By Christina Rivers
While it is clear that the Pittsburgh Steelers have all the weapons they need in their offensive backfield, they’ve been doing so by committee since injuries have plagued each one of their five active running backs. With news that Rashard Mendenhall may be ready to start as early as next week, questions have arisen over whether running backs coach Kirby Wilson is making the right decision by saying that Mendenhall will be the “lead dog.”
Wilson told the Tribune-Review Wednesday that he considers Mendenhall to have “the whole package.” With that being said, it makes it clear that the Steelers are planning on him to assume his starting role once he is fully recovered from offseason knee surgery and the nagging Achilles injury. Wilson added, “Rashard is the complete package — power, speed, explosiveness. He is the guy who can take a 10-yard run and make people miss and get 20 more. We think Jonathan has things that he is great at. Isaac has some things that he is great at. But Rashard is the complete package. Rashard has proved that he can do it over the long haul.”
While Mendenhall has been out, Dwyer and Redman have proven themselves as productive backs for the Steelers’ offense. Dwyer had two 100-plus rushing games and Redman topped out his own against the New York Giants. That has impressed head coach Mike Tomlin enough that he reiterated earlier this week that the player who proves to be the most successful on the field in any given game will have the most carries.
Jonathan Dwyer understands the situation. With expectations that Dwyer will get the majority of carries against the Chiefs on Monday, he said Wednesday that he feels everyone will get an opportunity. “Whoever has the hot hands gets more of the carries,” he said. “Everybody has a role, whatever that is. Whoever gets that feeling gets the majority of the carries and another guy rolls in when he gets tired. With all of us able to make plays when we touch the ball, who knows what can happen.”
Wilson may want to limit the idea of running by committee, Todd Haley may see things differently. With a full compliment of healthy backs, it would give the Steelers an even more potent offense if they can use different rushers to keep their upcoming opponents from being able to predict who to prepare for on any given game day. It has become clearer over the past few weeks that the Steelers’ offense is finally comfortable with Haley’s playbook and the Steelers now look like a rejuvenated team.
“Coach Haley has a feel for us now,” said Dwyer. “He knows how we are as individuals and he is going off of that.”
In his conference earlier this week, Tomlin said he questions Mendenhall’s ability to go on Monday. He felt confident that Dwyer would be given the workload against the Chiefs. In regards to Chris Rainey’s rib injury that was quickly reported as a lung puncture, then retracted. Tomlin said, “It’s going to be big-time uncomfortable but he has an opportunity to play. We’ll see where it takes us as we push through this week.”
Whoever carries the ball will be expected to be productive. The Chiefs have an effective running game and the Steelers have improved their overall offensive ability by having balance in the run and the pass. Don’t count on their being much of a controversy. The Steelers will stick to what works. With more running backs capable to go, it will give the Steelers that much more to work with.
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Christina Rivers is freelance journalist and photographer with a life-long love of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Credentialed with the organization, Christina provides a unique perspective gained through her knowledge and understanding of Steelers history, the Rooney family and relationships with past and present players. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.