Injuries are an unfortunate part of the NFL, and injuries can have a major impact on a team’s roster.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are learning this first-hand in the early part of the preseason. Already handling injuries on the defensive side of the ball with nose tackle Casey Hampton (knee), and linebackers James Harrison (knee) and Jason Worilds (wrist), Pittsburgh is also carrying the burden of having a wounded backfield.
The team’s leading rusher from last year, Rashard Mendenhall, is still recuperating from the reconstructive knee surgery he had in January, and will more than likely miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season.
Second-year running back John Clay was placed on the waived/injured list after injuring his hip and groin at camp, and fullback David Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Mendenhall’s replacement, Isaac Redman, had an MRI on Thursday to find out the prognosis of his ailing groin that sidelined him for the final week of training camp. Redman hopes to be able to practice this coming Monday.
If Redman is projected to return to the practice field on Monday, then it is safe to say that he won’t be suiting up for Sunday night’s preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts.
This opens the door for running backs Baron Batch, Jonathan Dwyer, and rookie Chris Rainey.
Batch knows all too well about injuries early in the year. Last season, the second-year back suffered a season-ending knee injury during training camp, and now is ready for action this season. Batch carried the ball 19 times for 41 yards last week versus the Eagles, and had no signs of his knee bothering him.
Dwyer practiced in pads for the first time after injuring his shoulder in the preseason opener, and as a result hasn’t had many reps this week. However, the third-year veteran is expected to play on Sunday night.
Rainey, who is looked at primarily as a third-down back, took the bulk of the reps with Pittsburgh’s first-team offense this week along with Batch.
The rookie out of the University of Florida was one of the bright spots in the Steelers’ loss to the Eagles last week. Rainey showed his big-play ability when he took a screen pass 57 yards for a touchdown, showing why Pittsburgh drafted him in the fourth round of this year’s draft.
I feel that the production from the Steelers’ remaining backs this preseason will dictate how offensive coordinator Todd Haley goes about play calling this upcoming regular season.
If Batch, Dwyer, and Rainey don’t leave a positive mark on the remainder of the preseason, I believe that it will give Haley very little confidence in the backs that are behind Redman on the depth chart, and will possibly persuade him to rely more on the passing game this season
I sincerely hope that Redman will be ready to take the starting role by the time Week 1 rolls around, and the reserve backs produce this preseason and upcoming regular season. The one thing that Pittsburgh doesn’t need is an off-balanced offensive attack.
A pass-first-and-often mentality will only leave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger more vulnerable for sacks and hits. Roethlisberger doesn’t need any more injuries to add to an already partially torn rotator cuff. A good running game is the best protection for Big Ben.
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