When fifth-round rookie Jaylen Samuels came out as the fourth team running back behind Stevan Ridley and Fitzgerald Toussaint in the Pittsburgh Steelers first preseason game, it was no surprise. The young running back has little experience at the actual position and needs to earn his credibility before moving up the depth chart.
However, one thing that is surprising is the fact that on the second series of the game, the Pittsburgh Steelers fifth play of 2018, they were throwing the football to Samuels, who was spread out as a wide receiver.
Yes, it is Landry Jones and the gang; still, there were starters on the field. The “first unit” was still getting snaps; the very next play was the JuJu Smith-Schuster touchdown. If Samuels is the fourth running back, why is he getting time with Smith-Schuster and the first unit? The Pittsburgh Steelers may have a role for him in 2018.
Copy Cat League
In preparation for the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 15 loss to the New England Patriots, I wrote about a schematic edge that the New England Patriots have that many other teams do not.
They have a combination of pass-catching backs with enough between the tackles ability to give off the threat of the run. However, in putting two backs on the field, they can motion one and expose matchups in the passing game.
Take the two plays below for example.
First, we see the Miami Dolphins run a heavy look against the Patriots two-back set. The Patriots spread the Dolphins out, and we see Kiko Alonso, a linebacker who has lost a step against the shifty Rex Burkhead out in space with no help in sight.
In an attempt to combat the passing attack of Rex Burkhead, the Dolphins stay in nickel despite multiple backs being on the field. Still, now you can see that the motion of Burkhead out, along with the extra defensive back on the field leaves the team a little bit light in the middle. A strong run blocking team can expose this type of box.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are not the only team who saw the advantages of what could be considered a “move” player. A player who can slot into a variety of roles to help create mismatches.
It has the same idea in mind that he is technically a running back but has passing game value. With Ezekiel Elliott and the power running, teams have to prepare for the speed of Tavon Austin to be on the field. Austin can help open Ezekiel Elliott up in the passing game more as well.
The Chicago Bears gave some serious money to tight end Trey Burton despite little production in his career. New head coach and Andy Reid protege Matt Nagy stressed his need for a “U” tight end. He talked about how it is a move position that is different than a typical tight end. Nagy has mentioned that he does not consider Burton with the tight ends and that he has two other tight ends who will see the field in regular tight end roles.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers ran their two-back set, they had a tight end in as well. Still, the Philadelphia Eagles brought in an extra safety and stuck him in the box. It would be interesting to see if Ben Roethlisberger would check to a run in this situation, and try to expose Le’Veon Bell against the weaker front.
Still, the idea is that the Pittsburgh Steelers can run multiple looks from this formation. If they were to feel comfortable with Samuels between the tackles, they could motion Bell out into the passing game.
They can run screens, sweeps and reverses from this set to Samuels and Bell. Jaylen Samuels showed that he still has to climb the depth chart to be considered for this role.
However, even if it is just one snap, getting Samuels onto the field that early on Thursday showed that the team would not be afraid of giving him this role if he earned it.