Steelers' mail: Upgrades at running back

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
11:00
AM ET
This is the latest Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag. If you have a question for the pre-training camp mailbag that will run Friday, the day the Steelers report to St. Vincent College in Latrobe, please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #steelersmail.

And away we go... @ScottBrown_ESPN: There is no question the Steelers' situation at running back is much more promising going into this season. Le'Veon Bell, for one, should be better after starting 13 games as a rookie in 2013 and getting used to the speed of the game at this level. Just as significant is the Steelers are much better equipped to deal with an injury to Bell as LeGarrette Blount has proven he can be an effective workhorse. If Bell and Blount stay healthy, they should make for a nice 1-2 punch at running back. Rookie Dri Archer complements the two with his explosive speed, and his versatility should allow offensive coordinator Todd Haley to be creative in using the third-round draft pick. I'm real curious to see how the Steelers divvy up the touches among their three running backs. And I'm hard-pressed to think of a position where the Steelers have done more to improve themselves, at least on paper.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: The speculation about Harrison re-signing with the Steelers has been fueled almost entirely by Harrison himself -- and the perceived need that the Steelers have at outside linebacker. The former five-time Pro Bowler made no secret of his desire to return to Pittsburgh during the offseason, and I don't think it has been ruled out by the Steelers. I would not, however, expect anything to happen on that front before the start of training camp. The Steelers want to see what they have at outside linebacker in Latrobe, and the reality that they have gotten younger at defense doesn't bode well for Harrison coming back for a second stint with the team. One injury at a position where the Steelers are not particularly deep could change everything and lead to Harrison donning the black and gold again.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Don't forget about Jerry Olsavsky, who is entering his fifth season with the Steelers and reportedly drew consideration from the Buffalo Bills when they had an opening for a linebackers coach. I would think Olsavsky is next in line if and when current linebackers coach Keith Butler succeeds Dick LeBeau as the Steelers' defensive coordinator. That said, Joey Porter is very serious about coaching and making a career out of it. This is not a case of a former player taking a shot at coaching as he tries to figure out what he wants to do with the rest of his life. Porter's passion and willingness to learn from the rest of the coaches' on the Steelers' staff could put him on a fast track. And former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote has said he thinks Porter could be a head coach in the NFL one day. The Steelers would love nothing more than for Porter to rise through the coaching ranks in Pittsburgh, but it will require patience on his part.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I'm tempted to say Ryan Shazier because I think the first-round pick could emerge as a real playmaker on defense. Whether Shazier has the nastiness that defined the players you mentioned, however, remains to be seen. Defensive end Cameron Heyward, as outgoing as he is away from the field, seems to have that in him, and I think he is going to assume a real leadership role this season. It wouldn't surprise me a bit, in fact, if Heyward's teammates vote him a captain. The former first-round pick is well aware of the Steelers' history and how rooted it is in hard-hitting defense. Heyward also knows the Steelers have to re-establish that fear factor on defense, and he is in a position to help them do so after breaking out with five sacks and 31 quarterback pressures last season.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: That is a great question and perhaps the biggest one I have when it comes to the Steelers' backfield. Are there going to be enough carries to keep both Bell and Blount happy and make Archer a viable threat in the offense and not just a gimmick? It is easy in May and June to envision all kind of scenarios in which the Steelers get their three running backs involved in the offense. But the reality is the Steelers averaged just under 64 plays per game in 2013 and this has increasingly become a passing league. My concerns with the Steelers keeping their top two running backs happy are tempered by the fast friendship formed by Bell and Blount, as well as the former's versatility. Bell can be utilized as a weapon in the passing game and his receiving skills could allow the Steelers to play him and Blount and at the same time in different packages. I think Blount should get around eight carries per game but that could mean four to five one week and 10-12 the next. 

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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