The Pittsburgh Steelers have a big game waiting for them later this week in New Orleans against the Saints. It is the third preseason game, which traditionally means that it is the dress rehearsal for the regular season. Yet I can’t help but wonder how much the running back position will be represented as it is expected to appear on opening day—or three weeks later.
As well all know by now, fourth-year starting running back Le’Veon Bell is going to begin the season serving a three-game suspension, but given his knee injury that he suffered last season, it certainly seems likely that he may be held out of the preseason altogether.
While he participated in training camp throughout, and was said to have looked explosive and basically like his old self, he was not involved in live tackling drills, and has not been hit since the one that resulted in him suffering a torn MCL and PCL.
Considering the importance of keeping his knee healthy and the relative unimportance of a preseason game, and adding on top of that his suspension, I can’t help but wonder how much if any playing time that DeAngelo Williams, as well, might see during the game.
Given that the Steelers know that they will be relying upon him for the first three games of the season, and that he is not getting any younger, it would not surprise me if he does not play at all, and certain comments he has made suggest he wouldn’t be surprised either.
If he does play, however, I would expect it to be relatively brief. After all, he showed last season that he doesn’t have much left to learn at this stage of his career. He is an accomplished back in all phases of the game, including in pass protection, and getting a few preseason reps is not likely to make a difference in either direction.
That lays bare yet another point, the fact that the Steelers are still left to determine which running back between Fitzgerald Toussaint and Daryl Richardson will serve as the team’s backup during Bell’s suspension, and, perhaps, who will remain on the roster as the third running back when Bell returns.
Both have shown positive traits this preseason, which has led Mike Tomlin to acknowledge the battle before them, and the fact that a proper resolution is yet to be determined in either direction. They both played a comparable number of snaps, and may likely do so again against the Saints.
The Steelers have three other running backs on the roster who have gotten very little work thus far in the preseason. Brandon Brown-Dukes has gotten a handful of snaps at the end of each of the first two games, but the other two have gotten little to no reps. It appears as though their chances of getting into the game, or sticking on the roster, are minute.