The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t had a dependable featured running back since the Bus retired and Fast Willie Parker blew a tire. Now they have two.
Yesterday they came to terms with LeGarrette Blount on a two year deal worth a hefty $3.85 million. With performance bonuses he could push that number upwards of $4M. Of course, Blount comes in strictly as a back-up for expected starter Le’Veon Bell. However, given Bell’s injury struggles last season and the general beating NFL running backs take doing their jobs, it’s a pretty safe bet that Blount will see his share of action before his contract ends.
The irony of it all is if things had broken a little different, Bell might be backing up Blount.
Blount is best known for an infamous college incident back in 2010 where he sucker-punched an opposing player after his Oregon Ducks were upset by Boise State. That led to a suspension and caused his draft stock to plunge from a probable early round pick to completely undrafted. The Steelers brought him in for a workout and there was talk that they were very interested in signing him. Unfortunately, that was the year of the Milledgeville incident and the Steelers were desperate to resurrect their tattered reputation, including shipping out Santonio Holmes over behavioral issues. It would’ve been hard to justify bringing in a guy with a rep for being an unrepentant thug.
Blount wound up signing with Tennessee but was cut in training camp. He hooked on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and got his chance when oft-injured Cadillac Williams flamed out. Blount went on to be only the second undrafted rookie to rush for 1,000 yards. He followed up with 781 yards in 2011 before injuries caught up with him in 2012. The Bucs had drafted – IRONY ALERT – a talented RB out of Boise State named Doug Martin so Blount was let go that off-season. He signed with New England where he became part of an Unholy Three-Headed Running Monster used by Bill Belichick. Despite splitting time, Blount still managed to put up 772 yards and 7 TDs while averaging 5 yds/carry.
Had Blount signed with us out of college, I have little doubt he’d be our starter today. Soft baby Rashard Mendenhall had the best year of his career in 2010, rushing for nearly 1,300 yards so he wouldn’t have started right off the bat. However, Blount would’ve easily beaten out Redzone Redman or Jonathan Dwyer for a back-up spot and took over the job once Mendy fell apart for good. Other than 2012 when injuries and the emergence of Martin severely limited his playing time, Blount really hasn’t had a bad season.
What’s more, Blount runs like a Steelers running back is supposed to. He’s a big guy – 6’0 250 pounds – who runs like runaway freight train. Not only can he go through people, he’s also fast enough to break away from them with two 50+ yard runs to his credit. If the Steelers had the exact same running back crew as last year minus Bell, he’d easily be our starter. As it is, Blount gives us an extremely talented back-up whose talent in short yardage should vulture some touchdowns away from Bell.
With Blount’s deal, the Steelers are now right up against the salary cap. They cannot sign anybody else, not even their draft picks, until LaMarr Woodley‘s $8 million clears the books on June 1st. With that in mind, I have to say I’m really liking what General Manager Kevin Colbert has done this off-season. He got rid of dead weight in Woodley and Ryan Clark, upgraded safety and nose tackle with Mike Mitchell and Cam Thomas, replaced Jerricho Cotchery with Lance Moore and now added a running back which gives the team their best 1-2 punch since Bus/FWP. If he can pick up a corner and a stud receiver in the first three rounds of the draft, they’ll have successfully addressed every major off-season concern.
At least on paper. Remember, we still have to see these guys on the field.