Pittsburgh’s Goin’ to the Super Bowl: Running Away with the Lombardi

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Via Steelers.com

Unfortunately, it turns out the Steelers aren’t goin’ to the Super Bowl this year, in case you haven’t heard, because they haven’t signed any overpriced free agents, and the Patriots have. (I suppose time will tell whether they are overpaid or not.)

I have to admit, I wish the Steelers would work a little harder on grabbing Ross Cockrell, but maybe they are waiting to make a play for Malcom Butler. (Hah!) (Although it would be a good idea for the Steelers to sign him so that Antonio Brown won’t have to run down hotel corridors any more. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please watch the video at the end of the article…)

And speaking of running, let’s look at the halfback situation. The following RBs are currently on the roster, and their contract status is noted:

  • Le’Veon Bell: franchise tagged; the assumption is, he and the Steelers will get a deal done before the season begins.
  • Brandon Brown-Dukes: Actually, I won’t give the status of any of the other backs separately, because every single one of them is on a one-year deal and becomes an exclusive rights free agent at the end of the 2017 season, assuming he is still with the team at that point. The total value of the five deals is about $2,500,000. Which is a lot of money to thee and me, and not much for the NFL. The other guys are:
  • Fitzgerald Toussaint
  • Trey Williams
  • Gus Johnson, and finally, the winner of this year’s Best RB Name competition, at least so far:
  • Dreamius Smith

Can’t you just hear Chris Collinsworth saying “There goes Dreamius Smith into the secondary—he just juked Eric Weddle, the last man standing—TOUCHDOWN, Steelers!!!” No, I can’t either. But it would be pretty cool. Except that I hate to think of the reasons Dreamius Smith might be on the field in a non-special teams capacity in the first place, unless he turns out to be as awesome as his name.

Before I go into more detail about the guys on the roster, I’ll just mention Karlos Williams, brother to Vince Williams. As you may recall he was signed by the Steelers, perhaps at Vince’s urging, after he was cut by Buffalo. Williams is undoubtedly a talented back. He also appears to have a substance abuse issue. He was cut on the 9th of March.

It’s hard to say whether the bigger problem is the substance abuse or the glut of Williamses in the RB room. Because of course DeAngelo Williams is currently unsigned and could potentially return on a team-friendly deal, and three guys with the same last name could get really confusing.

And I suppose I shouldn’t make light of the substance abuse issue, but given the current fuss about NFL teams handing out addictive painkillers like they were candy, it’s all the more ironic the league is so self-righteous about marijuana. Not that I think any of this stuff is a good idea, just to be clear. But it seems to me to be less harmful than Vicodin…

So let’s confine the discussion to the guys actually on the roster. Le’Veon Bell is up first, but there’s no point in talking about him. Assuming he’s on the field, he can change the whole course of a game. There are unfortunately two major reasons he might not be on the field, both of which have figured prominently in his career thus far—he might have fallen afoul of the NFL controlled substances policy, or he might be injured. But should he manage to play an entire season without either of these things being an issue, it’s a really good start towards Seventh Heaven.

The only other known quantity on the list is Fitzgerald Toussaint. Most notable for his fumble in the AFC Divisional Round vs. the Broncos, Toussaint has proven thus far to provide decent depth for the position but not a great deal else. It’s of course grossly unfair to compare him with a transcendent talent such as Bell, or even with an accomplished veteran such as DeAngelo Williams, but once again, if Toussaint is on the field as the featured HB the Steelers are probably not going much of anywhere, unless the best-case scenario for the wideouts comes to pass. And then it probably won’t matter, assuming Ben is healthy and playing well.

Brandon Brown-Dukes comes next, just because he is the sort of guy you root for at training camp. He even got his own article in late July of last year. In the article I noted Mike Tomlin had given him a nickname (“Mercyhurst”), always a good sign, and Jim Wexell said:

200-pounder Brandon Brown-Dukes is providing the quickness and cut-on-a-dime ability the Steelers wanted so badly from Dri Archer.

He was on the practice squad for part of the season. (He was cut in late September and re-signed in late November.) Now he has a chance to see if he can parlay the skills Wexell mentioned into a roster spot. The article is about as detailed as it can be about an unheralded prospect from a very small school, so check it out if you have more questions.

Trey Williams is an oft-signed-and-cut running back who was first picked up as a UDFA by the Washington team in 2015. Pittsburgh is his sixth team, and he has been involved in 16 transactions so far. Not quite Ross Ventrone level, but pretty good for less than two years in the league.

