Running back John Kuhn hopes his versatility will open a spot on the Steelers' roster for him this season.
PITTSBURGH Ė Is he a fullback, a halfback or some version of a combination of the both?
Thatís the question the new coaching staff of the Pittsburgh Steelers
are asking themselves about John Kuhn
The 6-0, 255-pound Kuhn has the size of fullback Dan Kreider
, but surprising speed as well for a man his size. But despite his obvious physical attributes, the Steelers havenít been in a hurry to give Kuhn an increased role with the team - yet.
Kuhn, who is entering his third season with the team, hopes to change that in 2007.
ďI donít feel like Iím being overlooked,Ē said Kuhn. ďThere are certain things that I bring to the table that make me unique from other guys. Thatís what Iím trying to do now, carve out my own niche.Ē
Kuhnís niche could be a valuable one.
is firmly established as the teamís No. 1 running back, while Kreider the teamís starting fullback. The Steelers re-signed Najeh Davenport
this offseason and recently brought in veteran Kevan Barlow
as well. But they didnít take another running back in the draft, though they did add a bevy of undrafted rookie free agents afterward, most notably, Gary Russell
But with Verron Haynes
í release earlier this year Ė though the team is monitoring his rehabilitation from a knee injury Ė the Steelers may have an opening for an emergency fullback on the roster behind Kreider. The 6-1, 247-pound Davenport has the size to handle the job, but has always been more of a runner than a blocker in the NFL.
Kuhn, a record-setting running back at NCAA Division II Shippensburg University, was always more of a runner than a blocker as well. But heís spent the past two years learning the nuances of blocking from Kreider and former Steelers running backs coach Dick Hoak.
ďThe blocking is getting a lot better than it was when I got here,Ē Kuhn said. ďI didnít do any blocking in college. Coach (Dick) Hoak started me along. (Current running backs coach) Kirby (Wilson) is taking it to the next level, helping me become the best player I can be. And Danny, this is going on my third year with him. Heís given me tips and secrets, just to make my job easier.Ē
The one thing Kuhn has working in his favor that some of the other backs on the roster donít is his ability to play special teams. Neither Davenport or Barlow have ever covered kicks in their NFL careers, something Kuhn showed some promise doing in 2006.
ďIíll do whatever Iím asked to do, whether it be running the ball, blocking or covering kicks,Ē said Kuhn. ďI have no problem doing any of that.
Kuhn came to the Steelers in 2005 as an undrafted free agent, but was released in training camp. He signed a contract to play for the San Jose Sabercats of the Arena Football League but chose not to report after being signed to the Steelers practice squad in late November and stuck with the team throughout its improbable playoff run and Super Bowl victory.
He was re-signed for the 2006 season, but was again released at the end of training camp and again signed to the practice squad. But the Steelers signed him to their active roster in late October and he played in the final nine games, showing promise as a special teams player. He also had two carries for 18 yards and also caught one pass for another 15 yards.
ďI was happy with the way I performed when the opportunity was given to me,Ē said Kuhn. ďI feel like the more opportunities Iím given, the more Iíll produce.Ē
So what does Kuhn need to prove to show the coaching staff he deserves that chance?
ďI just need to have a better preseason than I had last season,Ē Kuhn said. ďI need to show these coaches that I can do it. Last camp I was better than my first year, but it wasnít quite enough to make the team coming out of camp. This year, Iíve just got to try a little harder and make their decision more difficult.Ē
By Dale Lolley
Posted May 21, 2007