View Full Version : Russell in line for larger role with Steelers

11-18-2008, 07:07 AM

Russell in line for larger role with Steelers
By John Dudley

PITTSBURGH -- A good deal of the Steelers' recent offensive troubles can be traced to the failure of a longtime staple of this smash-mouth franchise: the short-yardage game.

But the Steelers believe they might have found an answer Sunday in seldom-used running back Gary Russell.

Russell twice converted third-and-short situations in the second half of the Steelers' 11-10 comeback win over the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field.
Coach Mike Tomlin suggested the second-year runner from Minnesota has earned himself more chances in future goal-line and short-yardage situations.

"Maybe we found something in Gary Russell, we will see," Tomlin said. "I think based upon what he showed us (Sunday), he is a strong candidate for that."
Russell went into Sunday's game with only eight carries for 33 yards this season. He ran the ball only twice against the Chargers, but both times he sustained drives with strong runs.

On third down-and-1 from the Steelers' 32, Russell gained six yards over the right side to extend a drive that ended in a Jeff Reed field goal that gave the Steelers their first lead, 8-7.

Later, he added a four-yard gain on a third-and-1 play from near midfield.
The Steelers recently began using Russell on kickoff returns after using several players in that role, including Najeh Davenport, Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall.

Davenport has since been released, Mendenhall is out for the season and Moore has assumed a larger role in the offense with starting running back Willie Parker battling a shoulder injury.

Tomlin said he likes what he's seen from Russell on special teams, and he liked what he saw Sunday.

"Just like when given the opportunity to return kickoffs for us, he has shown us that he is a fighter in that regard," Tomlin said. "He has done some nice things for us over the past couple of weeks in expanded roles."

The Steelers have long been known for their ability to run the ball in short yardage and near the goal line, but that's been a problem recently.

In a 24-20 loss to Indianapolis, the Steelers were turned away on consecutive runs from the 1-yard-line and had to settle for a field goal.
In the first half Sunday, Moore was stopped for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the San Diego 1, and Parker was later dropped for no gain on a third-and-1, killing a drive.

"We've got to rectify that problem," veteran wide receiver Hines Ward said Sunday.
Russell could be the answer, although he probably won't make anyone in Pittsburgh forget Jerome Bettis.

At 5 feet, 11 inches and 215 pounds, Russell is only one inch taller and six pounds heavier than Parker. But he is more of a straight-ahead runner whose style is conducive to short-yardage situations, when running plays seldom go outside the guard-tackle hole.

The Steelers signed Russell as an undrafted free agent in 2007, but he appeared in only two games last season, carrying seven times for 21 yards after Parker went down with a broken leg.

After releasing him in late September, the Steelers quickly re-signed Russell on Oct. 1 when Mendenhall, their first-round draft pick this year, went down with a broken shoulder.

Russell carried six times for 25 yards against Jacksonville on Oct. 5, but had only five more carries over the next four games until Sunday.

His role could expand now as Tomlin looks for ways to generate more production from an offense that has scored more than 20 points only once in its past four games.

"It's discouraging," he said, "but we are not a finished product."

JOHN DUDLEYcan be reached at 870-1677 or by e-mail. Check out his blog at GoErie.com/blogs/nfl

11-18-2008, 08:07 AM
Hopefully he can be the one that punches it into the endzone when we are on the goal line. It is killing me watching us not convert on the goal line. If he can do that, I will be happy with him getting the carries.