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Talkin’ Running Backs: The Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

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Per dollar, it’s easily the Steelers‘ best positional unit.

Pittsburgh has been stockpiling talent at running back, a position that’s become interchangeable in the NFL over the years.

Gone are the days of league MVPs Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson. The high volume passing era has led to the stable philosophy, as opposed to the pure prize back.

Because, well, running back is a classic example of the rhetorical question “why have one when you can get two for less than twice the price?”

Injuries become a major factor in a salary cap league. It’s hard to pay, say, Adrian Peterson upwards of $ 9 million guaranteed, only to watch him blow out an ACL. And when he’s one huge part of your offense (read: Chiefs, Kansas City, Charles, Jamaal), you can get into some trouble without having talent in place to keep the ship moving forward in the event (likelihood?) of injury.

Enter Rashard Mendenhall. An excellent all-around back, but the delta between Mendenhall’s highest end and Isaac Redman’s, Pittsburgh’s second running back, is not as high as many other positions.

When Will Mendenhall Return?

In speaking with Middle Tennessee State strength coach Jason Spray earlier this week, he said running back is one of the more difficult positions to predict a timetable for return after an ACL tear. Due to the unpredictable movement necessary for the position (planting and cutting, making tacklers miss, etc.), it’s hard to gauge when he could return. Much of it is going to be about mental strength and resolve as well.

Rehabilitation from an injury like that is painful, arduous and boring. It’s a constant grind. Mendenhall is a phenomenal athlete, but the mental endurance necessary to make a successful return on the earlier end of the 9-12 month rehab process is tough.

I think the Steelers are going to have to plan on Mendenhall not being ready for significant action until at least Week 6 – incidentally, that’s the week after the Steelers bye, and the last week a player can stay on the Physically Unable to Perform list. After that, he must be placed on the IR or released. The Steelers will take as much time as they can to give him a chance to contribute later in the season.

Who will fill his place?

The unofficial BTSC hero, Isaac Redman, of course. But he won’t be a three-down back. The quartet of followers, Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, Baron Batch and Chris Rainey, going into camp, look to battle it out for two positions behind him. Look for one of them to be cut after training camp and, if he clears waivers, to be placed on the practice squad. Of the remaining three, look for two of them to earn game day roster spots each week.

Each of them comes with a positive and a negative element. Dwyer has the skill, but has struggled with his weight and focus (he’s in the midst of the most important offseason of his career). Clay has 10 career carries (and a touchdown) while spending little time on the active roster, and also had weight concerns, but stepped up last season when his number was called (41 yards and a score in Week 16). Batch is versatile and brings a good combination of speed and strength, but is just finishing an ACL rehab project of his own, and has barely any more experience than a rookie. Rainey is lightning fast and boasts special teams ability, but is the smallest in terms of height and weight, and likely won’t be an option between the tackles.

Any of those evaluations are subject to change, and who stands out among the others depends on the work they put in this offseason.

Is This His Last Year in Pittsburgh?

You never know what a year will bring. As it is, is the most talented running back physically. While neither the scheme nor his overall health in the last few years ever suggested he could lead the league in rushing, Mendenhall has shown he’s capable of being a lead back in the NFL. It always comes down to cost, though, and with Redman set to hit restricted free agency in 2013, as well as the low contract price of the other four, it isn’t likely the Steelers are in a position to give Mendenhall much of a raise.

Most of the decision will be based on his ability to come back from his injury. It doesn’t seem, though, in May of 2012, he’ll be back next season, just based on the price tag he’ll command in free agency.

What happened to Mewelde Moore?

He’s still currently a free agent, and likely was asked by the Steelers to stay in shape in case the need arises. Salary cap issues and the progress of younger (and more inexpensive) players led the Steelers to leave Moore unsigned, but rest assured, the Steelers have him in their minds and will make a move if if doesn’t appear any of them can bring the all-around experience Moore can.

