Sunday’s game was the first of the season for David DeCastro, the veteran ninth-year offensive lineman who missed the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first two games while recovering from a knee injury that he suffered at some point in the middle of training camp. The team started two different guards in his place in the two games he missed.
You don’t normally want to have musical chairs along your offensive line, and DeCastro’s return will return stability to that group, the starting five for the rest of the year now in place. The backfield, however, is a place where you are likely to see a number of moving parts as the simple natural progression of the game.
And Sunday’s game was also the first not just of the season but in the career of Anthony McFarland, the rookie running back out of Maryland. At least, it was the first game for which he had an opportunity to play. He was active last week despite being not given the opportunity to get on the field.
He only played 10 snaps, but he managed to touch the ball seven times, and it would have been eight if he didn’t drop a pass. I believe he ran motion as a decoy on the two other snaps for which he was in the game. And he managed 49 yards of offense on his seven touches, including a 20-yard run.
“Anthony McFarland, he’s a great young back”, DeCastro said of the rookie and the fourth member of the running back room in speaking to reporters on Monday. “Talented. I like the way that he moves in space, his cutting ability, and he’s just very, very fluid. And he’s young, too, which is great at that position”.
The Steelers had such a crowd in the backfield that they elected to carry four running backs this year in addition to a fullback, headed by James Conner, who already has two 100-yard rushing games. Benny Snell had a 100-yard game in the opener. Jaylen Samuels gets more time on passing downs.
And now they are working in the rookie, whose calling card is his speed, timing at 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That is a level of speed that the Steelers have not had at the running back position since Rashard Mendenhall, who ran a 4.45. One of the highlights of the latter’s career was a walk-off 50-yard rushing touchdown in overtime against the Atlanta Falcons in the 2010 season opener.
But Mendenhall was 225 pounds. McFarland is 193 pounds. He is probably never going to be an every-down back, and certainly not going to be a downhill runner, at least not without regularity. The Steelers will test his limits over time, but for now, he is the complementary piece in the backfield who is off to a nice start after one game and 10 snaps.