Pittsburgh Steelers: Who Should Get Goal-Line Carries in 2012?

Nick DeWittAnalyst IJuly 3, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers: Who Should Get Goal-Line Carries in 2012?

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    In the past few seasons, one of the areas where the Pittsbugh Steelers have consistently struggled is running the ball at or near the goal line. With a new offensive coordinator, a new system and some fresh faces, this will be one area of interest in camp. Everyone will be watching to see who handles the ball when the goalposts loom overhead.

    Here's a look at who might and should be getting goal-line carries in 2012. We'll break down each back and their chances in tight quarters.

Isaac Redman

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    As the presumptive starter in the backfield, I'd expect Redman to shoulder most of the load.

    That's not necessarily going to mean that he carries the ball at the goal line, though.

    One of the problems the Steelers face in this situation is that none of the backs on their roster has really shown consistent success at the goal line. It's hard to say that someone has that edge yet.

    What Redman has going for him is the ability to sneak through tiny spaces in the line. He doesn't need a big opening to get through and keep running—he just needs a good head of steam, which he usually seems to have. That burst could prove useful, especially behind what everyone expects to be a much-improved line.

    I'd say that Redman will get a lot of chances down there, but he may not be what anyone calls a "specialist" in that department because he'll be carrying in other capacities too often.

Jonathan Dwyer

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    Here’s an interesting candidate.

    Dwyer is big enough and strong enough to carry the load when teams load up the middle. He also has the quickness to bounce outside if the opportunity is better there. He isn't an edge guy, but he can get to the corner if a defense stacks up on him.

    Dwyer first has to show that he's healthy enough to merit a roster spot, and that's not going to be as easy as some might think. Rashard Mendenhall no longer seems like a guy who will miss a ton of time, so the Steelers may reserve a roster spot for him. And with one spot now dedicated to a fullback, that’s likely one fewer spot for the backfield.

    Dwyer could crack the roster. If he does, I'd give him a good chance of carrying at the goal line. He'd be the primary option next to Redman.

Baron Batch

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    I think Batch has a very good chance of making the roster, and there's one simple reason why"

    He is in Pittsburgh.

    Mewelde Moore is in Indianapolis, and he was the team's do-it-all back for several years. He carried on third down, went out for passes in the flat and relieved Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.

    Batch is the most athletic of the team's runners. He has great hands, plus wonderful speed and burst. The problem at the goal line is that he's not someone I'd take in a battle with bigger defenders. He simply isn't a one-against-the-defense kind of player.

    Batch is at his best in space. That means he's got a wonderful opportunity to carry on third down and be the receiver out of the backfield.

    However, he will not likely carry the ball in tight.

Chris Rainey

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    While I think Rainey has a good chance of making this team, his best skills will probably put him in a wide receiver role much of the time and as a return guy. He's very well-suited to those positions, thanks to his great hands and speed.

    He'll get some carries, too. Rainey is a faster version of Willie Parker, and like Parker, Rainey is not good in the jumbo package. He's just not built for that.

    Rainey's specialty is elsewhere. He's more of a Dexter McCluster, to borrow from a guy Todd Haley's already familiar with from the Chiefs.

    Given that, I'd put Rainey with Batch. They'll be on the sideline when things get close to the end zone.

John Clay

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    Clay has an uphill battle to make the roster. As I've detailed above, every back ahead of him has multiple skills that will be needed in this type of offense. All of them have decent speed, burst, receiving skill or some other intangible.

    Clay is, however, the classic goal-line back. He's the kind of guy Jerome Bettis was in 2005; he'd come in for that tough yard when everyone knew he was getting the ball.

    I'd be in favor of trying Clay at fullback just to keep him around, but there are two other guys already ahead in that battle, too.

    If I was to pick one player from the current expanded roster for a goal-line carry, it'd be Clay. He's big, tough and he grinds forward after contact. I just don't know if that singular skill is enough to justify a spot among what should only be three or four backs.

Rashard Mendenhall

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    That brings us to the wild card in the whole running back puzzle.

    Based on how the Steelers are preparing, I think you can conclude that they are of the opinion that Mendenhall will be more luxury than anything once he's healthy and ready to play.

    I don't think we'll see Mendenhall starting again. I think Redman will shoulder the load regardless of his health this season, and Mendenhall will have to carve out some other kind of role.

    That could be at the goal line.

    The problem is, as anyone who's been watching Pittsburgh since 2009 can tell you, the last thing you want to see is Mendenhall carrying near the end zone. Whether it was the line's poor blocking, Bruce Arians' unimaginative play calls or Mendenhall's lack of ability in that role, it rarely ended well.

    Mendenhall might end up simply working as a complementary player until the team is comfortable that his ACL can stand up to more punishment. His case will be among the most interesting moving forward.