By Scott Brown
Monday, May 14, 2007
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin got another long look at his players during the minicamp that concluded Sunday.
That doesn't mean Tomlin has a good read on what he has at running back behind Pro Bowler Willie Parker, since there was no hitting in the five practices the Steelers just held.
"What defines greatness at that position are things that you can't measure (in minicamp), how physically tough somebody is, how they finish plays, how they compete as fatigue sets in and things of that nature," Tomlin said. "You won't get a true evaluation of those guys until we play football in training camp."
An evaluation of Parker probably isn't necessary, considering he rushed for 1,494 yards and scored 16 touchdowns last season.
What is necessary is someone to emerge from a group that includes Kevan Barlow and Najeh Davenport, and not just for insurance purposes, should something happen to Parker.
Tomlin has said he wants to use two backs to run the football this year, and the homegrown Barlow and Davenport are the top two candidates to complement Parker.
Barlow, the former Peabody High and Pitt star, has a 1,000-yard rushing season to his credit, and Tomlin said he has "feature-back capabilities."
Davenport looked like he had similar capabilities at times during a four-year career with Green Bay.
He signed with the Steelers last September after being released by the Packers, and he played sparingly behind Parker.
The 6-1, 247-pounder is a bigger back than Parker and has enough speed that the Steelers had him returning kickoffs last season.
Even though he played almost an entire season with the Steelers, Davenport said he is just now starting to feel comfortable with the team.
"I really didn't feel like a part of what they were doing (last season) because I didn't go through the training camps with them, I didn't go through the minicamps with them," Davenport said. "I'm cool with everybody, but I still feel kind of like the new guy because I haven't gone through a training camp with them."
Training camp will be different this year for Davenport.
He'll go through his first with the Steelers, and he also figures to be completely healthy.
That wasn't the case last year with Green Bay, as Davenport was still recovering from the broken right ankle he sustained the previous season.
A minor ankle injury kept Barlow out of one minicamp practice, but it didn't put much of a dent in his spirits.
After all, he has come home.
Barlow rushed for 1,024 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2003 with the 49ers, but his career bottomed out last season in New York as he gained just 370 yards on the ground for the Jets.
The Jets released Barlow, 28, in February, and the Steelers signed him the day before the start of minicamp.
"When I came here (to visit), I just knew it was right for me," said the 6-1, 234-pound Barlow, adding that the Colts, Packers and Titans were also interested in signing him. "I feel like I'm here with a stable organization, a stable team and some big guys up front who know how to play football and block."
For whom they will be blocking, aside from Parker, is still anyone's guess.