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Friday, August 13, 2010

Steelers 2010 - The Backfield

Well, it's about that time. The Steelers open the preseason slate at home, 8 PM, Saturday, against the Lions. And, Dick LeBeau was inducted into the Hall of Fame this past weekend. He went in as a player, but since his stats haven't changed in the thirty-something years since he retired, I think his accomplishments as the Steelers' DC had something to do with the honor.

This is the first look at this year's squad and we're starting out with the glamour positions. Free agency is a jumbled picture with no collective bargaining agreement at present, so my comments will assume something similar to the current system gets put in place.

You want to put into perspective what a huge dofus BEN R. is? Quarterback is the deepest, most talented position on the roster outside of linebacker, but it's also the biggest concern. That's not an easy state of affairs to achieve.

All signs are that Ben's six game suspension is going to be reduced to four by the Commish. I mean Roger Goodell, not Michael Chiklis. Ben's allowed to practice with the team, though he's getting a lot less time with the first string than normal, since somebody else will be running the team for the first quarter of the season. At least he should be healthy when he starts playing.

BYRON LEFTWICH is back after one very, very unsuccessful season in Tampa Bay. I like Leftwich and think he's a capable backup. It wouldn't be shocking to see him go 3-1 while Ben is out. Of course, since being benched in 2006, he has only started five games in three years, throwing a total of 201 passes. He was good as our backup in 2008, but not so much with Atlanta and Tampa Bay the other two years.

I'm comfortable with Byron (who is only 30: seems like he's been around a long time), but who knows how he's actually going to play this year? I'd bet he'll do better than worse and we'll be glad he came back. But...

DENNIS DIXON is back. He looks to be #3 on th depth chart. I like the kid, he seems to have recovered from the blown out knee at Oregon and might very well get an offer to compete for a starting job next year, when he's a restricted free agent. As I've said, I'd like Tomlin to start Dixon and see if he's a part of the future plans or not. Leftwich is under contract through 2011, which isn't good for Dixon.

CHARLIE BATCH - Odd man out, Batch is a good soldier who the franchise genuinely likes. But he's played in one game the past two years, having been injured nearly the whole time. At 35, it's more likely he ends up a Steelers coach or scout or something than a backup quarterback for the next two years (his contract expires in 2011). Or career manager for Terell Pryor. And despite Jeff B's wishes, I hope that career is someplace other than Heinz Field.

I don't see how they can carry Batch on the roster this year. They signed him to a two year deal in March, then a month later traded for Leftwich and gave him about double Batch's money. Sorry, Charlie.

The Steelers have three backups who can fill in here and there and hold their own. That's a luxury. But because of Ben's suspension, the position is likely to be a question mark for the first half of the season. I think Ben is going to be very focused and be ready to play when the season starts. In fact, probably more ready than the years he had the motorcycle wreck and the apendectomy.

GRADE - 4.0


With Willie Parker fourth (yes, FOURTH!) on the depth chart in Washington, this is RASHARD MENDENHALL's spot. He ran for over a thousand yards and averaged 4.6 ypc last year. He also picked up about 10 yards a catch. The guy is a dual threat with a nice burst but enough size to move it inside. And what a fun spin move! If he can stay healthy and the Steelers mean it when they say they're going to run more, Mendenhall could approach the 1,500 yard mark. He's got that kind of talent.

MEWELDE MOORE, who helped save the 2008 Super Bowl season, saw Parker and Mendenhall get nearly all of his playing time last season. Especially with Mendenhall a good third down back.

This year, he should be the speedy relief back for Mendenhall as well as an ocassional pass catcher. I'd like to see Bruce Arians (grrrrr) use him out on the wing again. Linebackers and safeties had a terrible time covering him in 2008. So, of course, Tomlarins didn't use him at all that way last year. A capable backup who is a free agent after this season. Somebody will take him to be the third down guy in 2011 if we don't retain his services. I really like what Moore offers the team.

Unfortunately, it's a mess after that. JONATHAN DWYER, a speedy bruiser from Georgia Tech, fell to the sixth round. I think this guy should be the starting fullback and get 6 or 8 carries a game. He's 235 pounds, ran for 1,395 yards last year and had five runs of forty yards or more. He can be THE steal of the draft. You know, if Pittsburgh used a fullback and ran the ball a lot...

I did see a Pittsburgh Tribune Review article that said Dwyer has been unimpressive in camp. Hopefully he'll get on track.

ISAAC REDMAN, the touchdown maker, had a great 2009 camp and spent last year on the practice squad. He's back in camp this year. He should have been the short yardage back last season but will have a tougher go of it with Dwyer around. Plus, because he can catch the ball so well, Mendenhall will probably be on the field a lot of third downs and get some short yardage carries. Redman doesn't seem to fit so well this year.

FRANK SUMMERS manged to get injured and land in Tomlin's doghouse about the same time last year. I'm not convinced he's got a future in Pittsburgh after his rookie season. He was a ball carrier and TD guy at UNLV and didn't block very well when given the chance to play fullback early last year. He needs to transition from star to blocker.

Apparently Summers did outperform rookie free agent fullback Demetrius Taylor, who was cut. Of course, BA gets rid of fullbacks at every opportunity.

DAN KREIDER, the last good blocking back we had, was let go by Arizona and is a free agent. I'd bring him back for one more year if Pittsburgh is going to use a fullback. I guarantee you Jerome Bettis would not have gotten as many yards as he did without Kreider.

JUSTIN VINCENT helped LSU win a national championship (over Oklahoma, not OSU) but has spent most of the past three years on the Steelers' practice squad. He's in camp but doesn't seem to be a factor.

Mendenhall seems poised to break out as a star and most teams would love to have Moore coming off the bench. But there's not a proven back behind them. In fact, none of the others have carried the ball in an NFL game. That's a bit worrisome when you remember how many injuries Parker and Mendenhall had the past few years. The Steelers have some talent and potential at running back, but virtually no depth.

GRADE - 3.0

Next up, WR/TE.

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