I’m going to jump right to the conclusion here. I said in my training camp roster throwdown report on running backs that both of Baron Batch and Chris Rainey would make the 53-man roster. If I spoiled it for you, you have my deepest apologies.
Already into the fifth day of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2012 training camp and while there are many story-lines that include the word ‘Wallace,’ there are also some really good battles going on. The running backs’ spot, as expected, is one of those.
Last year at this time, the darling if you will, of the 2011 training camp was Batch. A seventh-round pick from Texas Tech, Batch impressed teammates and coaches with his quickness, intelligence and aggressiveness. And then the bottom fell out. While doing some sprints, Batch blew out his ACL and was lost for the season before he could even put on the black n’ gold.
A year later, Batch finds himself healthy and ready to go, but with a new challenge as 2012 fifth-round pick Chris Rainey is burning up the field at St. Vincent’s with lightning fast speed and quickness. It’s thought that both of these men are vying for the 3rd down back and indeed they may be, but there is more at play here because of what each brings to the table.
Yesterday at camp, the infamous ‘back on backers’ drill was held and this was the very area that Batch showed himself as he stalemated James Harrison a couple of times last year. According to Head Coach Mike Tomlin, Batch acquitted himself nicely yesterday saying “there was no hesitation in his play.”
At 180lbs soaking wet as they say, Rainey was held out of the ‘backs on backers’ competition mainly because his style of blocking calls for him to go low and Tomlin was in no hurry to see defensive players being taken out with leg injuries. Asked by reporters yesterday about the move to keep Rainey out of the drill, Tomlin answered only as he can by saying, “I’m not going to pull the boat with a Ferrari.”
The bottom line is that if either of these guys is going to win the third down running back job they will both have to prove they can not only block, but pick up blitzers and that isn’t as easy it sounds. Protecting Ben Roethlisberger is paramount and if you aren’t getting the reads right on who is coming and who isn’t you aren’t playing. It really is that simple.
Many of my fellow writers who talk “Steelers” as much as we do, seem to be of the opinion that Rainey is just too small and can’t block. This is exactly my point as to why I believe both men make the roster. Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley didn’t get the job because he’s an idiot. He will have Chris Rainey all over the field and not just on 3rd down. His speed and quickness will be utilized you can take that to the bank. Blocking will be one of his few duties.
For Batch, the role vacated by Mewelde Moore I do believe will be his. While he doesn’t have nearly the speed that Rainey has, he isn’t exactly a plodder. He has very good quickness and catches the ball well out of the backfield. Just as importantly, he is powerful enough to get a few yards when called upon to carry the ball on quick-hitters or draws.
Rainey also makes this squad because of his ability to return punts and kicks, but Batch may be valuable on special teams as well as a protector on punt team and possibly an ‘up’ man on kickoff return.
Either way, as Tomlin continues to praise both and critique both in his own ‘Tomlin-esque’ way, I believe both of these men see the field on opening night in Denver.