Rookie running back Jaylen Samuels has been making incremental strides each week for the Pittsburgh Steelers, to the point where he has put himself in pretty sound position to make the 53-man roster. He should be able to shore up a roster spot with one more solid performance tonight, building off of his game against the Tennessee Titans, which I will examine below.
It always helps when you start off with an 18-yard carry of course. He evaded a tackle at the line of scrimmage before finding the right angle to maximize his gain into Titans territory. His teammates on the sidelines were pumped up for him.
But it didn’t stop there. The team gave him seven touches in a row to start that drive. One came on second and 10, leaking out of the backfield for a reception. He fielded the ball about two yards past the line of scrimmage, getting tripped up by a tackler after a 10-yard gain for a first down.
The area that needs the most work, however, is in pass protection, and on a second and eight play at the Titans’ 14, he whiffed on a chip block for Chukwuma Okorafor that led to pressure and the right tackle being flagged for a hold that negated a 12-yard pass play that would have set up first and goal.
He seemed to make up for it a couple of plays later with an excellent catch-and-run performance of 17 yards for a touchdown, but the majority of it was negated by an unnecessary hold on Marcus Tucker at the three-yard line. Samuels forced two missed tackles on the play (three if you want to be generous), including one in open space, en route into the end zone.
But how many of you caught this play? On the opening play of the next possession, the Steelers flanked him out wide, putting him on the edge as a blocker for a Quadree Henderson jet sweep. And he nailed his block, the play picking up 12 yards.
On the play after that, he showed really encouraging feel and vision in running one of the team’s staple counter runs, picking up 11 yards while displaying the patience necessary to allow his blocks to develop, and the knowledge of when to hit the gas. Underrated play here.
Now into the fourth quarter, I need to show Samuels’ lowlight, another flub in the blocking department. Or more accurately, the assignment department. He completely fails to identify the blitz here, leading to easy pressure on a third-down play.
But there was also some positive as a blocker. Late in the game, he had an easy read this time on the blitz, but he really absorbed the bull rush of the linebacker, one-hopping backward before establishing his base and allowing the pass to come out on third down, albeit incomplete.
Samuels is going to have some growing pains as a rookie. Blocking, even traditional running responsibilities, are things he wasn’t really asked to do in college. But I think he’s flashed enough to justify keeping him on the team. I’m guessing the coaches agree.