Day 2 of the Pittsburgh Steelers positional breakdown - The Running Backs
The Pittsburgh Steelers currently have nine running backs on the roster, which creates a crowded backfield and gives the Steelers one of their deepest positions on the depth chart. Some teams are in desperate need of a running back, the Steelers are in need of a way to utilize so much talent and spread around the ball to keep them all happy.
The unquestioned starter is "Fast" Willie Parker with first round pick, Rashard Mendenhall and journeymen, Mewelde Moore, backing him up. All the Steelers backs will key play a role on the team though and how the coaches choose to utilize each will be entertaining to see. With the addition of Frank "the Tank" Summers to the mix, it could get real interesting when training camp opens up this summer.
There could be a camp battle or two with this mix of talent and how things shake out could foreshadow the future of the Steelers backfield with Parker in the final year of his contract and getting closer to the other-side of 30. We will discuss camp battles a little later though.
Willie Parker, Jr. - Parker was an un-drafted free agent with the Steelers in 2004. While at UNC, Parker displayed great speed but little vision, resulting in inconsistent play which led to him being benched in favor of Ronnie McGill during his senior year. Parker was timed several times in the 40 yard dash coming from college. The fastest time was a 4.21. Parker spent his first year as a back up to some very talented HB's on the Steelers roster that included Jerome Bettis, Duce Staley and Verron Haynes.
In his second year, Parker earned the starting job after both Bettis (hamstring) and Staley (knees) missed the first part of the season with injuries. By default, Parker had to play the first game against the Tennessee Titans. He impressed Bill Cowher as well as Titans coach Jeff Fisher by gaining 161 rushing yards on 22 attempts (7.3 average).
With a 45 yard toss play, and a 48 yard screen play, he was getting major attention from everyone on the field. After following up this performance with another 100+ yard game against the Houston Texans, Cowher said "He's here to stay."
Since Parker has been a solid contributor to the Steelers running game averaging around 1,250 yards per season. He holds the Super Bowl record for the longest rushing play, a 75 yard scamper for a TD verse Seattle in SB XL.
After that though the injury bug caught up to Parker in 2007, while leading the league in rushing with two games left on the regular season schedule, when he suffered a broken right fibula early in a game against the St. Louis Rams.
His 2008 season was marred by injuries as well and he would miss six games due to knee and shoulder dings.
Parker is the unquestioned starter in 2009 but look for Rashard Mendenhall to gradually get more carries in involved in the Steelers game-plan as the season moves on. This will be a make or break season for Willie as his contract is up at the end of '09 and he will be almost 30 years old and have a former first round draft pick nipping at his heals. Parker will need a big season to get a contract extension from the team.
Rashard Mendenhall - A former first round pick, out of Illinois, that the Steelers staff is very high on. Mendenhall was drafted by the Steelers to compliment Willie Parker in the backfield and possibly replace him as the starter after the 2009 season,when Parkers' contract runs out. Mendenhall entered his rookie season full of promise and in week 4 he got his first chance to start for the Steelers, but had his season cut short with a fractured shoulder injury on a Ray Lewis tackle.
This will be Mendenhall's second season as a Steeler and now that he is healthy, he will get a chance to be more involved in the game-plan. He could be just Parker'srelief hitter, but if he can step things up he has a chance to be the Steelers 3rd down and/or short yardage back as well.
He has the ability to do both but will need to beat out Moore for 3rd down duties and Frank Summers for goal line and short yardage situations. Look for some interesting training camp battles for these important roles on the team this summer.
Mewelde Moore -He was originally drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the fourthround of the 2004 NFL Draft and was under utilized in the offense during his time with the team. Moore played his college football at Tulane, just down the road from his hometown of Baton Rouge, LA where he was a standout performer at Belaire High School.
On March 3, 2008, his career outlook would change for the better as Moore signed a three year contract to join the Pittsburgh Steelers. Moore originally signed for depth, was given the opportunity to start after Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall were injured.
Although he was a backup for most of the year, he racked up 588 yards and 5 touchdowns rushing and 320 yards receiving and one touchdown. As the season progressed Moore would earn the Steelers trust and be granted 3rd down duties for the team.
With the respect of the coaches, the team and the fans now earned, Moore may have to do it all over again, with Mendenhall returning from injury for the up coming season. The Steelers backfield is very crowded and there could be some interesting camp battles that involve Moore this summer. He should be in the mix for 3rd down duties but could potentially earn the No. 2 spot behind Parker, if Mendenhall stumbles along the way. How Moore is utilized on the team will be very interesting to see.
Frank Summers - Tank, as we have come to know him by in the Steeler Nation, was drafted by the Steelers in the fifth round (169th overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft. Selected mainly for his size and ability to play in the short-yardage game, Summers could be the wild-card in the backfield rotation for Pittsburgh.
Summers became the first UNLV Rebel runner to bed drafted since Ickey Woods went 31st overall in 1988 to the Bengals. He is only the second offensive player to be drafted since 1995.
