With our series breaking down each position on the roster completed, it’s time to turn our focus on what is going on within each position, and on the roster as a whole. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be taking a closer look at some of the roster battles that we expect to see unfold over the course of training camp as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the start of the 2020 season.
This is not a conventional offseason, of course, for obvious reasons, which is likely to play a role in many of these battles, some in ways that we might not foresee. Generally speaking, it should favor players who have greater experience, but there’s a reason these questions are left unanswered until we get on the field.
Position: Running Back
Up for Grabs: Change-Of-Pace Player
In the Mix: Jaylen Samuels, Kerrith Whyte, Anthony McFarland
There aren’t many things that we know about the Steelers at the running back position this year, beyond the fact that James Conner will be there as the lead back, that Benny Snell is almost surely going to be a part of the mix, and that they will be keeping at least three backs. Anthony McFarland as a fourth-round rookie is highly likely to make the team as well.
The rest remains uncertain, such as if they will choose to carry four running backs, which is a distinct possibility. But arguably the biggest question is who the Steelers are going to employ in the backfield when they are looking for a change of pace. Snell may function as the guy who spells Conner, having a similar background, but who is going to run those handful of snaps per game, or sub-package work, which may skew toward the passing game?
Jaylen Samuels is the most accomplished receiving back on the team, and they have already used him specifically in passing situations as well as in late-game or two- or four-minute offense scenarios when they want to emphasize the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. But he will be fighting for a roster spot.
Then you have Kerrith Whyte, a second-year player who will also be competing for a roster spot—locking in the kick return job would secure that—and McFarland, the rookie, who may be too green to be able to contribute much offensively, at least initially.
That more than anything else is what leaves the door open for a player like Whyte not only to make the team but to contribute, because both he and McFarland add a speed dimension that can serve as that needed change of pace from the more full-steam-ahead running styles of Conner and Snell.
When the Steelers drafted McFarland, in fact, they discussed just this sort of role as something that was lacking from their offense last year, and for a while. But they forgot about Whyte, who has similar speed, though has a smaller frame. The point is, though, this role, how large it is, and who will be the primary runner, is up for grabs in training camp.