Fitzgerald Toussaint has been quite a find for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a No. 3 running back behind Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams. Without the Michigan product, who knows if the Steelers advance to the divisional round in last year’s playoffs.
Although Toussaint fumbled against the Denver Broncos, costing the Steelers a possible win, the third-year running back appeared to be a lock for the No. 3 job once again this year — at least until Daryl Richardson entered the picture and started performing well in the preseason.
Now locked in a battle for a roster spot and a defined role, Toussaint has had to elevate his game this preseason in hopes of keeping his job. Against the Philadelphia Eagles this past week, Toussaint turned in a strong performance on the ground, rushing for 26 yards on eight carries despite having very little room to operate on a large majority of his carries.
On his first carry of the game, Toussaint showed great patience and vision, seeing a large cutback lane to his left despite the run being designed to go off the right side of the line.
With the cutback, Toussaint was able to set up a block by David Johnson, allowing himself to get to the second level untouched before being brought down just short of the first down marker by Malcolm Jenkins.
Toussaint was very decisive on the run, knowing the cutback lane was there before planting his right foot into the ground and bursting back to the left side of the field.
A few carries later and Toussaint showcased how much of a struggle it was going to be to run the ball against the Eagles.
Pittsburgh’s starting offensive line opens up very little running room up front for Toussaint on this play. However, despite limited blocking up front, Toussaint fights for yardage and gets upfield as quickly as possible to gain as many yards as he can.
The only issue with this play is that there appears to be room to the perimeter for Toussaint, if only he could set up Jesse James’ block. By cutting upfield so quickly, Toussaint essentially renders James useless as a pulling blocker, allowing the defender to shoot underneath him to make the play.
Later on in the first quarter with the Steelers already trailing the Eagles, Toussaint receives another carry behind the starting offensive line.
At the snap things seem to develop well up front as James handles Vinny Curry on the edge, opening up a crease for Toussaint to run through. However, backside pursuit from a Philadelphia defender who beat Ramon Foster cleanly results in Toussaint being unable to hit the hole cleanly, stopping him from a possible big play.
Fortunately for Toussaint and the Steelers though, the third-year running back puts his head down when things tighten up on the play and pounds ahead for a handful of yards through a host of Philadelphia defenders.
That’s quite a trait to have in a No. 3 running back.
Running a similar play to the GIF No. 3, Toussaint gets good blocking up front while James does a nice job of staying in between Toussaint and Brandon Graham despite being beaten cleanly at the snap.
By staying in between the ball carrier and the defender, James gives Toussaint a clean lane up the field, which Toussaint hits at top speed and runs hard downhill into the second level, resulting in a first down.
Once again, that decisiveness and burst is on full display here from Toussaint, and it’s very encouraging to see a running back plant and get up the field with authority like this.
Along with his ability to run the ball, Toussaint has proven over time to be a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield, which will come in handy in Pittsburgh.
On this play, Toussaint is nothing more than a delayed check-down option as the sidecar to the right of Landry Jones. With no pass rusher to help out against, Toussaint slips out into the flat unnoticed where Jones finds him.
The issue with the outcome of the play is that Toussaint deviates from what worked as a runner, instead trying to become fancy in the open field, opening himself up to a big hit from Leodis McKelvin short of the sticks.
If Toussaint runs hard and decisive straight ahead like he had done earlier in the game, Pittsburgh likely gets a first down a play earlier.
Overall, Toussaint turned in a strong performance during extended action against the Eagles, but he still has a long way to go to secure the No. 3 running back job of Richardson.
Mike Tomlin said recently that the battle will likely last into the regular season with Bell serving a three-game suspension, so it will be an important position battle to keep close tabs on.