An experienced, strong, physical back who is a punishing runner and gets better as the game goes along. Nicknamed "The Tank" for his bruising running style and should fit perfectly with the Steelers.
Tank can also catch the ball effectively out of the backfield and was a top special teams contributor on returns as well for UNLV. What more could you want form a 230 lbs. running-back? Shall we start the "Mini-Bus" chants in the 'Burgh?
Summers could be the missing link to the Steelers almost non-existent short yardage and goal line game. He has the size, the power and the attitude to be that guy in Pittsburgh. With Gary Russell out of the mix, he should have no problem getting those types of carries either.
Although Rashard Mendenhall has the size and knack as well, for this situational position and Summers will have to earn that role for the Steelers as nothing will be handed to him by Mike Tomlin's' staff. Could be another great camp battle brewing but more on that later.
Carey Davis- Stuck in a dying position in Bruce Arians offense, Davis is the lone 'true' fullback with experience for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was the reason the team cut Dan Kreider as they felt his ability to catch passes out of the backfield made him more attractive to the offense.
His role has slowly been fazed out on the team though and he may not make the final 53 man roster with H-back Sean McHugh, Ryan Powdrell and rookie Frank Summers in the FB mix.
Davis's one big downfall could be his limited blocking skills which could make him a salary cap dump if he does not improve those much needed skills to be a FB on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The other running backs on the roster -
Justin Vincent - is a former un-drafted free agent that has spent time on the Atlanta Falcons and Pittsburgh Steelers practice squads. Look for him to do the same this season as the Steelers back field is much to crowded for him to find a niche that will keep him on the 53 man roster.
Stefan Logan- Originally signed with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League for the 2008 CFL season. He rushed 122 times for 889 yards, and made 52 catches for 477 yards. He was an un-drafted free agent for Miami in 2007. That's the extent of his career, so why did the Steelers sign him? The answer is simple, to compete for return duties and give the Steelers another option other then 230 lbs.
HB's returning kicks. His days as a member of the team may already be numbered though, with the recent draft selections of Mike Wallace and Joe Burnett, who are both known to be quality return men out of college. Logan will be in the camp battle for the kick and punt return duties but that will be the extent of his role on the team.
Isaac Redman- Was the career rushing leader for Bowie State and signed as an un-drafted free agent with the Steelers in April of 2009. He is basically camp fodder though as neither his running or return skills will be enough to make the team. Possible practice squad player but he will have to beat out Justin Vincent for that role.
Ryan Powdrell- The only other FB on the Steelers roster behind Carey Davis. He was signed by the Green Bay Packers as an un-drafted free agent in 2007. He played college football at Southern California and was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers on February 12, 2009.
Powdrell has also been a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We do not know much about this guy but feel he was signed as nothing more then training camp fodder and he won't be on the final 53 man roster. A possible practice squad player but that remains to be seen as well.
Training Camp Battles
With every new season in the NFL the training camp battles are sure to follow for each and every team and the 2009 Steelers will have a few of their own for the running-back roles on the roster. The starting or featured role belongs to Willie Parker and we do not see that changing this year.
The 3rd down and short yardage roles could be up for grabs though as could the No. 2 or relief hitter role in the backfield. It could make for a very interesting summer if any of these battles pick up steam.
Relief Hitter / #2 HB - Rashard Mendenhall has already been penciled in for this spot on the Steelers roster but nothing is set in stone on a Mike Tomlin team and their could be some stiff competition from Mewelde Moore when camp opens for this position on the depth chart.
Moore should make it interesting but Mendenhall is the chosen heir apparent to Willie Parker and will need to stumble badly for Moore to over come him. We look for Mendy to win this spot but Moore to get some carries each game as well.
3rd Down HB - Mewelde Moore excelled in this role last year as a runner, receiver and a blocker and as of now is penciled in to handle these duties. Mendenhall has the ability to do all of the above though and could possibly be one of the last 'every-down' backs in the league.
We don't see this being a heated battle as Mendy needs to concentrate on backing up Parker, but both backs will be in the mix and either could come out on top. In the end though, we see Moore getting the nod over Mendy.
Short Yardage HB- This could be the most interesting backfield battle this summer as the rookie Frank Summers will battle it out with Rashard Mendenhall for the right to lay the smack-down in tough yardage and goal line situations. Summers was drafted for this role.
His size and abilities make him the perfect candidate but if he is unable to adjust to the NFL in just one season we can see Mendy getting the nod. This role is Summer's to lose more then it is Mendenhall's to win but only the Tank can make it happen. We predict Mendenhall to get the early season carries but as the year progresses we see Summers stepping into this role permanently.
Well that's the lowdown on the running backs, thanks for reading and your comments are welcome. Let us know what you think.
*Check back May 12th for the 3rd edition of this 9 part series. Next up will be the Wide Receivers.