Ed: The State of the Steelers Ground Game


Good morning,

With all the injuries, what kind of running game might the Steelers have this season? Todd Haley has been charged with improving it, but how do you improve that phase of the offense when most of those who will carry the ball have not been carrying it in training camp because of injuries?

Rashard Mendenhall will open the season on the PUP, that’s been determined. They are not going to rush him back, even with the injuries to others. Fullback David Johnson and halfback John Clay are finished for 2012 because of injuries.

That leaves Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, Byron Batch, rookie Chris Rainey and fullback Will Johnson. Rainey is the highest draft pick of them all. The Steelers took him in the fifth round this year.

Where they were drafted, however, won’t matter. How they perform will. There’s not a lot to go on in their resumes, and there will be no help coming unless someone releases a back the Steelers like.

So that will be the Steelers backfield in 2012 – barring additional injuries. And here is what Ben Roethlisberger told me about having a backfield of those young runners.

“I think it will be great. I’ve watched these guys and I’ve seen how hard they work. I don’t think people give Isaac Redman enough credit. He’s a great back and he’s slimmed down. He’s a powerful guy, he’s really smart back there, he can block. He can do it all. The young guys are exciting. It’s exciting to see Baron Batch back healthy, Jonathan Dwyer, the young guy what he can do.”

Their coach, Kirby Wilson, has made a remarkable recovery from that January fire at his home that severely burned him. He has been on the field nearly all the time this summer, and spotted running on occasion.

“I think they’re inspired by having coach Kirby out here,’’ Roethlisberger said.

“Not having Mendenhall, people say ‘Oh, what are we going to do now?’ I think it’s under their skin a little bit. I think it’s good, it’s motivating them to, you know what, ‘We’re going to prove to everybody we can do it.’

“They’ll be ready I know it.”

Onto some stuff:

--- Spotted some fans at training camp wearing the new Bumble Bee Steelers replica jerseys for this season (they were ugly in 1934 and that hasn’t changed in 2012). However, Nike has not officially released the jersey for sale and you cannot buy one in legitimate stores. The knockoffs have made it through the black market place before the legit jerseys. Capitalism is great, huh? Except I’m told the knockoffs come from China.

--- The crowds watching practices – the final one is today at 3 p.m. -- at Saint Vincent College have been way down just about all observers feel. One exception was the Friday night practice at the high school stadium, their largest ever with roughly 12,000 watching. You can see a lot of grass, however, in the hill surrounding practices this year. Was it Bucco fever that kept them away? Maybe. Since there is no admission, it doesn’t cost anyone up front but bigger crowds usually mean bigger sales at the Steelers merchandise tent.

--- I was told by someone who should know that former Steelers first-round pick, tackle Jamain Stephens, turned out for one of the first practices of camp and tried to get word to Kevin Colbert that he was in great shape and ready to resume his career. Stephens is 38.

He joined them in 1996 (North Carolina A&T) and was a bust, but stuck around for three seasons. After he famously could not finish the run test on the first day of amp in 1999, Bill Cowher cut him that night. Somehow, he stuck around with the Bengals for the next four seasons. If indeed that was him on the sideline begging for another chance, it is sad.

--- After today, Mike Wallace officially held out of the entire training camp. I can’t say for sure the last player who did that but it might have been Eric Green, who did not sign his rookie contract until after camp in 1990.

--- YOU: I'm looking at going to the Monday Nighter against the Chiefs mid November. Your colleague Mike Fuoco announced that metal detectors will be used. I had a hip replacement with a metal (alumina ceramic) implant. He said to go to Steelers.com. They didn't have anything about the metal detectors that I could find. I responded to Mike and he responded that he didn't know. Will I require documentation? This is new to me.

ME: I don't think you will have a problem. It's not the TSA doing these things. What they're looking for is weapons, not metal hips.

--- YOU: Did John Clay clear waivers, and do you know if the Steelers put him on IR?

ME: I’ve heard nothing about anyone having claimed him so I would say, yes, he cleared waivers. I also do not know if Clay’s quad injury was determined to be season-ending. If not, they could negotiate a settlement with him instead of putting him on injured reserve. If they do negotiate a settlement, he would become a free agent and could play for another team this season.