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fordfixer
10-02-2008, 12:53 AM
Steelers make up for lost ground
By Scott Brown
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, October 2, 2008
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsbu ... 91125.html (http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/s_591125.html)

One player in the Jacksonville Jaguars' backfield has rushed for almost 11,000 yards and will merit serious consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The other is a multipurpose threat who has scored 28 touchdowns in 35 career games.

The Steelers, who long have been associated with a robust running game, offer a surprisingly stark contrast. At least this much can be said about the two newest additions to their decimated backfield: Najeh Davenport and Gary Russell don't exactly compare to Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew.

Davenport and Russell, however, could figure as prominently into Sunday night's game as the Jaguars' acclaimed running back tandem.

With Mewelde Moore qualifying as the only Steelers' healthy running back, there doesn't appear to be a question that Davenport and Russell will log carries in Jacksonville. What remains to be seen is how big of a role each will handle against a defense that has a reputation for being as physical as any in the NFL.

"I haven't played a real game for a while," said Russell, who was signed from the Steelers' practice squad. "Running, getting hit, you can't simulate that."

Davenport hasn't been hit since last January, but it didn't take long for him to absorb a good-natured dig Wednesday. When reporters asked Davenport what he had done to stay in football shape, one of his nearby teammates said, "Fantasy football doesn't count!"

Davenport has been out of football since the Steelers released him at the end of June. A handful of teams showed interest in him, Davenport said, and the New York Jets were set to sign him after the first week of the season. Those plans were nixed, he said, when the Jets had to sign a kicker as a temporary fill-in for the injured Mike Nugent.

Davenport chuckled at that bit of bad timing yesterday. He was back in the NFL -- and back where he had been in 2006 when the Steelers signed him prior to a game against the Jaguars.

Asked if he can absorb a pounding even though he hasn't played in a game since the Steelers' 31-29 playoff loss to the Jaguars last January, Davenport said, "I thought not being hit was a good thing, the ultimate fresh legs."

The 6-foot-1 Davenport, who is listed in the Steelers' 2007 media guide at 247 pounds, spent two seasons as Willie Parker's backup and had his moments. But when the Steelers took running back Rashard Mendenhall in the first round of last April's draft, Davenport knew his days in Pittsburgh were numbered.

"(If) you can pass grade school," he said, "you can do the math."

Simple arithmetic is a big reason Davenport is in his second tour with the Steelers.

Parker is out for a second consecutive week with a sprained knee, and Mendenhall is out for the season with a fractured shoulder. Fullback Carey Davis, who also can play running back, didn't practice yesterday and walked gingerly on his left ankle when he wasn't using his crutches.

As battered as the Steelers' backfield is, several players said they don't think the team will alter its offensive approach Sunday and throw the ball more than usual.

"Looking at the game plan; it doesn't look like anything will change for us right now," wide receiver Santonio Holmes said. "Maybe later on in the week it will, if the coaches don't feel comfortable with it. I think the (running backs) we have right now are going to get the job done because they're very eager to play."

That is certainly the case with Russell.

He made enough of an impression on the Steelers last season to catch on with the team as an undrafted free agent.

Russell, however, played in just three games in 2007, and the 5-11, 215-pounder did not dress in the Steelers' first two games this year before he was released Sept. 20.

He quickly re-signed with the Steelers' practice squad and has a chance to show the coaches that he belongs on the 53-man roster even when the team's health at running back improves.

"Whatever the (coaches) ask me to do -- if it's short-yardage, third-down, I'm going to do it," Russell said.

Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.
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