Rebuilding A Champion: RB Depth Offers Variety

The Pittsburgh Steelers spent much of the time between their last playoff victory and now replenishing their roster in preparation for their next chance to make a push for a championship. Last season showed signs that the team was on its way out of that transitional phase after posting a division-winning 11-5 record following back to back .500 seasons.

Still, the Steelers failed to make it out of the divisional round, and have lost their last three postseason contests, dating back to Super Bowl XLV. They followed up that 2010 run with a 12-4 wildcard campaign that saw a first-round exit, and subsequently failed to return to the playoffs the following two years.

So how close might they be to righting the ship and returning to that place that they have been more than any other franchise—that is, holding up the Lombardi Trophy? One way to attempt to measure that would be to compare how this season’s lineup projects against past teams.

For these purposes, it might be helpful to cite both the 2008 and 2010 teams, which are, respectively, the teams that have claimed their most recent Super Bowl championship and their most recent Super Bowl appearance.

The Steelers’ depth at the running back position in 2008, in hindsight, was actually pretty impressive. They began the season with rushing yardage champion Willie Parker leading the way, and first-round rookie Rashard Mendenhall just biding his time. Even though he ended up on injured reserve fairly quickly, he proved to be a starter-capable player later on.

When Parker went down, though, it was veteran Mewelde Moore who stepped up and really helped to keep things together. He only started a handful of games, but he logged over 600 snaps all told, compiling about 1000 yards and six touchdowns combined on the ground and through the air.

By 2010, Mendenhall had become the lead dog. Moore was still around as the veteran presence who was trusted in key situations, but the Steelers also had two intriguing bulldozer-type backs in the wings with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer.

I’ve always been a big fan of Redman’s, and it’s unfortunate that injuries got the better of him toward the end of his career. Players like him, the ones who do all the dirty work, help win championships.

We all know about Le’Veon Bell. I think it’s safe to say that he is the Steelers’ best back since Jerome Bettis’ heyday already, two seasons into his career. But the depth chart behind him is fairly new, with his third primary backup in three years, and yet another veteran.

This year, the Steelers are hoping that DeAngelo Williams will be a key answer, and he seems committed to the cause, dropping a lot of weight to get down to his college playing weight, and camp observations support the notion that he has some quickness back even at the age of 32.

Williams will be counted on to play a key role to start the season, obviously. It remains to be seen what role develops for Dri Archer, who is more of a football player in general than one specific skill position. Josh Harris has a chance to stick to the 53 even after Bell returns if he shows up in the preseason. Overall, however, it must be said that this staple of running backs is a bit untested, or facing question marks. But there is potential here.

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