As for what to expect, who knows? Bill Belichick thought enough of him to pick him up twice, and we all know that Bill Belichick is the finest coach in modern history. Or so I’m told. (Of course, Belichick cut him in the end, so there’s that.)

He is 24, played at Texas A&M, has no injury history on record, is even shorter than Brandon Brown-Dukes (5’7″), and weighed 195 pounds at the NFL combine. (He also posted one of the fasted RB 40 times.) In short, if you will forgive the pun, he appears to be Brown-Dukes version 2, but faster.

He’s an intriguing guy. He was projected to be a late-round pick, and SI wrote an article prior to the draft calling him a possible “late-round gem.” His NFL.com draft profile looked pretty awesome:

STRENGTHS Features a devastating jump-cut that torments defenders in space. One of the best “make-you-miss” types in this draft. Improvisation-oriented athlete in space. Able to change directions at a moment’s notice and multiple times during one play. Great vision. Looks past first move and focuses on second move. Instant burst through the crease to the third level. Ran for 15-plus yards on 13.6 percent of his carries over the last two years. Can be shuffled around the field as a mismatch weapon. Was a kick returner for all three years at A&M.

Or it looked pretty awesome until you got to the weaknesses, which rather outweighed his positives. But I’m hoping he makes it all the way to training camp to see for myself.

Gus Johnson sounds like a blue-collar sort of RB. He was a three-year starter at college, where he earned the following accolade, as per his Wiki article:

As a senior, he set the school’s and conference single-season rushing record with 1,683 yards. With his 23 rushing touchdowns, he tied the single-game school record with 4 rushing touchdowns against Incarnate Word and set the school single-season record for points in a season (138).

The opponent perhaps  constitutes the first let-down, since it seems reasonable to assume Johnson was rushing against Incarnate Word College or some such and not against the second Person of the Trinity, who has much better things to do.

Johnson matriculated at Stephen F. Austin State University. I didn’t know in which state this might be, but it turns out he, like Trey Williams, went to a Texas school, which is in the euphoniously-named Nacogdoches, TX. At 5’10” and 210 pounds he will be a giant in the newbie RB room.  He actually beats out Williams in the signed-and-cut category, having been involved in 18 NFL transactions so far, although with only five teams, none of them New England. He also was a UDFA in 2015, first signed by the Raiders.

And finally, Dreamius Smith, he of the award-winning name.  At 5’11’, 225 pounds, he will  be the largest RB in the room, not counting L. Bell. (Surprisingly, Bell is 6’1″. He doesn’t look that tall somehow.)

Smith has only been on two teams—the Chargers, who signed him as a UDFA in 2015 (I’m sensing a trend here) and the Steelers, who put him on the practice squad last November after the Chargers cut him after putting him on Injured Reserve. How did I miss this signing? I guess I was too busy worrying about whether the Steelers could win all the rest of their games.

From his draft profile Smith sounds like just about the polar opposite to L. Bell. He’s a one-cut, bowl-them-over sort of guy. This might make some of the remaining old-school fans happy, at least if it results in positive yardage. At any rate, the Steelers saw something they liked well enough to keep him on after the season was over.

Although my purpose in these articles isn’t really to talk about the draft, the Steelers will almost certainly take a lower-round flyer on an RB, and the one I’m hoping they pick is James Connor. What a story he has, what a great kid, and what an impressive running back. His medical issues will probably keep him in the middle rounds, so there’s a chance, anyhow.

As far as BLA goes, running backs aren’t often  anything to write home about. For one thing, they generally have had their facial features rearranged once or twice by the time they get to the NFL. Not that there aren’t some fine-looking running backs—Adrian Peterson comes to mind—but they don’t tend to raise the beauty quotient of the offense, except when they are keeping Tom Brady off the field, four or five yards at a time.

That said, in this as in every other area, Le’Veon Bell, when he isn’t looking stoned or concussed or injured, is the best-looking back on the team. The really sad thing is, Karlos Williams, had he not been cut for stupidity, would have swept the BLA honors. He’s a fine-looking man, and from what I hear a very promising running back.

If you are interested in reading the other articles in the series, here is Part 1, (Overview)  Part 2 (Corners), Part 3 (wideouts), and Part 4 (OLBs.) Enjoy!

Here’s the bonus video:

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