Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference on Tuesday, and late in the proceedings was asked about the backup running back position, which is something that I wrote about earlier in the week.
Tomlin was asked whether or not it was important to get Jordan Todman and Isaiah Pead involved in games “in case something down the road happens” to DeAngelo Williams. Williams of course entered the season as the backup himself to Le’Veon Bell, but has been thrust into the starting lineup due to injury.
The way the question was words teed Tomlin up to give a very Tomlin answer. He was able to circle back to an earlier point he made talking about a singular focus on this week, saying “I’m not worried about down the road”.
“Down the road will get you beat this week”, he said. “We need to focus on how we can utilize them and combinations of them to meet this week’s challenge, and there’s enough in this week’s challenge to justify that conversation and consideration”.
So basically he chose not to really get at the heart of the question, which is much more about Williams than it is about Todman and Pead. As I wrote earlier in the week, even with the fact that he has started only four games, he is on pace to have the second-most carries of his entire career.
Considering the workload that he has been given in his starts—a little over 23 total touches, also the most in his entire career—and the fact that he is 32 years old—bordering on ancient for the position—it is most certainly a reasonable discussion to have about his durability.
Williams is coming off his most injury-plagued season of his career, limited to just six games in bit play, and the only year in which he averaged less than four yards per carry, failing to score a touchdown for the first time. He already dealt with inflammation in his foot after one game.
Todman has been on the roster for 10 games, and has had four touches, one of which only came in garbage time. He thus only has three meaningful touches, one of which only came to spell Williams after a 50-plus-yard run. Meanwhile, Pead, who was only recently signed after putting Bell on injured reserve, has yet to see a helmet for a game.
Tomlin did say earlier in his press conference that he used the bye week to “provide work for those who needed it”, and singled out Todman and Pead as perfect examples of two players on the roster who stood to benefit the most from having the bye week to find work while starters get more rest.
Whether or not that actually translates to any touches and more breathers for Williams remains to be seen. Williams has without question done a remarkable job for the Steelers this year—that is not the issue. But we have seen what this team looks like without a proper backup. Williams was that proper backup, and is now the starter. Who is his backup, and what can he do?