Free Agent Focus: Running Backs

With February here, it's time to begin talking about who could be available when the free agency period begins in March.

Free Agent Focus:
Defensive Backs
Wide Receivers
Here's part three of our series: Running backs

The Pittsburgh Steelers running game has been something of an enigma in the past two seasons.

Willie Parker has put together two of the best seasons in team history, making the Pro Bowl twice. But at the same time, the team hasn't been able to find a capable complementary runner to fill the void Jerome Bettis once served.

Najeh Davenport runs too high to be a good short-yardage back, while Verron Haynes has bounced on and off the team's roster and is an unrestricted free agent once again. Rookie Gary Russell shows some promise and the team likes him, but he remains unproven.

At fullback, veteran Dan Kreider suffered a season-ending knee injury last year and is an unrestricted free agent. Carey Davis made the team last season and is a solid special teams player and shows some promise as a blocker and runner.

But there's just something missing in the mix. If they don't choose to bring back Haynes and/or Krieder, there's one spot or possibly two on the roster for another runner.

The Steelers could look to the draft to add someone to challenge Davenport for the primary backup job to Parker. Or, free agency could also be an option.

And there figure to be some solid players available who would fit into that secondary role.

First off, forget about Michael Turner, Justin Fargas or Derrick Ward. They are going to be looking for starting jobs – or at least the opportunity at one – and big money.

But Minnesota's Mewelde Moore is a player who could definitely fill multiple roles with the Steelers.

Pittsburgh liked Moore in the draft four years ago and he's done nothing to show that interest was unwarranted.

Though he's not a big back, Moore, is a tough inside runner, though he never nailed down a starting job with the Vikings.

But he rushed for 662 yards on 155 carries in 2005 and also caught 46 passes for 468 yards in 2006, when Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was Minnesota's defensive coordinator.

Moore is also an accomplished return man, averaging 10.4 yards per punt return on 74 attempts, two of which he's returned for touchdowns, and 19.3 yards on 26 career kick returns.

San Francisco's Maurice Hicks has also proven to be a capable runner when given the opportunity and is a solid kickoff return man, averaging 22.9 yards on 185 career returns.

He's also made 45 special teams tackles in 55 career games, showing some added value in that area.

St. Louis' Travis Minor is another back who's available who isn't afraid to get his hands dirty on special teams. In fact, Minor's entire career has been built around it, ala former Steelers running back Fred McAfee.

Unlike McAfee, however, Minor offers better rushing and receiving skills and also is a regular returning kicks.

One other runner who may intrigue the Steelers is Baltimore's Musa Smith.

Smith suffered through various injuries his first few seasons in the league, but was healthy last season and showed good skills as both a runner and receiver.

The 6-0, 232-pound Smith had 264 yards on 75 carries in 2007, including an 83-yard, 22-carry game against the Steelers in the final game of the regular season. Smith also caught 27 passes for 192 yards.

He's also not afraid to play special teams and has returned a few kicks in his career.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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