I think the question that many will be asking tonight is whether or not Pittsburgh Steelers first-year running back Terrell Watson showed enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster with his performance in the team’s preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers, starting the game and playing into the second half.
The Azusa Pacific product gained 89 yards on the ground on 19 carries with a long of just 12 yards, showing the chunks in which he picked them up. He also added another five yards on two receptions, though one of those went for a loss. In all, he totaled 94 yards on 21 touches.
After the game, Head Coach Mike Tomlin was complimentary of the young back:
“It’s been really consistent with the way he’s performed largely through this process”, he said. “He’s got a run style, he’s got a distinguishing trait and he consistently puts it on display I thought he did a good job and made a nice accounting of himself”.
Last week against the Colts, Watson added another 40 rushing yards on just eight attempts, and added 42 more yards on four receptions. He gained 44 yards on 10 attempts in the preseason opener, but did not see snaps on offense in the second game, which went almost entirely to James Conner.
That brings his preseason totals to 37 carries 173 yards, averaging 4.7 yards per carry, with one touchdown. He also totaled six receptions for 47 yards. That is a solid body of work for the 6’1”, 240-pound back that has been dubbed “Nightmare”.
Especially telling, I think, however, is the fact that the Steelers coaching staff had the back playing on special teams into the second half. He even assisted on the opening kickoff tackle of the third quarter. Whoever the third running back is going to be will have to be a contributor on special teams.
Which is why many have been operating under the assumption that the veteran, Knile Davis, would get the nod as the third running back, and the former Chief did have a tackle on a punt in the second half as well. That was at least his second tackle on special teams this preseason, aside from his work as a kick returner, which has admittedly been underwhelming.
It will be interesting to see one which side of the coin the decision-makers ultimately come down, and it might hinge on how comfortable they might be in assuming that they will be able to retain Watson on the practice squad. About 97 percent of players do clear waivers.
There is no real exceptional option for the practice squad running back outside of Watson however. Trey Williams was mainly being looked at as a returner, but he literally fumbled his chance away tonight.
In terms of pure performance, I think it would be fair to say that Watson has had a better preseason than Davis, though both have had their highs and lows. Davis has shown nice cutback ability in each game that he has played, but also falls in love with the stretch run.
As for Watson, it certainly would have been nice to see him convert on fourth and one. He often plays like a load, but his failure to convert that play was disappointing considering his circumstances. Still, if the coaches are comfortable with his special teams work, he may well have done enough to unseat a veteran back.