View Full Version : 3rd-down back has odd role

11-02-2006, 07:41 AM
Thursday, November 02, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Najeh Davenport sat quietly at his locker yesterday, preparing for what could be his new role on his new team, that of third-down back.

"It's not really a role," Davenport corrected. "It's an attitude."

Davenport already knows the role/attitude/assignment of a third-down back the way the Steelers use one: It's not really a job that carries much glory.

"You really don't get a lot of passes," Davenport explained. "Most of it is picking up blitzes, and you might get a screen here or a draw there."

The back who previously held the third-down job, Verron Haynes, had fewer than 100 yards receiving or rushing in seven games this season. Haynes held the job last year, too, and caught 11 passes after catching 18 in 2004.

The Steelers don't ask their third-down back to run much or catch much. What they want him to do is block well.

"People think because a guy can catch -- 'Oh, he'd make a great third-down back,' but there's a lot more to it than that," said Dick Hoak, who has coached Steelers backs of many varieties since 1972.

"You have to be able to pick the blitz up, you have to be smart, you have to be able to make adjustments when things happen that maybe you didn't cover. When new things happen on the field, you have to be smart enough, recognize where the blitz is coming from, where to step up. Also, if that guy is just strictly a third-down back, he has to be able to help you on special teams."

Haynes was placed on injured reserve after an ACL was torn Sunday and is out for the season. Willie Parker replaced him in the second half against Oakland, and it was on third down that he took a screen pass 25 yards for a touchdown.

Parker could be ideal for the third-down role because of his quickness, his smarts and his ability to pick up the blitz. But the Steelers don't want to play him every down, so they are more likely to turn to Davenport to fill that role. John Kuhn, signed from the practice squad this week, could serve as an alternative. Kuhn played on third downs in the preseason.

"The biggest thing, more than being a good pass catcher, at least in our offense, No. 1 you have to pick up the blitz and recognize the blitz and where it's coming from," Hoak said.

The Steelers have had a number of third-down backs through the years with different styles. Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala did it early this century. They tried it with Richard Huntley and Fred McAfee. Merril Hoge caught a lot of passes in that role in the late 1980s and early '90s.

Other teams use their third-down backs differently. Instead of keeping a back in to block, if the blitz comes, that back becomes the "hot" target.

The New York Giants play starter Tiki Barber on third down, but Barber is spelled on first and second downs by Brandon Jacobs.

"Sometimes, they're blocking big linebackers and defensive ends," said Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi. "That's hard. When you get a guy you think is a classic third-down back, a flare guy who can go out and catch, he has to block. That's a tough role fill.

"It's so much more specialized. John Avery, the night I scouted him at Mississippi, he ran 98 yards for a touchdown. He looked ideal as a third-down back. He could go the distance, you could flare the ball to him. But he wasn't able to knock down defensive ends or linebackers. He didn't last long. Some of them are just too small."

That's not the case with the 250-pound Davenport. He also showed an ability to run and catch in Green Bay. The Packers did not use him as a third-down back, per se, but put him into the game when Ahman Green needed a rest.

"I enjoy playing football," Davenport said, "so it doesn't really matter what I have to do -- covering kicks, making first downs or catching passes out of the backfield, picking up blitzes, as long as I'm playing."

Davenport ran 32 yards with a slip screen in San Diego, but that came out of a conventional alignment and not on third down. But he said a back can pick up large chunks on third down, when he's not picking up the blitz, of course.

"You catch them dropping back, you can take a little pop route, or you catch them dropping and you hit them with a draw."

11-02-2006, 12:05 PM
What's the deal with Staley, in regards to this issue? Can he really be THAT BAD. It really doesn't make any sense keeping him undressed for games. Everyone says he's not injured, just unmotivated. That's sounds like a joke. He might as well hang it up and go home. I believe he would be better than Davenport in there, but that's just my opinion.