As most predicted, the Pittsburgh Steelers this year did decide to keep four running backs on the 53-man roster (as well as two more on the practice squad). It was also largely predicted that third-year veteran Jaylen Samuels would occupy the fourth spot on the depth chart, and this, too, came to pass.
For those who doubted this would happen, head coach Mike Tomlin’s comments last week seemed to indicate that things were heading in this direction, talking about his versatility and skills in the passing game being of value. Samuels also spoke to Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller on SiriusXM Radio about his role.
“They’re asking for pretty much the same thing, involving me a lot in the passing game, but also trying to get me in the running game when they can”, he said of what the Steelers were asking of him this training camp. “The majority of the passing game, on passing downs, third downs, situations like that, situational football. Just coming to work every day and just try to embrace my role”.
Not a true running back in college—in fact, some perceived as a tight end coming out in the draft, and he’s still occasionally mistakenly lumped there by national sources—he has had to kind of learn that role, but he came into the league with an extensive amount of work on the receiving end in the passing game.
At the same time, now two years into the process of fully investing in being a traditional running back, he knows that there is still work to put in. At least, he’d better understand, realizing that he is probably one of the last few players to make the roster.
“I like being a hybrid, but what I did all offseason was steady working on my running back skills, vision as a ball-carrier”, he said. “I’ve still got room for improvement in that area, and room for improvement in my passing game area. Just got to keep working, keep doing what I’m doing”.
After a promising rookie season that saw him run very well in a game against the New England Patriots, Samuels struggled a lot in 2019, though a knee injury also affected his ability to perform. He averaged just 2.7 yards per carry, and was responsible for a number of uncharacteristic drops in the passing game, after having no drops as a rookie while scoring three touchdowns in the passing game.
With the Steelers having four running backs, it remains to be seen how they will be used, or for that matter, if all four of them will even dress. Because Samuels is a special teams contributor and rookie Anthony McFarland may possibly return kicks, it’s quite possible that all will dress, but will all of them have a niche in the offense?