The first preseason game is a time of excitement for every fan. We finally get to see what the stars of tomorrow will do in game situations for our Steelers. We must curb our excitement though both in handing out praise and criticism because after all, it’s preseason and game 1 at that. For now,, lets take a look at the young running backs of the Steelers and how they performed against the Eagles on Thursday night in the opener of preseason.
Chris Rainey made the most of every opportunity he had tonight in the passing game. Mike Tomlin said before the game that he would return kicks to start out but didn’t hint too much into where it would go from that. Rainey showed the quickness and speed that he’s known for but also some serious vision in the return game. He was able to find the crease in the blocking and take up field quickly. The highlight was his 3rd quarter, 57 yd reception from QB Jerrod Johnson where took the quick pass and sprinted down the field, even breaking a few tackles a long the way. Saying this kid is electric is an understatement. He had his struggles carrying the ball out of the backfield though, going 4 carries for 1 yd but he made his mark in the passing game with his 2 catches for 65 yds and the touchdown.
Baron Batch started out tentatively as he tested out that surgically repaired ACL from last year, but gained confidence as the game wore on. Batch finished the game as the teams leading rusher with 19 carries for 41 yds. The bulk of his work came in the 2nd half but he really shined in the last 6 minutes, showing good power and quick feet while finding the holes created by the offensive line. Even though the late rally stalled out around the 20 yd line of the Eagles, Batch showed that he’s clearly in the mix for a roster spot on this team. His pass protection was solid as well, which is something he was known for in college as well.
These guys mainly played with 2nd and 3rd tier offensive lineman so you have to take into account that along with the similar defenders they were up against. Still though, you have to take advantage of the opportunities that you’re given and these guys both delivered for the most part. It’s clear though too that they are young and have much to learn with how they see the field, making decisions on which hole to hit and how to avoid the angle of the defender but there were bright spots and cause for optimism like we mentioned earlier. That’s to be expected and we can’t count on these guys to be perfect yet at their craft after just one exhibition.
Considering the running back situation behind Isaac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer going down with an injury tonight, both Rainey and Batch got the brunt of the work and they got valuable experience in the process. On the subject of Dwyer, he has an AC sprain according to Mike Tomlin in his post game presser, so it doesn’t appear to be too serious at this point. He may miss some time in camp though in the coming week.
John Clay had 5 carries for 8 yds tonight also and he’ll certainly be in the mix too, however his role on the team will be different than that of Rainey and Batch. If you’re thinking in terms of final roster spots this early, then logic would tell you that behind Redman they would keep either Jonathan Dwyer or John Clay but beyond that you can make a case for both Batch and Rainey. Each serves a similar role but also different in terms of their abilities in pass protection, receiving, and running. There’s a long way to go yet for all the players but each has showed promise early.