(Editor's note: This article was written on Aug 7th, but due to a personnel shortage, it wasn't pub'd until Aug 12th.)
The Running Back You’ve Overlooked
August 7, 2013
Stillers fans are buzzing about rookie RB Le’Veon Bell, and having seen his highlight reel, that’s understandable. Likewise, Jonathan Dwyer’s latest weight loss has people talking (and an in-shape Dwyer could make a real contribution this season).
But the off-season pick up that’s excited me is another back, one who’s not getting much coverage: LaRod Stephens-Howling. At just 5-7 and 180 lbs. he’s easy to miss, but keep an eye on him anyway. Steph-Howl comes to the Stillers from Arizona (now isn’t that a switch?) where he did an admirable job for a putrid Cardinals squad. A couple years ago, Steph-Howl rushed for nearly 5 yards a carry, and really shone in kick returns, averaging 27 yards per (two went all the way, and another got called back due to penalty). He’s not as stout, but he reminds me of another low-rider back with a hyphenated name: Maurice Jones-Drew.
Steph-Howl’s speed is listed at 4.48, but at his pro day he ran a 4.41, so he has the wheels to be the breakaway threat the Stillers have been missing since Willie Parker. He’s got that hometown-area mojo going too (coming from Johnstown) and in college may well have been Pitt’s feature back had a guy named McCoy not come along. With a little luck, Steph-Howl may just turn out to be what I’d hoped Chris Rainey would.
LOOK OUT ALSO FOR: Hood and Heyward finally to make some of the impact their draft position warrants. Stillers DEs will play more one-gap this year, inspired by what guys like J.J. Watt have done. That means more push upfield, and some pressure taken off the newer outside linebackers (who will no longer be responsible for generating all the heat on the QB). It’s about time.
There’s also a nice story developing with Golic Jr. (who sounds so much like his father it’s kind of creepy) as he tries to write the next big Stillers free-agent story. Ramon Foster, who knows a thing or two about making it as a free agent, has taken him under his wing. I’d like to see Golic stick, even if he only ends up on the practice squad.
DID YOU KNOW? No rookie outside linebacker has started for the Stillers since Jack Ham.
It looks like my Mt. Rushmore piece stirred up some debate as expected. Let me repeat and clarify my picks: Rooney Sr., Noll, Greene and Harris making the Immaculate Reception. I didn’t select Franco because of what he was, but rather for what he did; if not for the most famous play in NFL history, I’d have gone with Bradshaw in a heartbeat.
Note to Len: I assure you I’m plenty old enough to have seen all four Super Bowls. My comments weren’t meant to diminish Bradshaw’s great career, but the fact remains, it was the defense that earned the first two rings. Bradshaw was 9 of 14 for a whopping 96 yards in Super Bowl IX, and the defense actually outscored the offense 2-0 in the first half. Bradshaw’s stat line for Super Bowl X was a Flacco-like 9 of 19 for 204 yards, and although he deserves big props for that gutsy last pass, his other big throws were jump balls that made Swann’s career highlight reel.
No disrespect to Bradshaw, but up until the late-‘70s rules changes, the NFL wasn’t the quarterback-driven league it is today. Given the importance of the position, I’d normally put a QB on the list, but the Stillers are a unique case. It’s an extremely tough call, but I stand by my original choice.
The guy who doesn’t get enough respect is Noll, of course, who was referred to sometimes as “Chuck Knoll” or better yet, “Chuck Knox” back in the day. Still the only coach to have won 4 Super Bowls, Noll was ranked just number five all-time among coaches in a recent ESPN polling program. (That’s as ridiculous as leaving Art Rooney off the Stillers Mt. Rushmore list.) He’s top three easily, having taken the NFL’s longest-losing franchise and turning it into the greatest dynasty ever. (Show me another head coach who accomplished such a dramatic turnaround.) Noll will be eternally underrated everywhere but on this list.
So to recap: my Rushmore would feature the heads of Rooney, Noll and Greene, but “cheat” by portraying Franco scooping up the ball in that now-classic pose. If you have Bradshaw on your list, I entirely understand. However, to me, the Immaculate Reception deserves to be represented more than any single player. As one board poster astutely put it: “That play and game changed the entire psychology of Steeler fandom - from believing in the eternal futility of the Steelers into everything is possible for the Steelers.”
Anyway, enjoy the pre-season, and don’t overlook Steph-Howl.