Mewelde Moore will start at running back tomorrow.
By Gerry Dulac Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One of the running backs on the field in Jacksonville tomorrow night does more than just carry the ball. He catches passes, returns punts and kickoffs, and generally causes defensive coordinators to spend a little extra time preparing for the multifaceted aspects he brings to his team.
Actually, it's Mewelde Moore, a multidimensional back who finally gets a chance to display his varied abilities to his new team, though not under the conditions the Steelers envisioned when they signed him as one of two key free agents in the offseason.
Because of injuries to Willie Parker, Rashard Mendenhall and Carey Davis, Moore is the Steelers' equivalent of a bailout plan. After finishing the game Monday night as the Steelers' only healthy running back, he will make his first start with the Steelers (3-1) tomorrow night against the Jaguars (2-2). It also will be his first since the 2005 season, when he was the only NFL player that year to score a rushing, receiving and punt-return touchdown.
"I believe I'm capable of doing everything that entails -- protection, ball-carrying, route-running, whatever it is as far as on the field," said Moore, who spent four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings before joining the Steelers. "I believe I'm capable of doing those things."
It is going to be a rapid transition for Moore.
After not catching a pass and getting one rush attempt in the first three games, Moore has been thrust into the role of feature back for the Steelers, a player who will get the majority of carries against the Jaguars and still serve as the team's third-down back in passing situations.
Coach Mike Tomlin said the Steelers will use a running back-by-committee approach, with a rotation that also will include Gary Russell, who was promoted from the practice squad four days ago, and perhaps Najeh Davenport, who was re-signed Tuesday after being released in June.
But it is Moore, who has not started a game since Dec. 4, 2005, against the Detroit Lions, who will chair the committee.
"That's what I'm preparing to do," Moore said. "Ever since I got here in the NFL, period, I always put everything I have into my playbook, my studies, my film work, so I can be best prepared for my situation. This is no different than any other week, as far as preparation.
"Unfortunately, we took some hits for me to actually step in that way. I just thank God I'm prepared to step in and help out."
After already being without Parker, who will miss his second game in a row with a sprained knee, the Steelers lost Mendenhall (fractured shoulder) on the first play of the second half and Davis (sprained ankle) in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens. That left Moore, who rarely played in the first three games, as the only healthy running back.
He rushed eight times for 13 yards, but, more important, caught three passes for 37 yards. The biggest was a 24-yard catch-and-run on third-and-8 that kept alive the winning field-goal drive in overtime. Another came on a third-and-14 that allowed the Steelers to get 7 yards closer for Jeff Reed's winning, 46-yard field goal.
"He delivered plays at critical times in the football game," Tomlin said. "The 24-yard check down was what we envisioned him doing for us when we signed him. To drop a ball off about 4 yards away from you, from a quarterback standpoint, and then watch the guy run 20 [yards] and put us in field-goal range, that is big. We needed that element and that capability in our offense. He is a guy who we feel can win one-on-one matchups vs. linebackers."
Moore did that with the Vikings, catching 116 passes for 1,093 yards and three touchdowns in four seasons. He also is one of just two Minnesota players to return two punts for touchdowns (both for 71 yards) in a career. His best season rushing was 2005, when he started eight games, had two 100-yard games and finished with 662 yards on 155 carries, a 4.3-yard average.
"That was definitely the No. 1 reason I was brought in here -- to be able to beat a linebacker one-on-one," Moore said. "That's one of the things that I've been able to show time and time again.
"I think just being able to do a lot of things changes the dynamics of the game. It makes the defense have to prepare for a lot more than they normally would if you had a guy who tends to just be a runner or somebody who can just be a receiver.