The Pittsburgh Steelers went the first five weeks of the regular season without their fullback, second-year player Roosevelt Nix in the lineup, and, for the most part, they simple did without the position. Tight end David Johnson logged some time there, although when in that position, he did not always get used as a lead blocker.
But Nix has been back for two weeks now, and he is still not getting used very much. Through two games, he has logged just six snaps on offense, one of them being for a kneel down at the end of the first half in Miami. He saw two snaps on Sunday, one of them being a deep passing play off play action, the other a running play that went for nine yards.
So far, the Steelers have run the ball just three times with Nix as a lead blocker, which is less than 10 percent of the time that they have run over the previous two-game span, which is in stark contrast to how he was used during his first season on a roster a year ago.
In 2015, the Steelers utilized Nix on nearly a quarter of their running plays, and that is also taking into consideration the fact that he missed part of the penultimate game and all of the season finale after he suffered a foot injury.
Of course, Nix has only just worked his way back from a back injury that he has been dealing with since at least training camp. He barely played at all in the preseason, missing about two months in total due to the injury, and while he is contributing on special teams—logging 15 percent of all special teams snaps on Sunday—his recovery from the injury may be a factor in the coaching staff limiting his return to offensive duties.
Which makes me wonder if perhaps the fullback will have a greater role in the offense in a little over a week from now when the Steelers resume play, getting a week off now for their mid-season bye. By then, it will have been about a month since Nix has returned to practice.
The running game has had a hard time getting going over the course of the past couple of weeks—Bell averaged fewer than four yards per carry against the Patriots, for example—so a greater infusion of activity from the fullback position might serve as a boost in productivity, as the statistical splits between fullback usage and non-fullback usage in the run game last year showed.
There was a statistically significant improvement in terms of yards per carry when Nix was on the field in the running game last year, and the majority of their explosive runs also saw him in action, even though he was accountable for less than a quarter of all runs. If he is up to the task when the Steelers resume their schedule, I would hope that he sees more action on the other side of the bye.