One of the biggest issues for the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into the 2012 season is the running back position.
Though the NFL seems to be transitioning into a "pass first" league, the running game is still a very important aspect of the league.
Though quality running backs can be found later in the draft, teams need more than one back to be successful.
Some teams use the "featured back" method, where one back gets the majority of the carries. When you have a running back like Adrian Peterson, this is the obvious way to go. Most teams don't have that option, however.
Then there is the running back by committee approach, which is the method that the Steelers use.
In this method, you need a back for the first two downs, and a back up. Then you need a third-down back. The third down back must be able to pick up blitzing defenders, carry the ball, and catch passes out of the back field.
With the likelihood of the Mewelde Moore no longer with the Steelers, they have a few questions that need to be answered, which is what I will try to do here.
Rashard Mendenhall would be going into the 2012, but a torn ACL in Week 17 of the 2011 season has put not only 2012 in question but the future of the position in question for the Steelers.
Mendenhall has one year left on his rookie contract that he signed when he was drafted by the Steelers. Coming off a torn ACL, the Steelers will not even consider a long term deal until they know he is healed.
If he were to still be in good health, Mendenhall is not the typical Steelers back. He is no where near the battering ram that Jerome Bettis was, and he is no where near as fast as Willie Parker.
Neither one would be a knock on Mendenhall, if he were to be one or the other. Without blazing speed, he does not hit the holes hard enough to get many break away runs, and he has never been a "run you over" type of player that is successful in short yardage situations.
Either way, Mendenhall may have already played his last downs for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Even if Mendenhall were healthy, many members of Steelers Nation think the Steelers already have a better back on the roster: Isaac Redman.
Redman brings a great mix of power and speed to the Steelers. He spent 2011 as the Steelers' short yardage back. When Mendenhall went down to injury, Redman stepped in and showed that he could lead the Steelers running attack.
As of right now, Redman is the only player on the Steelers roster with enough experience to even consider going with as the full time starter, but that may not be good enough for the Steelers.
Though there is no one on the Steelers' depth chart at this moment behind Isaac Redman that anyone not a fan of the Steelers would know, the depth there is quite surprising.
The Steelers have two other power backs in John Clay and Jonathan Dwyer. Both guys are big and strong, and will be able to move piles for short yardage.
And even though both had long runs for the Steelers last year, neither would be considered speed backs by any stretch of the imagination.
The Steelers do, in fact, have someone that they drafted in 2011 that is not only quick, but showed in the 2011 preseason that he had the tools to be successful in the NFL.
Baron Batch was a seventh-round pick for the Steelers in 2011, and was beginning to make a name for himself prior to tearing his ACL.
Had he not been injured, there is a chance that he would not have even made the team last year, but the injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the Steelers. Had Batch been cut, he probably would have been picked up by another team, and would not even be an option in 2012.
This injury actually caused quite a stir here on B/R, with some people saying that this may have been a blessing and others pointing out that were wrong.
Batch himself even commented on this on his website about his feelings toward the situation.
Either way, now that Batch is healthy again (or close to it), and he could become a key contributor for the Steelers. It is looking like his injury will keep him with the Steelers, and that is a good thing for both sides.
Though there is almost no chance of the Steelers going outside the organization to bring in any running backs, there is a chance that they will use a draft pick on one in April.
The questions that need to be answered before that happens are:
1 - Will Mendenhall be able to return, when, and will they want to keep him past next year?
2 - Is Isaac Redman ready to carry the load?
3 - Will the back ups be able to be roll players, and contribute to the success of the Steelers?
Once these questions are answered by the Steelers, they will know the direction they are going to take.
Personally, I believe that if Batch is healthy, the Steelers should go into 2012 with what they finished with in 2011. They would have a complement of players that would be able to do all of the various things needed for the running game.
There are a few other things to take into account when considering the Steelers' running game in 2012 that have not been addressed.
For starters, Art Rooney has stated that he wants more out of his ground game. No, I did not say that he wants the Steelers to run the ball more, only that he wants more success on the carries they do have.
The Steelers are a pass-first team, and as long as Ben Roethlisberger is under center, there is no reason to abandon the pass-first philosophy.
I think what we will see in 2012 is the Steelers running game used better than it was, with a real full back on the roster. I believe that the Steelers will remain pass first, and that the passing game will set up the running game.
Either way, the Steelers ground game will probably resemble the 2011 version, but I expect that with an improved offensive line (which will be discussed later) the running game will be more effective.
And if it is, that will go a long way towards another Lombardi Trophy.