Moore has been relied on for similar roles in the past, and is said to be a favorite of Steelers coach MIke Tomlin. It’s not a stretch to envision a scenario in which none of the younger backs are separating themselves from the pack, so one of them is released and Moore is signed. It’s a scenario for which the Steelers must be prepared.

How Will Todd Haley’s Offense Utilize the Running Back?

If Haley’s teams have been anything, they’ve been fairly different from one to the next. He’s shown the ability to maximize the skill on his roster and use it to the best of their strengths.

In Kansas City, it was the multi-purpose threat of Charles both rushing and receiving. In Arizona, it was the veteran savvy of Kurt Warner combining with the skill of WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Recently, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger said Haley is “all about the no-huddle and using our wide-receiver weapons and throwing the ball and stuff like that.” Seems appropriate for the coach to speak about the passing game to the quarterback, and obviously, the wide receivers will get their share of targets. Look for Haley to incorporate the running back, whomever that may be, to catch high-percentage throws in an effort to both gain something on every passing play possible, and to reduce the number of hits Roethlisberger takes.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Steelers heading into uncertain offseason

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Steelers coach Mike Tomlin acknowledges that change is inevitable, even for one of the NFL’s most stable franchises.

This offseason could be bumpier than most.

Pittsburgh’s stunning 29-23 playoff loss to Denver last Sunday put an end to a 12-5 season that felt underwhelming by the team’s lofty standards.

The AFC champions played from behind all year, getting drummed by rival Baltimore in the season opener and never quite catching up. Though the Steelers steadied themselves after a so-so September, they struggled to stay healthy.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and linebackers James Farrior and James Harrison were among the starters who dealt with significant injuries while defensive end Brett Keisel and nose tackle Casey Hampton could require offseason surgery.

The Steelers persevered, becoming one of three teams from the AFC North to advance to the postseason.

But it’s over early this time around, and with seven defensive starters in their 30s, the Steelers could go through a significant transition before the 2012 season kicks off.

Source: Yardbarker: Pittsburgh Steelers

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Looking At The Steelers 2012 Free Agents Heading Into The Offseason

The questions are rolling in about the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 free agents so I threw together a quick rundown of the restricted, unrestricted and exclusive rights free agents as the Steelers head into the offseason. The 6 restricted free agents will all certainly be tendered with only Mike Wallace receiving a first round tender. The other 5 will receive the lowest one year tenders. These amounts have not yet been released and I will post those amounts later in the offseason when they are made known. Both exclusive right free agents have no choice but to accept their tender offers and they can’t Read more […]

Source: Yardbarker: Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers Heading to Mile High; End Regular Season with 13-9 Win in Cleveland

Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (52) and cornerback Joe Haden, rear, tackle Pittsburgh Steelers running back Isaac Redman

The Steelers are going to get a first hand look at Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

Sunday the team got a dose of bad news twice, but in the end it’s a route they have had to take before to get to the promise land of playing for another Lombardi.

The team took care of the inept Cleveland Browns 13-9 on a wet and windy day in Cleveland. That was the good news.

The bad?

The Ravens won in Cincy 24-16 after going up big early. That means at 12-4 they are the AFC North champs since they beat the Steelers twice, and they will get a week off.

Add to that the team lost running back Rashard Mendenhall with a knee injury, that Mike Tomlin said after the game is almost surly going to keep him out of the wild card game in Denver.

So the team at 12-4 will go into Denver next weekend with Issac Redmen, who did a lot good Sunday, John Clay, and possibly Mewelde Moore as the three running backs. They also will have a QB still limping around the locker room, and a LB that hasn’t played much since around Halloween.

Other than that, the Steelers are once again playoff bound.

Redman scored on a 7-yard run in the third quarter for the Steelers, and ended the day with 92 yards on 19 carries. He did put the ball on the ground twice in the final quarter, but the Browns offense is so bad, they did little with the chances they had.

Ben Roethlisberger passed for 221 yards on a severely sprained ankle, going 23-for-40 for 221 yards. He did hit some big throws in a driving rain and some snow.

“I hate it,” Ben laughed about weather in Northeast Ohio.

