Steelers free agency primer: RBs

As the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers figure to be raided in free agency. It's just a fact of life in today's NFL.

As the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers figure to be raided in free agency. It's just a fact of life in today's NFL.

The Steelers have 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents when the signing period opens Feb. 27. Over the next few weeks, we'll look at the Steelers position-by-position as they head into the period and what direction they may go.

Today: The running backs/fullbacks

That the Steelers had trouble running the ball – particularly in short-yardage situations – in 2008 is no secret.

Part of it was due to injuries to Willie Parker and No. 1 draft pick Rashard Mendenhall. Part was also due to problems on the offensive line.

Fixing those problems will one of the big tasks of the offseason.

Parker and Mendenhall should be back at 100 percent in 2009 and backups Mewelde Moore and Gary Russell have solid roles.

But the fullback position is up in the air.

Carey Davis began the season as the team's starter at the position, but gave way to tight end Sean McHugh as the season wore on, particularly as a lead blocker – when they used one.

Davis is a jack-of-all-trades but doesn't do any one thing well enough to guarantee himself a roster spot.

McHugh signed only a one-year deal with the Steelers, who signed him after his release by Detroit, and is a restricted free agent.

Offering McHugh a tender, even at the lowest designation, would mean a big raise for a player who is, at best, adequate as a blocker.

Obviously a pounder such as the Giants Brandon Jacobs, Philadelphia's Correll Buckhalter or New England's LaMont Jordan would solve some of the Steelers' short-yardage problems.

But they have high expectations for Mendenhall in that role in 2009.

At fullback, there isn't a lot available as the position continues to be phased out.

The Jets' Tony Richardson, Arizona's Terrelle Smith and Baltimore's Lorenzo Neal are available, but Smith is the youngest and he's already got nine NFL seasons under his belt.

Arizona has had plenty of trouble running the ball the past few seasons, so one has to wonder just how effective a lead blocker Smith is.

Minnesota's Jim Kleinsasser is a 6-3, 272-pounder listed as a tight end, but has spent as much time at fullback during his career as he has at tight end. Like the others, however, he's a bit long in the tooth, with 10 seasons under his belt, but is an excellent blocker.

He would be better in that tight end/fulback role, however, than McHugh and could be worth a look at the right price.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.


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