Who gets the ball for Steelers when everyone’s healthy?


After a season of wondering if they would ever be able to run the football effectively again, the Pittsburgh Steelers suddenly find themselves with a problem.

Of course not all problems are bad, especially when it comes to having too much talent in the backfield, which the Steelers currently do.

October 7, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (34) carries the ball against Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (24) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers won 16-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Both Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman are healthy enough to return to practice, which begs the question of who exactly is going to get the football?

Anyone not named Jonathan Dwyer is the wrong answer, especially after the past two weeks when Dwyer became the first Steelers running back in four years to have back-to-back 100-yard games.

The great part of the Steelers current backfield situation, which features Dwyer, Mendenhall, Redman and rookie Chris Rainey is that after the start of the season the Steelers’ rushing attack had, absolutely no one saw this coming.

Right now Dwyer has to be the starter, based on production alone.

After two starts, Dwyer leads the team in rushing with 299 yards and a 5.2 yards per-carry average. They don’t currently have that production anywhere on the roster, so Mike Tomlin has to ride the guy that’s producing.

But don’t discount Tomlin going back to Mendenhall if Dwyer’s production starts to slide.

Mendenhall has proven he’s capable of being a feature back in the NFL and likely will get the opportunity to do so once again.

You look at Mendenhall and Redman, who have combined for two productive games this season – Mendenhall vs. the Eagles (68 rush, 38 rec) and Redman vs. the Titans (105 rec) – neither has been able to give the Steelers what Dwyer has: a consistent rushing attack

It’s a no-brainer that Dwyer has to be the starter right now and it’s no coincidence that the Steelers’ two best wins have come with him as the starter. But if his production begins to falter, I have no problem with Tomlin turning the reigns back over to Mendenhall, giving his knee even more time to get stronger.

Oct 21, 2012; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey (22) scores during the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The Steelers defeated the Bengals 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

The problem I do have with all the running backs being healthy is what will happen to Chris Rainey’s role?

The rookie is a great change-of-pace back and has the ability to hit a home run or two before the season is over. The big play has been pretty much absent from the Steelers offense and Rainey has the ability to make a few.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley must find a way to get Rainey 7-10 touches per game.  Neither Mendenhall nor Redman have that ability.

Speaking of Redman, is it possible the Steelers simply make him inactive?

There’s no need to dress five running backs. Rainey and Baron Batch play special teams, so they will dress for sure. Dwyer was inactive for two games because he didn’t play special teams, so the same will likely happen to Redman, whom I don’t see a real role for if all the backs are healthy.

It’s great news that the Steelers’ running backs are getting healthy. It’s just more options for Haley to use.

But right now, Dwyer has to be the starter and no other option will likely be considered.

There’s the old adage in sports that you can’t lose your job due to injury, but if Dwyer keeps churning out 100-yard games, Mendenhall and Redman may have just been Wally Pipp’d.

Lou Gehrig stepped in for Pipp one day and never looked back. Dwyer should be afforded the same opportunity.

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