As we continue to wait for word on Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell’s appeal of his three-game suspension and whether or not that might be reduced, we are left to assume that the team will be without him for that duration, during which DeAngelo Williams, the team’s signature free agent signing, will be the starter.
Our own Jon Ledyard took a look at just how pivotal those first three games might be in shaping the Steelers’ season, and how Williams will be a major component in determining how that early stretch of the year plays out against a potentially tough schedule.
But let’s not overlook the significance that the backup running backs will play in those three games, as well, because, as we all know, the Steelers will not be asking Williams to command 30 touches per game as a 32-year old veteran, regardless of how much tread he thinks he might have left.
More to the point, while Williams’ role for the team will be critical in the early goings of the season, the Steelers do need him to last the entire season, and they don’t want to run him until the proverbial wheels come off. If you drain him of his usefulness to get past the early portion of the schedule, then you leave your depth in a precarious position for the long haul.
That is why I expect that Todd Haley will not hesitate to get his other running backs involved in the offense in those first three games, which for the time being I am making the assumption will consist of second-year backs Dri Archer and Josh Harris, who finished the year on the roster.
Neither back found much success of any kind last season—Archer gained 40 yard on 10 carries and Harris went for just 16 yards on nine—but Haley is certainly not going to let their rookie seasons define these two young players.
It’s no secret that the combination of the two—in conjunction with Ben Tate—came up woefully short against the Ravens in the team’s playoff loss, although the offensive line shares in that blame due to their performance against Baltimore’s front seven.
But Haley likes what he has seen from his second-year backs so far, which is admittedly selective when it comes to football in shorts, where it might be easier for a running back, for example, to show promise.
The offensive coordinator said recently that Archer and Harris “are much more comfortable than where they were a year ago”, which should be no surprise, as young players typically make their most significant jump following their rookie season. “They know the lay of the land”, he went on. “They know how we practice”.
Acknowledging their minimal playing time, Haley said that “they have so much more experience under their belt, even though they maybe didn’t play a ton of snaps”. He pointed out that “just the ability to get ready to compete and practice in training camp, they are way ahead of the game. It shows. Both guys look much more comfortable and understand what and how they are supposed to do it”.