Thursday's game is Baron Batch's last chance to prove he's worth a Steelers roster spot.
The Pittsburgh Steelers currently have six running backs—and a fullback—on their roster, but that won't likely be the case after Friday and the 53-man roster deadline passes. At least one back will be on the chopping block and that very well could be Baron Batch.
Batch, who was drafted in the seventh round in 2011, missed his entire rookie season after tearing an ACL in training camp. He never participated in a single down of preseason football until this year, and in looking at the Steelers' running back moves since he's done so, it seems like the team may not be pleased with his performance.
Earlier in August, the Steelers signed free-agent back Jason Ford after John Clay was waived with an injury and Isaac Redman struggled with a hip injury.
One would think, with Redman on the mend, Rashard Mendenhall set to return to action at some point at the beginning of the regular season and Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey running well, the Steelers would have little reason to bring Harris into the fold—unless, of course, they are displeased with Batch.
In his three preseason appearances thus far, Batch has had 36 carries and just 93 rushing yards. He's also been targeted twice for passes, catching one worth nine yards. He's averaged just around 2.6 yards per carry despite having little time against first-team defenses and went for just 41 yards on 19 carries in the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The initial plan for Batch was that he'd become the goal-line and short-yardage back, and this still might be the case, with Dwyer and Redman more suited for early-down work and Rainey being a speedy specialist.
However, Batch hasn't been exceptional in either of those areas in the preseason and he'll need to show a lot on Thursday against the Carolina Panthers.
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In addition, the Steelers are going to likely want to see what they have in the newly-signed Harris. Though Harris may be nothing but a body at running back in the team's final preseason contest, it does bear noting that the team did choose to sign him this week and that there is some hope that he can add some value to the running game.
Batch is a willing blocker who has good hands in the receiving game (despite not seeing much of that this preseason), but his speed—his burst, mainly—just isn't there. Whether this is a result of the ACL surgery or just a problem Batch has regardless, it's still not ideal for someone you want pushing forward to convert 3rd-and-short or bust through goal-line defenses to score a touchdown.
The way the roster currently looks does not bode well for Batch. At the best, it appears he is destined for Pittsburgh's practice squad. At the worst, he passes through waivers and the Steelers let him move on.
But as of now, Batch's summer has looked like a lot of promise left unrealized, and though he is adored by fans, that's certainly not enough to justify using a valuable roster spot on him.
Thursday's game is a critical test for Batch—it may be his last chance to prove to the Steelers that he's worth their time.