After failing to identify an appropriate backup running back for the first two games of the regular season to work behind DeAngelo Williams, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ initial 53-man roster included just two running backs—the aforementioned Williams, and second-year Dri Archer, who is as much wide receiver as he is a tailback.
It was no surprise that the team turned to the waiver wire to find a suitable body to occupy that position for the first two games as starter Le’Veon Bell sits out due to a suspension, and they managed to do so successfully after claiming fourth-year running back Jordan Todman, who spent three years in Jacksonville before failing to making the Panthers’ roster this season.
Todman found success against the Steelers earlier this year when the team played the Panthers in the preseason finale, highlighted by a 49-yard touchdown run, but the 25-year-old back is truly a jack of all trades, able to run, catch, block, and play special teams.
And it was the latter of those four roles that he served—and only that role—during the season opener, as he played upback for Archer on kick returns. Todman did not log a single snap on offense. When Williams was not in the game, it was often fullback/tight end Will Johnson, surprisingly, in the backfield.
Johnson got four carries, three of them on the goal line, which produced one touchdown. He also carried the ball in a short-yardage situation earlier in the game for a six-yard gain that successfully moved the chains.
It is understandable that the coaching staff did not want to rely upon Todman during the first week of the season, given that he had only been with the team for four days by that point, and was obviously highly limited in his knowledge of the offense as a result of his unfamiliarity with the system.
Turning to Johnson in that role was obviously not the ideal circumstance, but, with about two weeks under his belt heading into the second game of the season, I do sincerely hope that the Steelers give Todman the chance to perform on offense when Williams is not getting the ball.
It seems counterintuitive to give the ball at the goal line to a player that is not traditionally familiar with running with the football. Johnson did not do so in college, and had just a few carries over the years with the Steelers leading into Tuesday.
The newest Steelers back should have a certain level of comfort by the second game for the team to be able to trust him to run at least a functional part of the offense. The fact that he is capable of carrying out his assignments as a blocker and a receiver should only make it more enticing.
I can’t help but wonder if part of the caution stems from the playoff performance of Ben Tate, whom the Steelers signed and started less than a week prior. In addition to a fumble, he also was responsible for some missed assignments, which led to some turnovers.