At a glance, it may seem a little peculiar the Pittsburgh Steelers have taken such a keen interest in running backs. The rumors of trading up for a running back in the draft. Their flirtation with Karlos Williams. And yesterday, the signing of David Cobb to the practice squad.
Their determination to insulate themselves at the position is likely rooted in the mistakes this team made in the not so distant past.
We don’t have to rehash everything. As soon as I say the names, you’ll know what I mean. LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer, Ben Tate, Jonathan Dwyer. Those were backup plans the Steelers have had in the past. None resembling success and some not even scratching competent.
These are reactionary changes, made with hindsight instead of foresight, just as they were before the team began investing heavily in the offensive line – starting in 2010 – and the defensive backfield – which basically began last season, maybe the year prior if you count Mike Mitchell.
The investment here isn’t as heavy but just as noticeable. Stockpiling talent even when the Steelers have the best one-two punch in the league with Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams. To the front offices credit, they’ve had a strong eye for under-the-radar talent. Williams himself could be in that category, the clubhouse leader, a 32 year old running back coming off a final season in Carolina in which he played just six games.
To smaller extents, the findings of Jordan Todman, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and Daryl Richardson, who easily played his way onto the 53 man roster this season, have also been successes. The goal is for David Cobb to follow in those footsteps next year, or perhaps, sometime later this season.
Maybe better than any team, the Steelers know how quickly running back depth can fall apart. Two years ago, going from Bell was playing at a near 95% clip to having a week to find his replacement for the Wild Card game – a loss – to the Baltimore Ravens. That day, Steelers’ running backs averaged 2.9 yards per carry and their leading rusher was Josh Harris’ 25 yards. Tate got the start.
Or basically the entire 2012 season, when a broken down and wholly ineffective Rashard Mendenhall slogged his way through four starts, handing the baton to Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, a duo more forgettable than the Hall and Oates cover band that played at your cousin’s wedding. Combined, they averaged 3.9 yards per carry and scored just four times on over 250 carries. The rushing attack finished in the bottom third in yards, touchdowns, and average.
Investing now comes as no surprise. Depth can only be so good, and the thought of losing Bell and/or Williams would still be a gut punch, but like a squirrel in the woods, the Steelers are stocking up for the winter.