On the Steelers: Running game lacks depth

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The Steelers say they want to run the ball more effectively in 2010, and some of them say they have emphasized it more through the first week of training camp. The commitment is there, they promise, to improve their ground game over what it was last season.

They talk a good running game, but where's the beef?

Rashard Mendenhall, their top draft pick in 2008, broke through last season to rush for 1,108 yards and a 4.6-yard average per carry. All their eggs are in his basket and, if something happens to him like the broken shoulder that ruined his rookie season, their running game could be grounded.

Mewelde Moore filled in a few games for them in 2008 and did a nice job, and he has experience going back to 2004. But he carried only 35 times last season for 118 yards.

After that, the only experience they have arrived Monday when they acquired halfback/fullback Dwayne Wright off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles. Wright does not have an official carry from scrimmage since 2007, when he was a rookie with the Buffalo Bills. His line from that season: 29 attempts, 94 yards.

The Bills cut him before '08. The Giants signed him before '09, tried to make him a fullback, and then cut him. The Eagles signed him in January and waived him last week. Yet, after just a few days with the Steelers, Wright looked like one of their best backs.

Since last season, he and rookie Jonathan Dwyer have been the only additions to their backfield vs. the loss of Willie Parker. None of the others -- Frank Summers, Isaac Redman and Justin Vincent -- has an official NFL carry.

Dwyer, a sixth-round draft pick with a lot of production the past two seasons at Georgia Tech, had not practiced since pulling a hamstring the first practice of camp. He put on a uniform Thursday afternoon and went through a limited practice. Summers has missed the past few days with a concussion.

The only fullback listed on the roster, converted Virginia Tech defensive tackle Demetrius Taylor, was cut to make room for Wright, who the Steelers list as a fullback but who really is a halfback.

The closest thing to a fullback they have on the roster is Summers, who made one start there before back problems and surgery ended his rookie season in 2009. Summers has lined up mostly as a fullback in camp, although he has run in one-back formations as well.

"I'm willing to put my hand in and contribute any way I can,'' Summers said. "That's what I've been doing all of camp, helping Rashard, Redman, Vincent and all those guys get more yards and do better and give us a running game, you know, we can depend on."

Coordinator Bruce Arians prefers to use a tight end to block in the backfield, and David Johnson handled that job last season, and likely will do so again in 2010. Arians has said he wants his ground game to be more effective this season. But he has to have some ammunition.

"I think last year was a lot of passing, just looking at film and the things I heard," said receiver Antwaan Randle El, who left as an unrestricted free agent at the height of the Steelers' strength on the ground, after the 2004 and '05 seasons. "But Bruce is getting back to emphasizing that we have to be able to run the football and run it well. I don't think that's something that won't be there. I just think that's something we're going to get back to."

The injury to right tackle Willie Colon also did not help the running game. His coaches believed Colon was the best run-blocking tackle in football. He has been replaced by veteran Flozell Adams, known for his outstanding pass blocking on the left side for the Dallas Cowboys but not particularly as a road-grader for running backs.

Maybe once Dwyer fully recovers, he can begin showing that he should have been drafted higher than the sixth round. Maybe Redman will be unstoppable in the red zone. Maybe Frank "The Tank" will live up to his nickname. And maybe Mendenhall can run 250 times without an injury. Or, maybe, they will just have to throw the ball more often than they did in 2009.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com .


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