All Shapes, Sizes And Roles

Mike Tomlin gave his running backs their nicknames, but offensive coordinator Todd Haley gives them their roles.

LATROBE -- Mike Tomlin has a knack for handing out nicknames.

Sometimes, he comes through in quantity.

"We're three different types of running backs," rookie Dri Archer explained. "Coach always talks about us having small fry, medium fry, large fry. It's going to be great once the season rolls around."

Archer is "small fry," just don't call him that small back-slash-receiver for which offensive coordinator Todd Haley seems to have a penchant.

"No," Haley said, cutting the question off at Dexter McCluster. "We want good players. We want good players who can be potential difference-makers. Dri's ability as a returner is going to be as big as anything else, and we'll find ways to get work for those guys, always. But he's a nice puzzle piece to have when you start talking personnel groups and you've got a guy who can play in the backfield, split out. He's done a little bit of everything and that's really the way we're trying to develop him."

Archer finally broke one Sunday against the first-team defense in live tackling drills. He took a pitch left on a zone stretch, planted his foot in the backfield, cut it up, got into the clear, and hit another gear -- the Willie Parker gear. Archer was finally brought down by a cornerback who was covering a wide receiver downfield. Archer tried to cut off the receiver's block but bumped into him to give the corner a shot.

"I felt it," said Archer. "It was a good run. Coach put me in the right position and I just read my blocks. It was a pitch in a zone scheme. They all washed down and I cut it up."

Archer "felt it" again in a pass-catching drill in which the backs were isolated on linebackers. Archer not only beat Lawrence Timmons three times, he did it with speed, then a dead-leg hesitation move and more speed, and then simply by catching the ball over his shoulder with the Steelers' best coverage backer right on top of him.

"Something I've been working on, catching with my hands more," Archer explained. "But I definitely feel improved with that catch and in that drill."

Was Haley impressed by Archer's receiving?

"Yeah," Haley said. "But you know how the blitz pick-up drill leans in favor of the defense? Well that drill leans in favor of the offense. But he is (improved). He's got nifty route-running ability, he understands, and he's very coachable on really what the quarterbacks are looking for and how to set up routes. He's pretty patient, but yet he's got that dynamic speed that's going to make him a dangerous threat."

Haley was here when the Steelers drafted Chris Rainey, and Archer showed Monday that he can take a hit from a linebacker, spin out, and continue to gain yardage after contact, something Rainey rarely, if ever, showed in his lone season with the Steelers.

"The major difference with those two," Haley said, "is this guy played a lot of running back in college. Chris Rainey was more receiver-oriented; this guy's more running back-oriented. Now, we're going to play him at both. He's a hybrid receiver-slash-running back for us. That's the biggest difference. This guy's carried the ball a lot between tackles and understands how to run it. I think Rainey was a little more -- at least in his mind -- receiver than running back.

"Even though you would label Dri as undersized, he's got great contact balance. He's pound-for-pound one of those strong guys who doesn't look it. He has a chance to play bigger than what he really is."

At the combine, Archer measured 5-7 3/4, 173. Those apparently are the parameters of the "small fry" among the Steelers' group. The "medium fry" is Le'Veon Bell, who weighed 244 in college in 2012, 230 at the combine in 2013, and is now down in the 220-225 range.

While running against the first team in live tackling scrimmage the other day, Bell appeared as if he might be too thin with his 6-1 1/2 frame to run between the tackles. He disagrees.

"I feel a lot more explosive and faster," Bell said. "Last year there were a couple of times when if I had an extra step I could've got more yards, just that extra step. So I took that and ran with it, worked on it consistently over the summer and got better. I can't wait to get out there and show people what I can do."

"Too light? Le'Veon? No," said Haley. "No, I think he's carrying his body weight. Coach (Tomlin) and Gie (conditioning coach Garrett Giemont) put a lot of thought into that process. I think he's in really good condition, which has made him light on his feet, quicker, faster. And he's a picker in there as it is. He's a real good zone runner who's waiting for a crease and then gets real slippery. Coach and them put a lot of time into deciding what weight they want everybody at, and I believe they're right with him."

Haley disagreed that Bell, on film at 244 in college, is no longer the big back they had drafted.

"He's still a big back," Haley said. "You're just now seeing him against Blount, who's a real big back." LeGarrette Blount, or "big fry," is listed by the Steelers at 6-0, 250. And he's been the hammer out of the backfield this camp. He consistently grinds out yardage whether there's blocking or not.

Will Blount become the Steelers' short-yardage specialist and goal-line runner this season?

"I don't even know if we're even there yet," Haley said. "I think that's easy to say because you've got a big guy who can run between the tackles, but right now we're in this training-camp mode and trying to let these guys compete against each other and take advantage of their opportunities, and I think that's what's happening."

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