It may not be much better in Denver, where it’s been known to snow a little bit in the winter. If the weather gets bad, it could actually help the Broncos, who had just six passes completed Sunday in their home loss.

The defense was the story on Sunday in Cleveland, and it looks like if the Steelers are going to make a serious run at the Super Bowl, they will need to lean on them to get them there.

Source: Steelers Gab

The Uncertain Playoff Fate the Pittsburgh Steelers Face Heading into Week 17 is Nothing Compared to the 2009 Situation


There are a lot of nervous people in Steeler Nation this week, hoping and praying that their favorite team somehow manages to win another AFC North crown and at least a bye into the second round of the playoffs. While I want the same thing, I won’t be as worried as many when I tune in to see the Steelers take on the Browns at 4:15 on New Year’s Day.

Things could be a lot worse. Pittsburgh could need help just to make it into the playoffs. Remember 2009?

I’ve been following the Steelers for over thirty years, and in all of that time, maybe the most frustrating season to experience was the team’s 2009 edition. Going into the year, I was hoping the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers had it in them to repeat as champions (yes, I know, spoiled rotten), and when they got off to a 6-2 start, I figured they’d at least avoid a repeat of what they did in 2006 and not miss the playoffs a year after winning the Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, that 2009 squad was living on borrowed time the entire first half, and the many problems that were mere annoyances during the first eight games–stupid penalties, costly turnovers and 4th quarter meltdowns–mushroomed into an epidemic, and the team lost four straight games, each one more gut-wrenching than the last, and the Steelers were now a .500 team at 6-6.

By that point, early December, I had already resorted to the comfort foods of Super Bowl DVDs and college basketball, but the week leading up to the now infamous Thursday night game in Cleveland against the Browns, local scribes like Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac were telling the fans not to give up on the season just yet, that the Steelers, in fact, still had a pretty decent shot at at least the final wildcard spot in the AFC. When I looked at the AFC teams who were fighting for those two wildcard spots, I became encouraged once again. The Broncos were 8-4, but all of the other wildcard contenders were in the same boat as the Steelers, right around the .500 mark.

I became convinced that the Steelers would shrug off their four-game losing-streak and do to the Browns what they should have done to the Chiefs and Raiders–completely dominate an inferior opponent. The Browns were a 1-11 football team heading into that Thursday night game on the NFL Network, and no way would such a pathetic group stand in the way of the Steelers and a possible playoff berth.

Unfortunately, it was the Steelers who looked totally pathetic that night as they lost, 13-6. If I wasn’t convinced that Pittsburgh was toast after losing in overtime to the Chiefs and Ravens and falling to the Raiders in the final seconds at Heinz Field, the team’s horrible display of football on that cold and windy night in Cleveland left little doubt.

The next day, I was listening to one of Beano Cook’s many radio appearances, and he said that Steelers fans had nothing to complain about, the team gave us two Super Bowls in five years, what more could we possibly want? That was sound, logical thinking. The Steelers weren’t going to be in the playoffs, but at least their were a few games left to enjoy.

However, those local scribes kept listing playoff scenarios for the Steelers in the newspaper. I wasn’t buying it. They couldn’t even win a game when they controlled their own destiny, how could they win three-in-a row and get all of the help they needed just to sneak in as a 6th seed?

But in week 15, the Steelers played a memorable game against the Green Bay Packers at Heinz Field that ended when Ben Roethlisberger connected with Mike Wallace on the game-winning touchdown pass as time ran out, and just like that, I got a second-wind.

With Denver losing two-straight games and all the other contenders still hovering around the .500 mark, I had renewed enthusiasm and started envisioning a 2005 scenario where the Steelers would get hot at just the right time, sneak into the playoffs on the last day of the season and march all the way to Miami for Super Bowl XLIV.

