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Preseason Expectations: Running Back

Five games. 18 practices. That’s the allotted time the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers will have to prove themselves before playing in a meaningful game. The preseason is unique in the sense that it’s the only time when the scoreboard doesn’t matter. 0-5, 5-0, it really isn’t going to matter. It’s the time for self-evaluation, seeing how players progress. And that’s what we’ll do here. For each player on the 90 man roster, we’ll give a short overview of what we’re looking for from them entering camp. We highlighted the quarterbacks yesterday and move onto the running backs today.

Le’Veon Bell: After a tremendous 2014 campaign, there isn’t much left to prove. He’s already shown us the tremendous shape he’s in, that won’t be an issue. Like Ben Roethlisberger or any of the other stars, getting through the preseason healthy is the standard. Even if he gets dinged, he’ll almost certainly have at least the first two regular season games to recover.

DeAngelo Williams: Another veteran who may be new to the Steelers but not to the league. I am curious to see what kind of burst and long speed he’ll show. He’s healthy, and that’s obviously key, and I want to gauge how dynamic he is when there isn’t an injury muddling that projection up. Other than that, while we know he’s strong enough in pass protection, it’ll be nice to see him do it in a Steelers’ uniform. Go dominant the backs on ‘backers drill, D-Will.

Josh Harris: Mike Tomlin told his team to get in the best physical shape of their lives before camp and you know that isn’t even a question for Harris. One of the most chiseled players on the roster, he’s worked hard with Antonio Brown in Florida with a great trainer and supporting cast. No longer a player getting rushed into training camp, I really want to see Harris come into his own. He’ll have plenty of reps and his conditioning will only let him maximize the quality and quantity. Hit the hole and be explosive into the second and third levels. Be a reliable pass protector, competent enough to turn away an A gap blitz or willing enough to chip the end before releasing into the flat. We’re going to find out just how good of a running back you are and how useful you are to the team during Bell’s suspension.

Dri Archer: I don’t know – or really care – if you want to list him as a running back or receiver. I consider him a receiver and if it were me, would make the permanent switch, but he’s listed as a runner on the Steelers’ site so we’ll keep him here.

All is not lost with #13, as much as comments here and elsewhere will lead you to believe. His first mission is to reclaim the starting kick returner gig. That’ll come with cutting down on his lateral running, though to be fair, and as I have written about, poor blocking hindered him in 2014.

It’s difficult to gauge what changes in how he’s used will come in year two but that’s something that has me interested. I hope there’s less of an emphasis on Archer being used as a traditional running back, because he isn’t, and gets put in space more often. Throw a screen, swing out of the backfield, an angle route, a jet sweep. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. But you can’t ask him to run on inside zone or chip in pass protection.

For himself, he’s going to have to show the ability to make defenders miss than trying to get any semblance of yards after contact. That puts him in a difficult position but the reality Archer is always going to go down easily.

A lot of this information won’t come from practices. Remember, we all raved about how uncoverable he was in training camp, especially one-on-one versus linebackers. Not even Lawrence Timmons could keep up. He’ll do well there. But in a game setting? That’s his true test.

Ross Scheuerman: Not a lot is known about this guy. He profiles as a jack-of-all-trades, run, catch, block, so let’s see if it translates over. I’ll harp on it a lot with the first-year players but he has to have speed. A burst. Hard to know if that exists when you play at a FCS school. Guys like Jordan Hall and Miguel Maysonet from last year, there wasn’t much burst, wiggle, pop. They were generally sluggish players who couldn’t hit the hole fast enough. Death sentence for any running back, even if you’re a willing protector with decent hands. By that point, you’re dime a dozen, not an asset.

Will Johnson: Nothing jumps to mind. Another player who has hit his ceiling. I do remember the Steelers being creative with him and keeping him active in the offense for the first half of training camp, only to see it fade away and never materialize in games. Hopefully that comes back again for 46, though I have my reservations.

Cameron Stingily: Slow. First, and most important, word that came to my mind after watching his college tape. Have to convince me he has some sort of ability to run away from defenders. I really think Cameron Heyward or L.T. Walton are going to chase him down on one play. Failing that, he’s going to have to do enough as a blocker to warrant keeping past the cutdown to 75. I think he’ll quickly be exposed once players can actually hit back.

Roosevelt Nix: Defensive end making the conversion from fullback always presents remote odds. But he’s short and will have the leverage advantage. Has to use it. Needs to explode and roll his hips on every lead block. Catch every pass. Go hard in every drill. No mental mistakes. That’s his best shot.

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