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Old 05-09-2012, 07:31 PM   #1
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Default Steelers' RB Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

Talkin' Running Backs: The Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

by Neal Coolong on May 9, 2012



Per dollar, it's easily the Steelers' best positional unit.

Pittsburgh has been stockpiling talent at running back, a position that's become interchangeable in the NFL over the years.

Gone are the days of league MVPs Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson. The high volume passing era has led to the stable philosophy, as opposed to the pure prize back.

Because, well, running back is a classic example of the rhetorical question "why have one when you can get two for less than twice the price?"

Injuries become a major factor in a salary cap league. It's hard to pay, say, Adrian Peterson upwards of $9 million guaranteed, only to watch him blow out an ACL. And when he's one huge part of your offense (read: Chiefs, Kansas City, Charles, Jamaal), you can get into some trouble without having talent in place to keep the ship moving forward in the event (likelihood?) of injury.

Enter Rashard Mendenhall. An excellent all-around back, but the delta between Mendenhall's highest end and Isaac Redman's, Pittsburgh's second running back, is not as high as many other positions.

When Will Mendenhall Return?

In speaking with Middle Tennessee State strength coach Jason Spray earlier this week, he said running back is one of the more difficult positions to predict a timetable for return after an ACL tear. Due to the unpredictable movement necessary for the position (planting and cutting, making tacklers miss, etc.), it's hard to gauge when he could return. Much of it is going to be about mental strength and resolve as well.

Rehabilitation from an injury like that is painful, arduous and boring. It's a constant grind. Mendenhall is a phenomenal athlete, but the mental endurance necessary to make a successful return on the earlier end of the 9-12 month rehab process is tough.

I think the Steelers are going to have to plan on Mendenhall not being ready for significant action until at least Week 6 - incidentally, that's the week after the Steelers bye, and the last week a player can stay on the Physically Unable to Perform list. After that, he must be placed on the IR or released. The Steelers will take as much time as they can to give him a chance to contribute later in the season.

Who will fill his place?

The unofficial BTSC hero, Isaac Redman, of course. But he won't be a three-down back. The quartet of followers, Jonathan Dwyer, John Clay, Baron Batch and Chris Rainey, going into camp, look to battle it out for two positions behind him. Look for one of them to be cut after training camp and, if he clears waivers, to be placed on the practice squad. Of the remaining three, look for two of them to earn game day roster spots each week.

Each of them comes with a positive and a negative element. Dwyer has the skill, but has struggled with his weight and focus (he's in the midst of the most important offseason of his career). Clay has 10 career carries (and a touchdown) while spending little time on the active roster, and also had weight concerns, but stepped up last season when his number was called (41 yards and a score in Week 16). Batch is versatile and brings a good combination of speed and strength, but is just finishing an ACL rehab project of his own, and has barely any more experience than a rookie. Rainey is lightning fast and boasts special teams ability, but is the smallest in terms of height and weight, and likely won't be an option between the tackles.

Any of those evaluations are subject to change, and who stands out among the others depends on the work they put in this offseason.

Is This His Last Year in Pittsburgh?

You never know what a year will bring. As it is, is the most talented running back physically. While neither the scheme nor his overall health in the last few years ever suggested he could lead the league in rushing, Mendenhall has shown he's capable of being a lead back in the NFL. It always comes down to cost, though, and with Redman set to hit restricted free agency in 2013, as well as the low contract price of the other four, it isn't likely the Steelers are in a position to give Mendenhall much of a raise.

Most of the decision will be based on his ability to come back from his injury. It doesn't seem, though, in May of 2012, he'll be back next season, just based on the price tag he'll command in free agency.

What happened to Mewelde Moore?

He's still currently a free agent, and likely was asked by the Steelers to stay in shape in case the need arises. Salary cap issues and the progress of younger (and more inexpensive) players led the Steelers to leave Moore unsigned, but rest assured, the Steelers have him in their minds and will make a move if if doesn't appear any of them can bring the all-around experience Moore can.

Moore has been relied on for similar roles in the past, and is said to be a favorite of Steelers coach MIke Tomlin. It's not a stretch to envision a scenario in which none of the younger backs are separating themselves from the pack, so one of them is released and Moore is signed. It's a scenario for which the Steelers must be prepared.

How Will Todd Haley's Offense Utilize the Running Back?

If Haley's teams have been anything, they've been fairly different from one to the next. He's shown the ability to maximize the skill on his roster and use it to the best of their strengths.

