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Running Back Battle Heats Up

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When Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Brett Keisel rolled into Latrobe in a dump truck announcing the team was “under construction,” he was merely stating the obvious. The Steelers are a team in transition.

No position is more wide open than at running back. When Todd Haley was hired, his first order of business was getting back to “Stiller Football” by establishing a strong consistent running game to complement the passing attack and take some pressure off Ben Roethlisberger. The rushing attack was more or less a miserable failure during year one of the Haley Regime. With Rashard Mendenhall mercifully tap dancing his way to join Bruce Arians down in  Pittsburgh West Arizona, the Black and Gold were left no clear cut number one back.

I like Isaac Redman but at this point I think we’ve seen enough to know he isn’t a primary back. His nifty get-the-ball-and-barrel-straight-ahead running style is fine for short yardage but it doesn’t provide enough big plays or consistent moving of the chains to be justify 20-25 carries per game. Jonathan Dwyer was the team’s nominal starter towards the end of last season. He had his moments although his frequent trips to the sideline huffing and puffing out of gas made one wonder if he could ever handle a full workload. The team had enough questions that they expended this year’s second round pick on a back, Le’Veon Bell out of Michigan State.

To his credit, Dwyer has made it clear he really wants the job. A restricted free agent, he signed his tender almost immediately declaring his intention on being the team’s feature back. Then he came into camp in tremendous shape, slimmed down and apparently determined to put those conditioning issues behind him. Unfortunately, it may be too little, too late.

Bell is already running with the first team offense. Mike Tomlin warned reporters not to read anything into it so of course we’re all immediately reading into it. I’m sure Tomlin will give both guys plenty of opportunities once the meaningless preseason games begin although it’d be foolish to deny Bell is the clear front-runner. High draft picks always get preferential treatment and while they usually don’t like starting rookies, running back is perhaps the easiest position on the field to come in and start from day one.

Let’s just hope whoever winds up starting knows how to hold on to the football.