When you are the worst rushing team in the NFL, you’re going to need more than just a tweak here and there to actually make a difference. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the process of executing a series of changes this offseason designed to boost their running game, leaving no stone unturned.
Swapping out offensive coordinators, offensive line coaches, offensive linemen, running backs, and tight ends, Chase Claypool says that even his wide receiver group will bear a greater responsibility for the success or failure of the ground game this year.
“We’re not just going to be blocking corners and stuff”, he told reporters earlier today after practice, regarding the wide receivers’ blocking assignments. “We’re going to be coming down in the box with some run schemes and run fits”.
“We’re excited”, he said, and even mentioned the possibility of taking on some linebackers. “We’re ready to get our hands dirty”.
The Steelers do have some bigger-bodied wide receivers who are capable of executing in the blocking department, with Claypool in particular being a sizeable individual. At 6’4” and a listed weight of 238 pounds, some thought he should move to tight end at the NFL level.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, listed at 6’1”, 215 pounds, has always carried out blocking assignments, and in fact many Steelers fans still consider his block on former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict the highlight of his career. While James Washington isn’t quite as tall, he is also comfortably north of 200 pounds and familiar with the physical aspects of the position. Both have set up in-line at the snap before.
But we might see even more of such concepts this year under Matt Canada’s offense in the hopes of strengthening the weaknesses in the running game. The Baltimore Ravens more than most any other team also ask much of their wide receivers to execute blocks.
Especially if they intend to incorporate more zone concepts in their running scheme, as has been suggested, it will be required that everyone is on board and working toward the same ends. A power running scheme is more focused on creating a single lane and devoting resources toward creating it, but zone concepts are about options.
And wide receiver blocking, which often comes on the edge, can be the difference between a 10-yard gain and a 40-yard gain. While Claypool suggests they’ll be taking on more than just cornerbacks, it’s usually the pass-catchers responsible for picking off the last line of defense. The running game has lacked explosive plays, but that’s really one of many areas in which they’ve come up short—not to mention short-yardage situations.