Running backs remain scarce in injury-ravaged backfield
Ed Yozwick/Post-Gazette photo illustration
Andre Frazier appeared to be the worst of the Steelers injuries Monday, yet he is the player who is likely to play Sunday.
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The backfield for the Steelers in Jacksonville Sunday night might look a little like your stock portfolio today -- a lot thinner than it was two weeks ago.
Help was on the way, though, in the form of veteran running back Najeh Davenport, who signed early yesterday afternoon after a late morning workout. He'll return to the same practice field he frequented the past two seasons when he was the backup to starter Willie Parker.
Also, Gary Russell is on the practice squad and likely will be signed by the end of the week as Mike Tomlin looks to replace not one, not two, but three injured running backs.
Parker remains out for the game in Jacksonville with a sprained knee. Rookie Rashard Mendenhall is out for the season with a fractured shoulder after Ray Lewis hit him early in the second half Monday night. Carey Davis' status is unknown with a sprained ankle.
That left Mewelde Moore as the only healthy back on the team until the Steelers signed Davenport. Add Russell and possibly Davis, and the Steelers still remain thin in numbers at the position.
Davenport has the most experience, and he looked to be in good shape when he worked out yesterday. He was second in rushing for the Steelers behind Parker last season with 499 yards and a 4.7-yard average per carry. He also led them with five rushing touchdowns, three more than anyone else, and scored two more receiving with 18 receptions for 184 yards.
He was second on the team in rushing in 2006 with 221 yards on 60 carries with 15 receptions.
The Steelers released Davenport June 28 because they drafted Mendenhall in the first round, and because Davenport was due a $1 million base salary.
Russell made the team for the second consecutive season but was released before their third game, at Philadelphia, because they wanted to add special teams player Patrick Bailey for injured Donovan Woods. They signed Russell to their practice squad the day after that game.
Coach Mike Tomlin would not discuss either back at his news conference yesterday, even when asked directly about Davenport.
"I'm not going to talk about any until we make those moves," Tomlin said. "We've got some familiarity things working in the mix. We'll see how that unfolds. Rest assured, we'll play with a running back this week."
Which of them will start is the next question. Russell played in just four games last season, including the playoff, and had 10 carries for 23 yards. Davenport, while he has kept in shape, has not practiced since the end of last season.
That leaves Moore, who had one carry for 6 yards and no receptions before Monday night.
The veteran, signed by the Steelers as a third-down back in free agency, came through for them in the fourth quarter and overtime to help beat Baltimore, 23-20.
Moore ran eight times for 13 yards, but caught three passes for 37 -- one for 24 yards on third down to keep the Steelers' winning drive going, and a little later another on third down for 7 yards to put Jeff Reed in position to kick a 46-yard field goal rather than a 53-yarder.
Moore has started 11 games in his five-year NFL career. He has topped 100 yards rushing four times with the Minnesota Vikings, twice in 2006 (101 vs. New Orleans, 122 at Green Bay) and twice in 2004 (109 at New Orleans, 138 vs. Tennessee).
"He's capable and he has done it in his career," said Tomlin, the Vikings' defensive coordinator in 2006.
"Maybe not for 16 games, but there've been stretches -- 8, 10 games -- where he's capable of doing that, has done that, in his career.
"We're aware of that, and that's a factor in our decision-making, but we're going to weigh all our options. We're not going to speak too hastily this time."
First Published October 1, 2008 12:00 am