Dan Kreider relishes his unsung role as a standout blocker
Thursday, August 17, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There's not a team in the NFL that runs more than the Steelers; not in each of the past two seasons and none in total since coach Bill Cowher took over in 1992. This occurred, even though they manacle one of their backs.
You will find no rule that the Steelers' fullback cannot run with the ball, nor one that prohibits him from catching it. It's more a team policy, or coaching philosophy: You can't throw to the offensive guard and you won't throw it to the fullback, who also will not run with the ball.
The fullback in the Steelers' old offense, back when they won their first four Super Bowls, was Franco Harris, their most prolific runner and the player with the biggest reception in NFL history, nicknamed Immaculate.
The fullback in the Steelers' new offense, the one they used to win their fifth Super Bowl, is Dan Kreider. He carried three times last season. He caught seven passes, none immaculate.
It seems a paradox for the NFL's most productive ground game to have as its one constant in the backfield a runner who does not run. Since his rookie season in 2000, Kreider has lined up next to four starting halfbacks: Jerome Bettis, Amos Zereoue, Duce Staley and Willie Parker. He stood behind four starting quarterbacks: Kordell Stewart, Kent Graham, Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger, not counting the occasional start by Charlie Batch.
During that time, Kreider never had more than seven rushing attempts in one season. He caught 18 passes when he was overused in 2002, but his next-busiest season was 2004 when he caught 10. His most exhausting game as a runner happened Sept. 21, 2003 when he carried three times in Cincinnati for 13 yards. Add two receptions in that game for 7 yards, and it is the most he has touched the ball in one game, five times.
Yet not only does Kreider, 29, not complain, he relishes his role. And what is that? He blocks, mostly as the lead man for the halfback. He does it so well that few notice, including those who vote for fullbacks for the Pro Bowl. Like blocking tight ends, it's not the kind of thing that lands you on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But it helped deliver the Steelers a Super Bowl victory and plenty of yards rushing.
The Steelers consider Kreider, who stands 5 feet 11 and weighs 255 pounds, to be the best blocking fullback in the NFL, and that's good enough for him and them.
"I've always played this game to win," Kreider said. "I've always known my role on this team, and that is to be a lead blocker. Anytime you can concentrate on one thing, you can excel at it. I feel like if I can concentrate on blocking and be the lead blocker and we can run the ball successfully, I feel like that's a success for me. I don't worry about all those extras."
It has long been a joke that a Kreider carry is considered a gadget play, and now it's official. Kreider is one option on a slant play the Steelers list in a special section of their playbook.
"It's down on the trick plays as like Slant 14," Kreider said, laughing.
Yet to show how well he performs as a blocker, Kreider is the only undrafted player to win the team's rookie of the year award in the 22 times it has been presented, and he had only two carries that year. He began that season, 2000, on the Steelers' practice squad and got his chance because starter Jon Witman was in the throes of an occupational hazard for fullbacks, back problems.
Kreider has not experienced those difficulties nor the other common fullback troubles with the neck and/or shoulders. It's what often happens when your job requires you to constantly run 3 to 5 yards and slam your body into another large mass.
"Once you do it, you have a better appreciation for what he does," said tight end Heath Miller, who gave Kreider a Bo Derek-10 for his blocking ability. "It's a lot different when the guy you're blocking is 5 yards off the ball and has a run and go."
That craft displayed by Kreider, who grew up in Lancaster County Amish country, has become the horse and buggy of college football. NFL scouts have more trouble finding good blocking fullbacks because they're disappearing from the college game.
"Colleges are going more to the spread offense," said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations. "It's just the way college football is now. There are more multiple-receiver formations, so really the tight end and the fullback positions are becoming extinct."
That could prompt eventual extinction in the pro game, too, because of a lack of supply. But there might be a team or two such as the Steelers who will insist on picking through the thin talent for that one person they feel can handle the job, which comes with these bottom-line instructions from Kreider:
"It's a challenging position. You just have to go in there hard and hope for the best."