In Kansas City, it was the multi-purpose threat of Charles both rushing and receiving. In Arizona, it was the veteran savvy of Kurt Warner combining with the skill of WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Recently, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger said Haley is "all about the no-huddle and using our wide-receiver weapons and throwing the ball and stuff like that." Seems appropriate for the coach to speak about the passing game to the quarterback, and obviously, the wide receivers will get their share of targets. Look for Haley to incorporate the running back, whomever that may be, to catch high-percentage throws in an effort to both gain something on every passing play possible, and to reduce the number of hits Roethlisberger takes.

http://www.behindthesteelcurtain.com...-training-camp
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Old 05-09-2012, 07:59 PM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers' RB Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

Good read
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Old 05-09-2012, 08:12 PM   #3
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Default Re: Steelers' RB Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

Thanks for sharing. I think the big battle is going to be Rainey and Batch. If Rainey lives up to his hipe then I could see Batch being on practice squad.
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Old 05-09-2012, 08:34 PM   #4
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Default Re: Steelers' RB Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

And todd haley loves little scat backs, he has great plays from Mc Cluster he has drawn up,Rainey will get his touches
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Old 05-09-2012, 08:41 PM   #5
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Default Re: Steelers' RB Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

I can see Rainey making huge plays if he gets the ball in open space and I'm sure Haley feels the same way. I just don't want to see us becoming predictable in a sense that "when Rainey is in they are going to pass." Strap up and enjoy the ride that the new coordinater is going to take this offense for. Hopefully we figure things out early and improve throughout the season
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Old 05-09-2012, 08:42 PM   #6
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Default Re: Steelers' RB Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

I still like Redman, with the improvement of the O-line and Mendy on the sidelines Redman can win the starting job. Last year Redman looked very good and he was a better fit for the Steelers last year than Mendy, I might just be a guy that likes good old fashioned downhill running and that's what makes me like this guy. It seemed like he didn't need to find the hole, more like make his own!
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Old 05-09-2012, 08:49 PM   #7
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Default Re: Steelers' RB Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

Well we can run some sweeps now that we dont have two crippled tackles anymore
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Old 05-10-2012, 01:30 AM   #8
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Default Re: Steelers' RB Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

Todd Haley Likes Using Running Backs In The Passing Game

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 by Dave Bryan

Since the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Florida running back Chris Rainey in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft, one really can't help but to think that new offensive coordinator Todd Haley plans to use him the same way that he used Dexter McCluster when he was the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. It got me wondering just how much Haley used his running backs in the passing game dating back to his time as the offensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals so I pulled the stats for all 32 teams dating back to 2007. I have included the running back targets and receptions in the numbers to go along with total plays, attempts and a few more stats as you can see in the sortable table below.

What is interesting is that in the last five years that Haley has coached, running backs have been targeted 21.40% of the time in attempted passes. That resulted in 24.20% of all passes completed that were thrown in total to wide receivers, tight ends and running backs. In his nearly three full years with Chiefs, Haley threw to the running backs no less than 20.1% of the time. The most was nearly 30% in 2010. Even dating back to his time with the Cardinals, running backs were thrown to right around 18% of the time when passes were attempted.

One of the biggest knocks on former Steelers offensive coordinator was that he did not use the running backs enough in the passing game and the stats support that claim. Dating back to 2007 the Steelers averaged throwing to the backs 14.40% of the time of all pass attempts. 2011 was the least of all five years Arians was in Pittsburgh as the backs were targeted just 11.9% of the time. So basically judging by the last five years of stats, offenses under Haley threw to the running backs 7% more than Arians coached offenses did. The average for the league over that span of time was 19.6% and Haley is clearly over that number.

One thing the data also shows us is that Haley has a higher pass/run ratio overall than Arians did during that span. Now of course playing from behind could play a large part in that, but Haley did have Kurt Warner as his quarterback while with Arizona. Over the last five years Haley offenses have passed 56.60% of the time compares to 54.30% for Arians. Another thing that the data shows us that quarterbacks have only been sacked 5.60% of the time they have dropped back in Haley offenses, compared to 8.50% for the Steelers under Arians. The league average during that span was 6.1% and I do not need to tell you how big of a beating that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has taken over that span of five seasons.

While both Haley and Arians both had pretty comparable yards per reception and yards per attempt numbers when throwing to the running backs over those years, you can see that in 2010 the Chiefs running backs had a nice 6.2 yards per attempt and a 9.3 yards per reception that season. That was thanks to both Jamaal Charles and McCluster as the Chiefs entire group of running backs combined for nearly 100 receptions that season.

Now these stats do not tell you everything and they certainly do not rival anything like what DVOA type stats do as they are raw numbers and percentages and do not take into account down and distance, field position and score. One thing that I think we take away from these stats is that Haley will have Roethlisberger using the running backs more in the passing game. This will be good news for players like Rainey and that is probably exactly why they drafted him. Do not forget that second year running back Baron Batch also played in a spread offense at Texas Tech and he too is a pretty nifty receiver out of the backfield. Batch also showed a knack in college for being able to pick up the blitz as well, something that Rainey likely will not be asked to do very much. Using the running backs more in the passing game should help keep Roethlisberger off his back more than usual in addition and that is always a good thing.

http://www.steelersdepot.com/2012/05...-passing-game/
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Old 05-10-2012, 03:26 AM   #9
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Default Re: Steelers' RB Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

If Redman has a good year then I can see Mendy the odd man out next year. I like Mendy but I just don't think he is going to be a Steeler much longer.
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Old 05-10-2012, 03:28 AM   #10
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Default Re: Steelers' RB Battle Is On Heading Into Training Camp

Quote:
Originally Posted by Galax Steeler View Post
If Redman has a good year then I can see Mendy the odd man out next year. I like Mendy but I just don't think he is going to be a Steeler much longer.
I agree. Not to mention Mendy's final contract year is next year.
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