The following Sunday, the Steelers out-lasted the Ravens at Heinz Field to improve to 8-7, and if the Broncos and Jets could both lose, the Steelers playoff chances would look significantly better. Well, the Broncos took care of their part of the equation by losing to the Eagles (rooting for Philadelphia didn’t even phase me, it was all about the Steelers), but as most football fans probably remember, it was week 16 of the 2009 season when Colts‘ head coach Jim Caldwell decided that resting his starters and keeping them out of harm’s way until the postseason began was a little more important than chasing an undefeated season. I can’t say I disagreed with that logic, but it sure didn’t help the Steelers. A pretty weak New York Jets team took advantage of their new-found fortune and stayed alive in the playoff race by knocking off Indy’s scrubs.

The Ravens and Jets both had “win and you’re in” status heading into the final week. The Steelers needed big time help. The most realistic scenario had Pittsburgh getting into the playoffs with a win against the Dolphins in Miami combined with losses by the Texans and the Jets or Ravens.

I was pretty optimistic leading up to week 17–I had seen the Steelers overcome long odds and sneak into the playoffs in both 1989 and 1993–and I thought things would fall Pittsburgh’s way.

At that point, I wasn’t worried about what seed the Steelers could get, or whether or not they’d get a bye, all I wanted was just one playoff game.

I wasn’t feeling too good about a Ravens loss. Baltimore was playing in Oakland at 4:15 against a pretty pathetic Raiders team . However, the Texans were going up against New England at home. And even though the Patriots couldn’t really improve their playoff position with a win, I figured Belichick and Brady would be too competitive to roll over and play dead so the Texans could stay alive for the playoffs.

The Pats/Texans started at 1pm, as did the Steelers/Dolphins game, and heading into the 4th quarter of each game, things were looking good for the Steelers. New England was beating the Texans, 27-13, and the Steelers were up, 27-10, in Miami.

I was feeling more confident than ever. If the Texans lost, the Steelers just needed a loss by either the Ravens or Jets. Heck, Pittsburgh could be in the playoffs by 7pm! And even if the Ravens won their game, the Jets were playing against the Bengals on Sunday night, and even though the AFC North champion Bengals had nothing to gain by going all out, the Cincy players had insisted all week that they would play to win. I figured the Jets were just posers who got lucky the week before in Indianapolis and they would come back down to Earth against the Bengals.

Back to those 1pm games. Things started to turn pretty sour if you were a Steelers fan. Much like most of the ’09 season, the Steelers were doing everything in their power to hold off their opponent in the 4th quarter, as the Dolphins mounted a pretty furious comeback and were now only down by three points. In Houston, quarterback Bobby Hoyer was one of many backups inserted into the lineup for the Patriots. The Texans took advantage and scored 21 unanswered 4th quarter points and won, 34-27. For their part, the Steelers managed to hold off the Dolphins long enough to win, 30-24, but by that point, it was pretty much too little, too late.

During Mike Tomlin’s post-game press conference, someone informed him that the Texans had come from behind to win, and even though I was only listening on the radio, I could tell Coach was more than a little disappointed by that outcome. Like the fans, he could see the handwriting on the wall.

Now, the Steelers were down to one last, very improbable scenario–they needed the Ravens, Broncos and Jets to all lose their games. The Broncos would go on to lose to the Chiefs, but before that game was even over, the Ravens were walking off the field in Oakland victorious, and the Steelers were officially eliminated from the playoffs.

As it turned out, even if Baltimore would have lost, it wouldn’t have mattered because the Bengals decided to take a Sunday evening nap on national television and lost to the playoff-bound New York Jets, 37-0.

I don’t know why I decided to get my hopes up after that Green Bay win. I guess like most die-hard fans, I’m an eternal optimist, but I wish I hadn’t, because for whatever reason, seeing the Steelers eliminated from the playoffs that day was one of the most depressing thing I’ve ever experienced as a sports fan in a very long time.

So, while it’s 50/50 at best for a possible bye into the second round of the playoffs, I’ll take the “problems” of wondering when and where the Steelers will play in the postseason over the uncertainty that the fans of the Titans, Bengals, Jets, Broncos, Raiders, Cowboys and Giants face this week.

The Steelers are in the playoffs no matter what. At the end of the day, well, things could be a lot worse.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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