This is Part 6 of our Steelers position review series. If you haven’t read Part 1 – 5, please click the links below.
The next position that we’re going to look at is the running back position. I believe that running back is a strength for the Steelers. However, I’ve seen several websites that have listed RB as a need that the Steelers might try to fill during the upcoming draft.
Personally, I think that the running back may be the strongest group that we’re going to review during this series. The Steelers have a 1,000 yard rusher in the starting role, several quality veteran backups, and a rookie from last year who showed potential. That’s pretty good, considering some of the glaring needs that I’ve already outlined at several other positions (and we haven’t even talked about the offensive line yet).
Rashard Mendenhall is the entrenched starter. Nobody is going to take his position. He had a career year in 2010. He rushed for a career high 1,273 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Mendenhall started every game in 2010. However, his rushing average dropped noticeably when Ben Roethlisberger returned to the starting lineup. In my opinion, Bruce Arians has got to find a way to make the passing game and the running game work well simultaneously.
One thing that was worth noting was that Mendenhall had almost 100 more carries in 2010 than he did in 2009. Yet, he only rushed for 165 more yards. Thus, his rushing average declined from 4.6 yards/carry to 3.9 yards/carry. Some of that may have been due to the absence of both Max Starks and Willie Colon for most of the season in 2010. However, the Steelers did burn Willie Parker out in just 3 seasons. Hopefully, Mendenhall is not starting to show signs of being overworked.
Isaac Redman is Mendenhall’s primary backup. The Steelers use him primarily as their short yardage back, but I think he can do far more than that. Frankly, I thought the Steelers added him to the active roster a year later than they should have.
Redman averaged 4.8 yards per carry. That’s pretty impressive, regardless of who you are. Moreover, Redman also averaged 8 yards per catch as a receiver. That’s not bad either. The only problem with Redman is that he is not particularly fast. He’s more of a power guy than a speed guy. So he’s not likely to break a long run outside the tackles. But he’s very effective between the tackles.
Mewelde Moore is the Steelers’ third running back. He’s probably the best receiver among the group, and he’s primarily used as a 3rd down back.
Moore had the lowest output of his career in 2010. He rushed for only 99 yards. He did have 205 yards receiving, but that still isn’t a very high output for a back with his experience.
You could make an argument that the Steelers might be better off replacing Mewelde with a younger (and cheaper) player. His production could probably be replaced by such a player. However, Mewelde is a good locker room guy who puts the team first. He knows the Steelers’ offense, and he seems to have the confidence of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. Based on that, I think that Moore is likely to be back for another season.
Even if he returns, Moore might be surpassed on the depth chart by Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer was a rookie last year and didn’t get many opportunities to show what he can do. It probably didn’t help that he was hurt during most of training camp and didn’t give the coaches much to evaluate him on. But during the opportunities that he was given during preseason, he looked good. He rushed for 89 yards during the 3rd preseason game, and 86 yards during the 4th. He ended preseason averaging 4.7 yards per carry. So it will be interesting to see what he can do next year if he’s healthy and gets a full training camp under his belt.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that the Steelers are in good shape at running back. The most important thing that they need to do to improve their running game is upgrade their offensive line. That will yield greater dividends than drafting another running back will.
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