus Weaton and Sammie Coates will all have more opportunities to win one-on-one battles.
Every good film needs a good Best Supporting Actor. This initial performance seems to be an indicator that Archer could rise much higher in the end credits. With his obvious ability, blazing speed, restored confidence and a good script, Dri Archer will not vanish without a fight. Dri Archer is going to survive. Dri Archer will live on....
And this just might be Dri Archer's Independence Day.