The Pittsburgh Steelers will open OTAs this year today, and when they do they will have plenty of bodies at the running back position to sort through. Le’Veon Bell is not going to be among them, but that will only help to get a better look at the rest of them, and frankly, we don’t need to see what Bell looks like without pads in May.
The Steelers are bringing six running backs with them onto the field tomorrow without Bell, including three who were on the roster a year ago. They also have along with them one Reserve/Future signing, one draft pick, and one undrafted free agent.
The pecking order behind Bell begins its first phase of determination now, and that might be especially true if last year’s primary backup, 2017 third-round pick James Conner, is limited in the early goings. He suffered a torn MCL late in the season and they could be cautious with him as a result.
After he was injured, the Steelers signed Stevan Ridley off the street to take over the backup job, and with Bell resting in the regular season finale, he impressed. It took them a while to end up re-signing him, but they eventually did. It will be interesting to see where he starts off on the depth chart.
Of course Fitzgerald Toussaint has been here for about a decade now, or at least it feels that way. He has been with the Steelers since they signed him to the practice squad to start the 2015 season.
Toussaint was actually back on the practice squad at the beginning of last season but eventually replaced Terrell Watson on the roster, yet they were quick to re-sign him this offseason. Ridley seemed clearly to be ahead of him last year though.
And then there are the rest, a group headlined by rookie fifth-round draft pick Jaylen Samuels, who is not a pure running back and who is surely going to be put through the ringer until he learns everything he needs to as a pure runner before the team really considers the prospect of his versatility
Jarvion Franklin, an undrafted free agent out of Western Michigan, is another interesting name. A back that obviously checks in on the bigger side, he did put up reasonable athletic numbers. He was highly productive at the collegiate level, rushing for nearly 5000 yards and 52 touchdowns, which is something the Steelers often look for among undrafted running backs.
Then there is James Summers, who spent time at the collegiate level as a quarterback and a wide receiver with East Carolina. He spent some time with the Cardinals last year, even on the practice squad early in the year, but was released.
None of these players necessarily have a ton of history in Pittsburgh in terms of accumulated snaps, so I think the pecking order behind Bell come September might be pretty open. I wouldn’t call Conner a lock to keep his backup job right now.