It won’t be long now before the Pittsburgh Steelers begin rolling into Latrobe, PA to make Saint Vincent College their home away from home for several weeks as the summer winds down. That is when we know that training camp has begun, and with it the first breaths of the 2018 NFL season.
Everything that we have experienced up until now, from the re-signings, releases, and restructures to the draft and all the way through OTAs and minicamp, has been but a preview, the setup, for what is to come next.
And so we too continue to preview what comes next in a series in which we will highlight several of the battles for roster spots and roles that we expect to see during our time observing in training camp and throughout the preseason.
Position: Running Back
Up for Grabs: No. 3-4 Depth
In the Mix: Jaylen Samuels, Stevan Ridley, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Jarvion Franklin
Nobody was really expecting Terrell Watson to be in the conversation heading into training camp a year ago, so I think it’s only fair to at least throw Jarvion Franklin’s name in this list for the time being. It probably doesn’t hurt that he has a couple of college teammates on the roster that will help him assimilate.
There is no debate about who is on the top of the depth chart a running back for Pittsburgh, as should go without saying. At least for one more season. And James Conner is clearly going to be the primary number two back. He should not have much of a fight at all to earn a roster spot.
The rest have to prove themselves in order to make the team. And this is a better group than they normally do, so it’s not out of the question that we actually see them keep four running backs, which they do on rare occasions, especially with the possibility of other positions (tackle, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback) not being as deep as they were last year in terms of claimed roster spots.
As a draft pick, Jaylen Samuels should be given the frontrunner’s position, and the fact that he has already received praise for his ability to contribute in the passing game will not hurt his cause by any means. Still, he will probably have to learn to contribute on special teams, and develop into a complete back, something he didn’t really show in college as more of a matchup player.
Stevan Ridley was a late addition after Conner’s injury last year and showed some spark in the regular season finale, but that doesn’t exactly guarantee him anything. Fitzgerald Toussaint has been around for going on four years now, so he’s clearly not easy to get rid of.
The option of keeping a fourth running back, it should go without saying, hinges a lot on special teams contributions. Toussaint does have an advantage in that department, as he has served on a number of different units. Others will have more to prove in that regard.