While the Pittsburgh Steelers seem to be known as a team with a big, bruising back such as Jerome Bettis (see Barry Foster and Bam Morris), perhaps a few have forgotten that in Game 5 of the 1995 Super Bowl run one Erric Pegram earned the starting the starting job at just 5'10" and 195 lbs. Pegram was a quick and agile runner who ran for over 1,000 yards in his third season in NFL with the Atlanta Falcons.
In hops RB Amos Zereoue for Game 7 of the 1995 season, take 2. Zereoue is 5'8" and 207lbs. But Amos has been seen primarily as a third-down back, too small to carry the load of an entire NFL season. Not only is Zereoue heavier than Pegram was, but he runs a significantly faster 40-yard dash (4.45 vs. 4.62).
"But that was then and this is now," you might say. However, a few of the leading running backs in the NFL today are of similar size to Zereoue. RB Marshall Faulk is 5'10" and just 211lbs. RB Priest Holmes stands at 5'9" and 213lbs. Famous Amos would fit right in with these prototype (and very successful) NFL backs.
Certainly, you cannot expect Zereoue to wear down opposing defenses as Bettis does. But with the holes the offensive line has been generating lately, why not burst through them with a bit of speed? Zereoue is a breakaway threat any time he touches the ball while providing the added dimension of catching the ball out of the backfield.
Again, perhaps Bettis is a better fit for the type of offense the Steelers prefer to run the last few years. Well, that offense looks quite different with QB Tommy Maddox at the helm and a host of weapons at the receiver position. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has opened up the playbook considerably and Zereoue may now be the better fit.
If the Steelers wanted to stay with the status quo this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, they could have started RB Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala. Instead, Coach Cowher opted to give Zereoue the start. Cowher may be considering the opponent and remembering how Fu struggled against the Ravens last season while Zereoue thrived with Bettis out.
But Cowher may also be considering Zereoue's 119 total yards (84 of them receiving) against the New Orleans Saints and the extension Amos landed during the off-season. Might Zereoue be the Steelers back of the future? Is the future upon us?
Zereoue has struggled to regain the form he showed last season recovering from ailment that severely weakened him during the off-season. But Amos appeared recovered and ready to roll against New Orleans and Cowher did not hesitate to name him the starter once it was clear that Bettis would not be able to play in Baltimore.
If Erric Pegram is any guide, the Steelers can jump on Zereoue's back and ride him all the way to the Super Bowl.