This is another in a series examining the Steelers' roster on a position-by-position basis as we count down the days to the opening of the team's 2015 training camp at Saint Vincent College.
Similar to quarterback, this is a position where the competition during training camp will focus on the bottom of the depth chart, because the current No. 1 is among the best in the NFL. Le'Veon Bell was voted first-team All-Pro last season, and Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk believes Bell soon will have a season in which he rushes for 1,000 yards and catches passes for 1,000 yards.
Such an achievement doesn't figure to happen in 2015 because of Bell's suspension, and how the Steelers plan to manage his suspension will begin to unfold at Saint Vincent College.
Check out photos of Steelers running backs who are competing for a roster spot heading into the 2015 training camp.
"I don't think it will play out a whole lot different, just because in training camp we are splitting the reps, and we are trying to evaluate guys," said offensive coordinator Todd Haley. "We have DeAngelo Williams, Josh Harris, and Dri Archer, and some other guys who are still competing for opportunities. We have to get everybody ready and make decisions on who the best guys are."
Because Williams is a 10th year NFL player, it's not a question of whether he's capable because he has rushed for 6,846 yards and averaged 4.8 per carry along the way. With Williams, it figures to be more about health, and so Coach Mike Tomlin will balance the practice/preseason repetitions in an effort to prepare the player for the start of the season without leaving too much of him on the fields in Latrobe.
"Getting a seasoned veteran like DeAngelo in here is a good thing," said Haley. "He has played a lot of snaps and a lot of football. You can see it in how he carries himself. He is showing leadership to some of the younger guys. But at the same time I like our young guys who are developing."
The young guys to whom Haley was referring are Josh Harris and Dri Archer, both going into their second NFL seasons. But since Archer arrived as a third-round pick and Harris as an in-camp free agent signing, the expectation level is dramatically different as are the roles each player will try to fill.
For Harris, it's to show himself capable of being a traditional No. 2 running back during the length of Bell's suspension. Carry the football, catch the occasional pass, step up and deliver in pass protection. Because the Steelers figure to utilize more than one running back in every regular season game, Harris will have to convince the coaches he can be trusted to play on Sept. 10 in New England.
Archer's chore is similar, but he'll be competing for a less traditional role. It makes little sense to expect someone who's 5-foot-8 and 173 pounds to run the ball between the tackles and take on blitzing linebackers, and so the Steelers are expected to look for ways to maximize his difference-making speed.
"What I always like to talk about with them is that they are much more comfortable than where they were a year ago," said Haley about Harris and Archer. "They know the lay of the land. They know how we practice. They have so much more experience under their belts, even though they maybe didn't play a ton of snaps. Just the ability to get ready to compete and practice in training camp, they are way ahead of the game. It shows. Both guys look much more comfortable and understand what and how they are supposed to do it."
Signed back on March 21, 2012, Will Johnson earned himself a roster spot as a fullback, and he has held onto the job ever since. When Bruce Arians was the offensive coordinator, the Steelers didn't carry a fullback on their 53-man roster, but once Todd Haley was hired, there was a spot for one, and Johnson has filled it ever since.
Also on the roster are undrafted rookie running backs Ross Scheuerman and Cameron Stingily, plus first-year player Roosevelt Nix, who is trying to make the team as a fullback.
During his suspension, Bell won't count on the 53-man roster, and the Steelers kept four players, including a fullback, to open the 2014 season. Should the team choose a similar path in 2015, there would seem to be a three-way competition among Harris, Stingily, and Scheuerman for one running back spot, with Johnson and Nix vying for the fullback role.
THURSDAY: Wide receivers