While the competition for the third- or fourth-string running back might not rank very highly on the list of Steelers storylines or position battles to watch during training camp, you only have to look at last season to see an example of what it can mean.
The Steelers entered the calendar year with their fourth and fifth featured backs of the season in Ben Tate and Josh Harris. As you might recall, that didn’t go too well with those two as their co-starters for a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Counting those two and roster holdovers Le’Veon Bell and Dri Archer, the Steelers shuttled 14** running backs in and out during 2015.
And it was the 12th such man – Fitzgerald Toussaint – who was their featured back in the postseason.
In other words, anything can happen – and for the Steelers, HAS happened.
This is all just a longwindedly nice way of saying that despite his status as roster afterthought and buried deep down the running back depth chart, who knows what could happen in a Steelers uniform for Daryl Richardson?
“You’ve got to make that first impression, let them know that you want to be here, that you take it seriously,” Richardson said in the Steelers locker room after a minicamp practice last week. “It’s a blessing to be here, so just try to take advantage of it each day.
“You gottta be ready whenever they call your name and tell you to be ready. That’s what I’m preparing myself for now, so I can be ready when that day comes.”
Richardson has beaten long odds before in the NFL. In 2012, he was a seventh-round selection of the St. Louis Rams out of tiny Abilene Christian. Taken 202 picks prior to Richardson in that same draft by the same team was a player from a BCS conference who’d recently been named MVP of the Senior Bowl (Isaiah Pead).
Richardson won the No. 2 runner’s job behind future Hall of Famer Steven Jackson, by far out-producing Pead.
Pead, incidentally, was one of those 14 running backs the Steelers had last season. He didn’t last long, and wasn’t brought back – but here Richardson is on the roster with training camp five weeks away.
The Steelers had brought Richardson in late last season for a workout, and the team intended to sign him. But an injury at another position that ensuing Sunday forced their hand in a roster move, and the trickle-down effect left them with no room for Richardson. Still, the organization let Richardson know it liked him and that they would have a spot for him at some point.
“I ended up going to the Cleveland Browns (before Week 14) to finish the season there,” Richardson said. “And I didn’t want to sign back with Cleveland, and (the Steelers) were men of their word and they brought me back.
“This was a team that I wanted to go to; I heard a lot of great things about this organization. I’m just blessed to be here.”
Richardson doesn’t have an NFL carry since 2013 and doesn’t have an NFL touchdown. He’s shown an ability to catch balls out of the backfield having 38 receptions on 4 targets over 24 games and limited snaps.
“You’ve got to do it all – you’ve got to catch balls, block, all-around,” Richardson said.
Richardson, who had speed tested in the mid 4.4s when he was coming out of college four years ago, will need to find a niche if he’s going to stick around long.
“I’d do anything they tell me to do,” he said, ‘But right now my key thing is probably special teams right now.”
With Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams and Toussaint clearly ahead of him – and Cameron Stingily (who was impressing the Steelers in camp last season before a significant injury) and rookie Brandon Brown-Dukes also to contend with – the odds are against Richardson, of course.
But they were against him, too, as a rookie in St. Louis four years ago. And they were against the likes of Toussaint and Harris to be thrust into big roles at important times in recent years for the Steelers.
“All I can do is play fast, play like I can play,” Richardson said. “If I let them know I’m serious and let them know that I want to be here and let them know I’ll do whatever it takes, that’s all I can do.”
**- List of running backs on the Steelers roster during calendar 2015: Holdovers Le’Veon Bell, Dri Archer, Josh Harris, Ben Tate (who was not retained), and newcomers DeAngelo Williams, Ross Scheuerman, Cameron Stingily, Jawon Chisholm, Braylon Heard, Jordan Todman, Dominique Brown, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Isaiah Pead and Rajion Neal