Cook: Kreider indispensable to Steelers

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Last week, it was Steelers running back Willie Parker, who offered the endorsement. "I like to have a fullback. You always want a lead blocker ... Dan Kreider is a good fullback. I love what he does."

This week, it's wide receiver Hines Ward. "Me, personally, I don't think we have to worry about Dan. With what he does day in and day out, it would be real hard for us to cut him. He's still a vital part of our offense. Ask anyone in the league. They know there's still a lot of mileage on his car."

Are you paying attention, Mike Tomlin?

I'm not so sure after listening to Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians after the 27-13 exhibition win against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday night.

"We have some tough decisions to make," he said. "[Kreider] made it a lot harder by what he did tonight."

That sounds as if Kreider was in serious jeopardy of not making the team before he caught a flat pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and turned it into a 22-yard gain, before he threw a crunching block on an 18-yard touchdown run by Parker.

That sounds as if Kreider still isn't a lock to stick.

That's ridiculous.

The man is one of the Steelers' best 53 players.

"I hope I'm playing well enough to stay here," Kreider said.

There is no doubt about it.

There has been much talk of Arians de-emphasizing the fullback position this season, using more four-wide receiver or three-tight end formations, even though he acknowledges Kreider is the NFL's best blocking fullback. That's fine, but that doesn't mean there isn't a roster spot for Kreider.

Parker's peace of mind is the biggest thing. You're talking about the Steelers' MVP last season, their most indispensable player if it isn't Roethlisberger or left tackle Marvel Smith. He clearly is more comfortable running behind Kreider. He estimated to the Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac last week that 80 percent of his running plays last season were behind his fullback. That seems high, but so what? So what if it's only 50 or 60 percent? Considering Parker rushed for 1,494 yards and 13 touchdowns, that's a huge chunk of the team's offense.

It's true, Arians could line up one of the tight ends in the backfield as Parker's lead blocker. But is that really what the team wants in short-yardage and goal-line situations and late in games when it's trying to pound the ball, kill the clock and put away wins? A tight end can't get as low as Kreider does to make the blocks. He can't get the same leverage.

We saw how well Parker and Kreider work together on Parker's touchdown run in the second quarter Sunday night. He started off right guard and cut inside Kreider's block to score untouched. Kreider practically knocked Eagles linebacker Chris Gocong into next week.

You think you were impressed?

You might imagine the players' reaction when they saw the play on tape yesterday.

It's not just Parker and Ward who appreciate Kreider's value. All the players do. That's why Tomlin would be sending a bad message to his veterans if he doesn't keep Kreider. The Steelers' backs should be Parker, Najeh Davenport, Kreider, Carey Davis and Verron Haynes or Gary Russell.

Maybe it would be different if the Steelers were in a rebuilding mode. Maybe then you would go with the younger players, Davis and Russell. But that's not the case. The team won the Super Bowl two seasons ago and thinks it can be a contender again. It needs Kreider to have its best chance.

Davis and Russell have been impressive in training camp and in the exhibition games, but it should be mentioned that much of their work came against second- and third-team players. (Davis got playing time at fullback with the first offense Sunday night with mixed results. He did a nice job blocking defensive end Darren Howard in pass protection but was called for holding when he pulled down Gocong as he rushed Roethlisberger). It also needs to be pointed out that Davis was released by four NFL teams before joining the Steelers and Russell was an undrafted free agent. We're not exactly looking at another Franco Harris in either case.

Still, Kreider won't rest well until the final roster cuts are made Saturday.

"All I can do is go out and practice hard and play hard and do what they ask me to do," he said. "Since I've been in the league, that's what I've tried to do. I know, as a fullback, I'm the low man on the totem pole."

Not to Parker, Ward and the others.

"That means a lot," Kreider said. "It means a lot to know the other guys appreciate what you're doing.

"But that's the way this team is. You're playing for the guy next to you. You know he's putting everything on the line for you so you try to do the same for him. That's why I love this team so much. I want to be a part of it. I'm planning on being a part of it. But I know they have some tough decisions to make."

They being Tomlin and Arians.

The question is worth asking again:

Are you really paying attention, guys?


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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