After the Pittsburgh Steelers cut their roster down to 53 men following the conclusion of their slate of preseason games, they will do so knowing that they will be carrying a running back that is not likely to be on the roster three weeks later, which is when starter Le’Veon Bell’s suspension is scheduled to be over.
More often than not, and in recent history, the Steelers have tended to carry three running backs, not including the fullback position. Even last season, with Dri Archer as one of the three running backs, Pittsburgh elected to carry just three running backs, and there seems to be no reason to think that won’t be the case again, especially with the need for roster spots elsewhere.
The early money for the three running backs to play on opening day are DeAngelo Williams as the starter, Archer, and Josh Harris, who made an impression as an undrafted rookie training camp signing, enough to make the practice squad and later be called up to the 53-man roster, logging the most carries in the team’s playoff loss.
Since the end of last season, other than the swapping of LeGarrette Blount for Williams, the Steelers have done little to address the running back position other than adding another two undrafted rookies to the mix, which only advances the likelihood that Harris, already on the roster for a time last year, finds a spot again, at least at the start of the season.
But might it be possible that he ends up sticking around, even beyond Bell’s return? And if he sticks around, would it be at the expense of another position, meaning that the Steelers carry four running backs? Or might they be willing to cut Archer if he struggles, perhaps hoping to sneak him onto the practice squad?
There should be plenty of opportunities during the first three games of the season for Harris to audition to stay on the roster behind Williams, seeing as how the Steelers would likely prefer to try to limit his carries at the age of 32.
Beyond that, it seems that he was working as the up man on kick returns during the spring. If he manages to make himself valuable on special teams—and Archer continues to struggle as a punt returner—that would only reinforce the possibility of the aforementioned scenario actually playing out.
Naturally, it goes without saying that this is all highly speculative, resting on a series of assumptions that have no yet come to pass, irrespective of how likely they may be to wind up happening. There is no shortage of variables that could come into play to affect change upon the way that this situation develops.
Bell’s suspension could be reduced, for example, which would dramatically shorten the window granted to Harris to make a lasting impression that would force the team to keep him around on the 53-man roster. He may not even make the 53-man roster to begin with, losing out to one of the two rookies, or perhaps one not even on the roster yet, as was his position a year ago.