The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the 2013 NFL off-season without any of their main running backs under contract. Each of Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman are free agents of some form, while Chris Rainey has been released following an off-field incident and although Baron Batch remains on the roster, he was released and re-signed during the season. In reality, that isn’t a problem for the Steelers because they didn’t get enough production from the group for any to be considered expendable. In fact, the Steelers would likely welcome bids on restricted free agents Dwyer and Redman if they were to get compensation in return. Should a bidding war surround Mendenhall, the Steelers will quickly drop out.
Along with the running back position, the Steelers’ offensive line must be under scrutiny for the failures of last season. With Sean Kugler departing to become the head coach of UTEP, the Steelers hired Jack Bicknell Jr. to be their new offensive line coach entering this season. Along with the hire of Bicknell, the Steelers are revamping their offensive line letting Max Starks leave in free agency, while Ramon Foster and Willie Colon will also likely be gone by the start of next season. Precluding any added free agents or draft picks, that would put Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert, Maurkice Pouncey, Kelvin Beachum and David DeCastro into the starting lineup together for the first time.
Therefore, it is no surprise that the Steelers hired Bicknell Jr. to be the coach of that unit, because he wants to work with athletic players who can play in space. The Steelers have moved in that direction over recent years, but didn’t use that kind of offensive line combination in their contemporary history. An athletic group of offensive linemen will allow the Steelers to run more affective screens, more complex draws and run a greater number of designed runs. The only problem with altering to this approach is that the Steelers must then find a running back who can take advantage of space rather than rely on pounding their way up the middle a la Jerome Bettis.
Should Mendenhall return, the Steelers would have one back who could take advantage of their revamped rushing attack, but if he doesn’t, then they will be looking for a new runner to rely on in the draft or free agency. The draft offers many options at the running back position, as this year’s class is stacked from top to bottom. However, there is a veteran free agent who must be catching Todd Haley‘s eye. Reggie Bush is not expected to return to the Miami Dolphins after two seasons as the team’s feature back.
Bush was acquired from the New Orleans Saints in a trade back in 2010, after being a top pick in the 2006 draft. He had never proven capable of consistently staying on the field or being a feature back, but did so in Miami. With the Dolphins he started 31 of a possible 32 games, with 443 carries for 2,072 and 12 touchdowns. He also had 78 receptions for 588 yards and three touchdowns. Bush is being let go from the Dolphins because he doesn’t fit the salary structure and philosophy of Joe Philbin‘s offense. At 27 years of age, with less than 1,400 career touches in seven seasons, he still has plenty of football left in his career.
The Steelers new approach needs a player who can take advantage of space and run intelligently between the tackles. Bush can do that, while his receiving ability is amongst the best in the league for those who play his position. Considering Todd Haley was in charge of the Kansas City Chiefs when they drafted Dexter McCluster, and the Steelers drafted Rainey to be a similar player for his offense last year, it’s obvious that this type of back fits in the offense that the Steelers want to run. Bush’s ability to be a receiver out of the backfield as well as a feature back is appealing, but his ability to line up at wide receiver positions, whether in the slot or out wide, means he offers the Steelers the type of versatility that was missing from their backfield last year.
Bush is a scheme breaker. His very presence on the field makes it more difficult for the defense to decode what the offense’s formation initially offers up. On any given snap, he can be a receiver or a running back, or receiving back running a draw before catching a screen. That is the type of hesitation that was absent amongst opposing defenses last year when Redman, Dwyer or Mendenhall were on the field.
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