Steelers backup plan in works for backfield


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"One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity."

Those were the words of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin earlier this week when he was asked about his injury-riddled group of running backs.

Baron Batch was the unfortunate one last year when a major knee injury ended his rookie season. Now it's Batch who is getting plenty of opportunities with the first-, second- and third-string running backs out or limited with injuries.

"That's part of the game," Batch said. "Guys get hurt. Last year, that was me. You definitely don't want to see anyone go down. Everyone in that room is close. Everyone wants everyone else to do well. I'm hoping those guys get back soon. I'm going to keep working hard and prepare myself to be ready to go with whatever they ask me to do."

Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list as he recovers from January knee surgery. His replacement, Isaac Redman, had an MRI Thursday morning on his troublesome groin injury. He did not practice, but he hopes to be able to practice by Monday.

Jonathan Dwyer, a third-year pro who is dealing with a shoulder injury, practiced in pads for the first time this week after he sustained his injury in the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles last week.

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The Steelers signed undrafted free agent Jason Ford to add depth at the position after John Clay, a practice squad player most of last season, was waived injured Monday after he sustained a hip injury in practice Sunday. Ford hasn't been able to fully practice with the team because he is going through an acclimation period as mandated by the new collective bargaining agreement.

As a result, Batch and rookie Chris Rainey took the majority of the snaps in practice this week and will get a lot of the work when the Steelers play host to the Indianapolis Colts in the second preseason game Sunday night at Heinz Field.

Batch played in his first game of any kind in nearly two years last Thursday against the Eagles. He got 19 carries after Redman and Dwyer left the game early with injuries.

"I didn't envision myself carrying the load," said Batch, a seventh-round draft choice out of Texas Tech who finished with 41 rushing yards. "It's funny how things work out. I definitely built confidence knowing that going into this week that my knee can take it. It would be different going into this week knowing I was going to get those reps and not having done it yet. It's nice knowing I've done it and that I'm in shape for it. I'm excited for it.

"Last week, I brushed off a lot of rust. You could see it as the game went on. Early on, I was kind of hesitant. As the game went on, I started feeling like my old self."

Rainey wasn't drafted to be an every-down running back, but he is getting more of an opportunity because of the injuries. He has impressed with his quickness and athleticism throughout camp, and he performed well against the Eagles, highlighted by a 57-yard touchdown after catching a screen pass.

"We're not going to start carving the [Hall-of-Fame] bust yet for Chris Rainey, but he has done some things that get you excited as an offensive staff," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "We're all kind of encouraged to see a young guy not be afraid to step up and make plays.

"But I think it's a testament to him, the way that he prepares. He's obviously studying hard because we've asked him to do a lot of different things. ... He's got a high level of pride and he's conscientious about the job that he's doing. He's being coached real well by coach Kirby [Wilson], who's on him pretty much all the time and doesn't make life easy, but he's responded well to this point."

Of the injured backs, Dwyer appears to be the closest to returning to game action.

Tomlin said Dwyer will be "in the mix" Sunday night against the Colts.

Like Batch, Dwyer isn't delighted that his opportunity comes at the expense of injuries to teammates.

"I wouldn't say it's something to hoot and holler about," Dwyer said. "It's an unfortunate situation. With [Mendenhall] and now with Red [Redman] and his situation ... I know they'll get better and heal up, but this is an opportunity for everyone else to step up and do their job."

Steelers

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published August 17, 2012 4:00 AM


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