Veteran running back Kalen Ballage, signed as a free agent this offseason, had a solid outing for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their first preseason game. Unfortunately for him, he left that contest with an injury, and it caused him to sit out the next game. He was able to return in time for Saturday night’s third preseason contest, however, and with the added bonus of Benny Snell remaining sidelined instead.
That gave him the opportunity to serve as the third back in the game, behind Najee Harris and Anthony McFarland, and he certainly strengthened his case to receive a spot on the 53-man roster—whether the Steelers carry four halfbacks, or even three.
Officially, he finished the game with 30 rushing yards (leading both teams) on seven carries, averaging 4.3 yards per run, with a long of 11. He also caught two passes for 17 yards, including one reception on which he picked up 14.
While it was not an extensive exhibition, there were enough opportunities to showcase nearly the full breadth of his abilities. He showed both strength and quickness, with the ability to win the edge if necessary. He got the opportunity to show some hands. He blocked on the perimeter on another play. And he was a participant on special teams, as well, recording a tackle.
As many of you know, and have been unhappy about, I have taken a conservative approach to Ballage when it comes to projecting him to the 53-man roster, given the team’s fondness for Snell. The fact that he missed time due to injury was a major hurdle, so it was important that he got back for this game.
But while his many fans will contest that this was already the case, I think that he probably solidified his place on the 53-man roster with tonight’s game. The Detroit Lions don’t have a very good defense, admittedly, but Ballage flashed talent.
The question now becomes whether the Steelers carry four halfbacks or not. My sense is that Ballage is in the third position now, but how strongly do they feel about Snell and the importance of his being on the 53-man roster? Snell is also a special teams guy, so that has to factor, but so are McFarland and Ballage. McFarland had a special teams tackle last week.
For many of you, I guess, this is my way of telling you that Ballage is going to be on my next 53-man roster prediction. I warned in my previous two editions that I was going to play it conservative overall, and really my only deviation from that had been to project Jamir Jones, but I think the veteran back has now satisfied his coaches’ expectations sufficiently to secure his place on the team.