For Steelers, it's full steam ahead
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Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley delivered another strong message without saying anything. They spoke in deeds and in numbers.
First, with Bruce Arians patrolling the other sideline, the Steelers opened Sunday night's game on offense with three consecutive running plays against the Colts. It wasn't just a gesture but a way in which they are trying to deliver on a desire expressed by the club's president 3 1/2 years ago when Arians was coordinator and Art Rooney said the team needed to run the ball better.
If the team does not do so in 2012, it won't be for a lack of trying.
The Steelers ran 36 times against Indianapolis and passed on just 24 occasions (plus the three when quarterbacks were sacked). After two preseason games, they have run 75 times and, counting 10 sacks, tried to pass just 53 times.
They have run it 58.6 percent of the time and that tops anything they did at the height of the Jerome Bettis Bus tour.
"I think in the first two preseason games, coach Haley wanted to go out there and create that identity and run the football," quarterback Charlie Batch said.
They already know they can throw it, and when Mike Wallace ends his holdout, they should be able to throw it even better. When they did pass on Sunday, they did well again with a combined rating for three quarterbacks at 94.1. That gives the Steelers a combined rating of 109.25 after two preseason games.
Sunday, with Rashard Mendenhall perhaps 1 1/2 months from playing and Isaac Redman, who is next in line to start, with what is a minor hip injury, the Steelers were not bashful at using their backs at hand.
Jonathan Dwyer started and was the best of the bunch. He carried eight times for 43 yards and looked like an experienced NFL running back even if he has just 25 regular-season carries to his credit.
At least Dwyer has experience. The other four running backs who carried Sunday had zero, including Baron Batch (eight carries for 19 yards), Will Johnson (1 and 0) and rookies Chris Rainey (6 and 20) and Jason Ford (8 and 42).
Redman will practice today.
"We're a young group but we're very talented and we're willing to go out there and do what we have to do to win games," said Dwyer, who weighs between 230-235 and is in the best shape of his young pro career.
Ford, a rookie from Illinois, signed last week when injuries hit the backfield hard, did not practice until Friday. He played in the fourth quarter and finished just a yard behind Dwyer.
That's not necessarily what stuck out about him. He looks like a mini Bettis, a MiniBus if you will. He is listed as 5-10, 251, not quite as tall as Bettis but as impressive in the girth.
"We call him Baby Bus," Dwyer said. "He had a good game, coming in at the last minute and be able to do what he did."
Undrafted last year and cut from the practice squads of three NFL teams, all-time Big Ten kickoff champ David Gilreath made his play for the No. 5 spot at wide receiver Sunday. It was about time someone did.
While he caught the only deep pass thrown by the Steelers in two preseason games for 41 yards, his 7-yard grab along the sideline was more impressive. He went high in the air to pull down the football, got knocked backward a few yards and broke a tackle to come back and get the first down.
All four of his receptions -- for a game-high 78 yards -- came on third down and yielded a first down.
"He's trying to separate himself from the rest of the pile," Batch said after Sunday's game. "With the couple of plays he made today, he was able to get behind the defender, made a key catch on a little hitch route and was able to convert a first down.
"I think he's opening up some eyes and that's something he wants to do in favor of coach Tomlin to be able to say let's give this guy more opportunities, and we have two preseason games to go."
Gilreath did not play against the Eagles in the first game because he developed an infection from a corn on his foot that left him practically unable to walk for a few days.
He holds the Big Ten career records at Wisconsin with 135 kickoff returns and 3,025 kickoff return yards. He also can return punts and on Sunday night, showed he knows how to run routes and catch passes. He's just 5-10, 175 pounds.
"I did some good things, but I try to stay level-headed about it," Gilreath said. "I've kind of been in this position before last year so I'm just trying to keep working."
He was on the practice squads of the Colts, Rams and Bills last season and signed with the Steelers in January after working out for them on the South Side.
While he did not play in the first preseason game, he had done well enough at training camp that his coaches were eager to get a look at him against Indianapolis as they search for someone to snatch that No. 5 spot at wide receiver.
• It's just two games into the exhibition season, but it seems a bit odd that not one pass has been thrown to Heath Miller, especially after coaches in the spring talked about using him more in the passing game. Four other tight ends caught a combined six passes Sunday.
• At 37, Batch looks as good as he did when he was 27. With second- and third-teamers and a line that made him scramble at times, Batch completed 7 of his 10 passes for 84 yards. He was sacked twice and scrambled on another occasion for 9 yards.
• What was Ben Roethlisberger and/or Haley thinking when the quarterback ran a bootleg off to the left and into the line Sunday? Roethlisberger may have done that on his own, and if he did the coaches should tell him to at least save it for the regular season.
First Published August 21, 2012 12:00 am