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Steelers Position Review & Outlook: Running Backs

Last week talked about a list of the Steelers pending free agents on both offense and defense.  We provided a basic overview of each one and their potential to stick around on the team or be let go. Now as the offseason progresses towards free agency in March we’ll start to dive into a more in depth look at each player & position, how their season went and their potential outlook for 2012.   Today we’ll start with the Running Backs.

Rashard Mendenhall:  It was revealed this week that he finally was able to have the surgery on his torn ACL. The doctors had to wait until the swelling went down since he originally sustained in the injury in week 17 against Cleveland.  He may have been able to break the 1000 yd. mark had it not been for the knee injury . Mendenhall’s rushed 228 times for 928 yds. and 9 TD’s. That’s an average of 4.1 ypc., up slightly from 2010 when he had a 3.9 average.  He was a workhorse in 2010 when he had 334 rushes. It’s no surprise though that he had considerably less work this season with the emergence of the super stars at Wide Receiver for the Steelers.  The recovery process has just begun for Rashard and the team said they hope to have him ready by training camp. These injuries can take 9-12 months to fully heal so there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready for camp.  Steelers President Art Rooney said in his press conference on Tuesday that they are going to wait and see how Mendenhall recovers before deciding on a new contract for him. He’s entering the final year of his original contract signed back in 2008 so this is the time when typically the Steelers will reup on the players they want to keep.

It’s not a matter of him being able to carry the load, he’s shown in 2009 and 2010 that he can be a workhorse, rushing for 1,108 yds. and 1,234 yds. respectively. Let’s face it though when a running back blows out their knee their recovery can take longer and they may never return to their original form.

Honestly at this point it’s very likely that he could lose his starting job. It’s unfortunate but that’s how the NFL goes. Isaac Redman will get the bulk of the workload in OTA’s and minicamps this offseason and he’ll have an advantage heading into training camp. This is a what have you done for me lately league and while Mendenhall’s job is probably still safe for 2012, anything beyond that is questionable at best. 2012 Outlook: Starting job in serious jeopardy with his knee injury but should still make the final roster.

Isaac Redman:  The beneficiary of Mendenhall’s injury, he stepped up to the plate and hit a home run in the Wildcard game against Denver. Even if the team did lose, Redzone Redman was a consistent performer the entire game, rushing for 17 times for 121 yds which equates to a formidable 7.1 ypc average. Even if the Denver defense wasn’t as good as they were earlier in the year they were still formidable against the run and Redman torched them repeatedly.

Redman has been questioned by many fans since he came into the league, could he carry the workload for an entire game or multiple games. He also went 19/92 yds. and 1 TD against the Browns in the regular season finale. His running style is just what the doctor ordered for a Steelers offensive line that struggled again this past season. His ability to find the hole, hit it, and drive his lower body through tackles is what makes him so good in short yardage. When he gets a chance to break one he may not have the speed of Mendenhall but that’s certainly not a deal breaker for this kid. He’s also very good at catching passes in the flat and running screens, something the Steelers would do well to utilize more in the future.

As of now, he has to be the odds on favorite to start in 2012, given Mendenhall’s injury.  He’s earned that chance. Plus he is an exclusive rights free agent, which means the he can only negotiate with the Steelers. That means keeping him around won’t be a problem. The team will offer him a fair deal but if he continues to impress in the future he’ll be able to command a big payday. 2012 Outlook:  Great opportunity to start at RB next season.

Jonathan Dwyer: That training camp incident where he showed up out of shape and couldn’t finish the run test is long gone. Even though Dwyer only played in a handful of games in 2011 he made the most of his opportunities before he broke his foot and was eventually placed on injured reserve back in early December.  The highlight of his career to date came in week 5 vs the Titans when he rushed 11 times for 107. yds.  His first carry went for 76 yds, when he went off the right side of the Steelers offensive line and took into open space.

He’ll have a shot to make the roster in 2012, even with a crowded backfield.  At 5’11’ and 230 lbs. he runs like a bull and can break tackles. Especially with the injury to Rashard Mendenhall, he could be in the running to be the primary backup. 2012 Outlook: Great opportunity to make the roster as a backup, but will have to earn it in a crowded backfield.

John Clay:  Clay was activated off the practice squad when the Steelers were down to literally 1 other healthy back, Isaac Redman.  Clay rushed 10 times for 41 yds. in the final game, and scored 1 Touchdown.  In very limited action he displayed a bruising style of running that complimented Isaac Redman very well. A 1-2 punch of power if you will.  He will also have his shot to make the final roster in 2012, and the experience he got this past season will serve him well. 2012 Outlook: Will have the chance to fight it out with Dwyer for a backup role, should be a fun battle to watch.

Mewelde Moore:  The wily veteran, Moore just produces. Whether it’s a 3rd down role catching a screen pass or in a draw play he’ll find a way to move the chains. He’s also very good at blitz pickup, something Ben Roethlisberger can appreciate.  He sprained his MCL against the 49ers, effectively ending his season. Moore played in 12 games, rushing for 157 yds. He also added 11 receptions for 104 yds.  He’s a free agent this year and with the crowded backfield being what it is the team could decide to move on.  He won’t command a big salary if the team wants to keep him around for insurance, but with the youth movement and so many players fighting for roster spots, he could be the odd man out. 2012 Outlook: Can still make the roster as a solid veteran backup but he’ll be fighting with Baron Batch for the 3rd down duties.

Baron Batch: The rookie never got a chance to get going in 2011. He tore his ACL shortly after training camp began. His rehab is coming along nicely and he’ll be ready to compete this offseason with the team.  At 5’10” , 210 lbs. he’s a great 3rd down back option and good special teamer coming out of Texas Tech, along with a good pair of hands for catching passes out of the backfield.   He showed promise in the short time he in camp, taking on Steelers linebackers and holding off the pressure from the best the team has to offer. He’ll be in the mix this coming training camp and will push Mewelde Moore for that 3rd down back role.  2012 Outlook: His knee should be fine and he’ll put up a big battle for a roster spot and could push Moore out of the equation.


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