Now that we’ve said goodbye to all of the prominent members of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster from a year ago, it’s time to introduce ourselves to the new blood. Many of them, of course, are draft picks, but the team also ended up picking up numerous players via free agency, the majority of whom we’ll likely be seeing in-season at some point.
Roster turnover is an inevitability in the NFL, but the 2021 season marked greater change than normal. Some of those adjustments will be accounted for internally, but it will also require the supplementing of a number of new components, which we’ll be reintroducing ourselves to over the course of this series.
One of the steps that the Steelers have taken this offseason is to give themselves some new options in the backfield as they seek to improve their running game. While first-round pick Najee Harris was obviously central to this premise, they did also sign veteran Kalen Ballage as a free agent, a veteran who does seem to fit their presumed style.
The veteran seemed to acclimate well to the black and gold in his first in-stadium action as a Steeler Thursday night, scoring the first touchdown of the 2021 season in their Hall of Fame game victory against the Dallas Cowboys.
In total, he finished the game with 19 rushing yards on five carries, with no run longer than five yards, but showed superior energy on his four-yard touchdown run. Unfortunately, head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that he left the contest with a vague lower body injury.
One thing we know is that he is certainly in contention for a roster spot, but beyond that, it’s difficult to say. Will the team keep three or four halfbacks? Jaylen Samuels is certainly on the outside looking in, along with Trey Edmunds. Are both Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland safe behind Harris?
Assuming that all four—Harris, Snell, McFarland, and Ballage—wind up making the 53-man roster, how do you divvy up responsibilities? Of course, the first question to answer is, how many snaps will Harris actually spend on the sideline. Then you figure out the rest.
It’s certainly within reason that Ballage could serve as the number two back as a ‘high-energy big back’, as Tomlin called him after the game. But there are a lot of things to sort out over the course of the next month.
He had a good debut. Now he has to get back on the field. Hopefully that lower body injury was only such that Tomlin didn’t wan to keep wearing him down in a preseason game, and that he’ll be back on the practice field as soon as possible.