As Pittsburgh Steelers training camp is set to begin, Behind the Steel Curtain takes a look at each position battle and how players at those positions are expected to perform.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers running backs were a more dynamic group than it has been in years. With Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and Dri Archer combining speed, power and panache, the Steelers should have a well-rounded backfield corps.
Bell's performance during the latter portion of last season, along with Blount's renewed enthusiasm after joining his third team in three years, should provide hope that the Steelers can return among the league-leaders in rushing yardage. The Steelers have fallen into the middle of the pack in recent years, have been inconsistent and dropped to the bottom-five in the NFL last year, tied with Cleveland at No. 27 in rushing.
If the Steelers still hope to run the ball affectively this season, the aforementioned trio must play a key role. Bell should be a future superstar in the NFL, but it remains to be seen if that future begins this season. He showed flashes of brilliance late last season, but his durability was a question early. Bell appeared to erase that with a super offseason of conditioning. He appeared to be in tremendous shape and ran hard during OTAs and mini-camp.
Speaking of running hard, that aptly describes Blount. The Steelers haven't had a power back like him in a decade. He had a great attitude as well. It seemed kind of petty when he said he was bothered that the Steelers running backs weren't ranked among the league's best by the NFL Network this year. However, whatever it takes to fuel a player. Blount playing with a chip on his shoulder is just what the Steelers offense needs.
The infusion of Archer's speed also should come in handy. The Steelers have tried to get a player of Archer's ability for the past few years, but were unsuccessful for various reasons. However, this guy is the real deal. Despite his size, Archer is tough. And extremely fast. He can run between the tackles or around end with similar success.
During the OTA practice when the Steelers were at Heinz Field, Archer caught a swing pass, easily beat outside pursuit, linebackers Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier, and secondary help to reach the end zone untouched from about 15 yards out. Sure, it was a non-contact drill, but the play was exciting and even delighted Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
"They told me you were fast,'' Tomlin yelled to Shazier, who really didn't have much of a chance. If the play was live, Jones might have made it in the backfield, but Archer was gone in a flash before anyone knew it.
Fullback Will Johnson did a lot of work with the tight ends in the spring, but he will be a valuable blocker and pass-catcher regardless of his position this year.
Other running backs on the roster -- Alvester Alexander, Miguel Maysonet, Tauren Poole and Jordan Hall -- don't have much of a chance to make the team. But they all are practice squad candidates at best.