Arians says dearth of runners who can block set off lineup change
Saturday, August 11, 2007
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The old two-back system, whereby a halfback and a fullback were threats to carry the football, essentially disappeared from the Steelers' offense in 1992.
But new coordinator Bruce Arians used it in Cleveland and is not averse to reviving it, with one caveat; the running backs must have the kinds of skills needed to man the role, rounded skills difficult to find these days.
"You don't get halfbacks out of college anymore who have blocked anybody," Arians said.
The ideal two-running back system was Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, one of only three pairs of teammates to run for 1,000 yards apiece in the same system. Harris (1,128 yards) and Bleier (1,036) did it in 1976. Miami's Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris did it in 1972, and Cleveland's Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner in 1985.
Two running backs in the same backfield is a are a dying breed, but Arians would consider it if he had two backs who can block, run and catch.
"You need two guys who have to be able to block for each other," Arians said. "Preferably one is an excellent receiver and can create mismatches on the linebackers. But they have to be able to run the football."
Arians called Steelers fullback Dan Kreider the best at what he does in the NFL, which is block. They don't throw often to him, though, and they run him even less.
Chuck Noll used his backs differently. The main runner was the fullback and not the tailback as it is today. Thus, Franco Harris and, later, Merril Hoge were fullbacks.
The philosophy change became evident in 1992, when new coach Bill Cowher hired Ron Erhardt as his offensive coordinator. Hoge remained the fullback, but, after leading the Steelers in rushing three of the four previous seasons, he carried 41 times in '92. Halfback Barry Foster carried 390 times, many of them behind Hoge's blocking.
Hoge, however, was used as a receiver and caught 28 passes that year. Two years later, the Steelers acquired veteran fullback John L. Williams in free agency, and he led them with 51 receptions and was third in rushing with 68 carries for 317 yards.
The Steelers have two young players on their roster who could be used in the kind of fullback role that Williams played -- Carey Davis and John Kuhn, each listed as fullback/halfback.