Tim Lester was called "the bus driver" because of the way he opened holes for Jerome Bettis, a.k.a., the Bus. Then it was Jon Witman, who followed Lester, and then it was Dan Kreider who paved the way for Bettis on those many trips through the line of scrimmage that led him first to a homecoming in Detroit for Super Bowl XL and then to enshrinement in Canton, Ohio.
On a football field, from a job description standpoint, there might be few closer friends for a running back than his fullback, but as the style of play in the NFL has evolved, the number of roster spots allocated for fullbacks league-wide diminished significantly.
The Steelers didn't have a fullback on their roster at all during the time Bruce Arians was the offensive coordinator here, because he didn't believe in using one. The 2016 Steelers have one on their roster, though, and boy did they use him last Sunday in Buffalo.
Rosie Nix played 25 snaps on offense against the Bills – his highest snap count and the highest snap count allocated for a fullback by the Steelers this season – and Le'Veon Bell set all kinds of records by rushing for 236 yards and accumulating 298 yards from scrimmage in what ended up being a 27-20 victory that raised the team's record to 8-5. And in Nix's 25 offensive snaps, he didn't touch the football once.
Even when the Steelers aren't using a fullback on offense, Nix is a fixture on special teams. Against the Bills, for example, Nix played 18 snaps on special teams, tied with Sammie Coates for most on the team in that game. And since returning full-time from a back injury that sidelined him for six of the first eight regular season games, Nix has been a core special teams player, and the two solo tackles he made in Buffalo gave him five on the season.
"I thought our coverage units were solid, and they were highlighted by the play of Rosie Nix," said Coach Mike Tomlin in assessing the game against the Bills. "I thought he was dominant in that area, but I also thought Rosie had a good game on offense as well."
After being a decorated defensive lineman at Kent State, but too small to play the position in the NFL because he's 5-foot-11, 248 pounds, Nix was amenable to a position switch to continue his football career at the professional level. So he switched to fullback, but also concentrated on special teams. And in his first NFL season – 2015 with the Steelers – only Vince Williams, Robert Golden, and Terence Garvin finished the season with more special teams tackles than Nix's eight.
"His contributions have been on the rise since he has come back from injury." Said Tomlin about Nix in 2016. "We've had a number of guys who have missed a substantial amount of time with injury, and them getting to health is just an element of the return process. We've talked openly in recent weeks about Ladarius Green and Bud Dupree, but Rosie is also a guy who fits that bill.
"I don't know how long Rosie was out, but Rosie was out for an extended period of time. He's been back now for a decent amount of time, and over that time we've seen consistent increase in his level of play, and not only on offense but also on special teams. He solidified himself as a solid special teams contributor a year ago, and so it's good to see him back to the level of production he reached last week. And hopefully he continues, not only on offense but also on special teams."
For sure, Bell figures to be one who hopes it continues on offense.
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE**
"I'll outline a couple of the guys who have been out extended: Le'Veon Bell (knee) worked some last week and had some positive results of that work. He's got a legitimate chance to participate this week. We'll let his practice participation and the quality of that participation be our guide in terms of his game availability and role.
"Darrius Heyward-Bey (foot) will move in that direction as well, but we're probably not as optimistic (about him) as DeAngelo, but we won't close the door. We won't make any final judgments. We'll let his availability and participation be our guide as we get into the week.
"Some of the other guys dealing with injuries:
"Shamarko Thomas (concussion) has got a chance; we'll watch him at practice. Ramon Foster (chest) has a chance coming off his chest injury. We'll watch him at practice. We have two guys in the concussion protocol – Javon Hargrave and B.J. Finney are in the protocol. Both guys are being evaluated today, and I don't yet know the status of that."