The Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday made the somewhat unexpected move of waiving first-year running back Terrell Watson and signing running back Fitzgerald Toussaint from the practice squad. While this is ultimately a fairly inconsequential shuffling of the bottom of the roster, it did raise some eyebrows, particularly among those wondering what their plans are for Toussaint.
With regards to Watson, he will be subject to waivers. Provided that he goes unclaimed—chances are excellent that he will, especially having been released the day before a game—he will no doubt be signed to the Steelers’ practice squad, the two backs changing places.
When it comes to Toussaint, the one thing that the team knows about him is that they can rely upon him. I understand that this remark will draw several scoffs from people who still believe that he should be banished from existence because of his fumble in the divisional round of the playoffs a couple of years ago, but yes, on a per-snap basis, the team trusts that he will do what he is supposed to do.
While I don’t think I would anticipate this move really shaving off many snaps for their starting running back, Le’Veon Bell, at least with Toussaint there, they have somebody who they can put into the game and know what they are getting. James Conner has generally run the ball well, but has struggled in other areas. Watson has only been entrusted with short-yardage work on very limited opportunities.
Toussaint, on the other hand, has started games for the Steelers in the past. With Bell perhaps being overworked—I’m sure there are differences of opinion over whether or not that is the case—they have at least given themselves an option with another back that they can expect to be able to pick up a blitzer in pass protection and know when he needs to be available to catch a pass.
Given that Watson was also one of the Steelers’ two kick returners, of course, Toussaint will also be taking over that role, which was in fact his primary role last season. He actually recorded more kick returns during the 2016 season than anybody else did on the roster, even if that is not exactly the ideal scenario. But they trust his ball security—again, scoff if you must.
Having been in the organization for a few years now, after originally being signed as their second option running back for their practice squad off the Ravens’ roster at the outset of the 2015 season, he is a player that has the trust and familiarity of the coaching staff on his side.
Still, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if he doesn’t play a snap on offense. But if he does, frankly, that would be a pretty interesting development, should it be an indication that the team is lightening Bell’s workload.