The End of the Steelers Goal Line Rushing Woes? Is John Clay a Future “Diamond in the Rough?”


Before I begin the article, I would just like to thank everyone at Nice Pick Cowher for the chance to blog on this site and share my love of the Steelers with other members of Steeler Nation.  Hopefully this will be the first of many blogs I write for this website.  Anyways, here we go:

As we all know Training Camp for the Steelers started this Thursday.  That being said, numerous positional battles will be taking place over the coming days.  I am particularly interested in seeing how the Depth Chart shakes out at the RB position for the Steelers.  With Mewelde Moore’s roster status being up in the air, Baron Batch being a 7th Round Rookie best suited as a 3rd Down back and not assured of making the team, and Jonathan Dwyer still a mystery regarding his grasp of a pro style running offense, a possible roster/practice squad spot could open the door for one specific RB prospect.  The prospect is UDFA John Clay, and this article will address how his strengths as a runner could inevitably help to cure a problem that has hurt the Steelers over the last few years.

For the members of Steeler Nation that aren’t aware of the possible “steal” that he could inevitably be, Clay deserves a small yet informative biography.  After rushing for over 1,000 yards as a Redshirt Freshman in 2008, John Clay earned the 2009 Big Ten Offensive P.O.Y. Award Winner the following season.  In his career, Clay rushed for over 3,400 yards, scored 41 rushing TD’s, proved to be a bulldozer with a nose for the end zone, and in a 3 headed rushing attack for the Badgers with Montee Ball and James White in 2010 still gained over 1,000 yards despite missing 3 games with an MCL injury and touching the ball 188 total times all season.

The Red Zone and Goal Line Woes

While their O-Line and D-Backfield have been criticized (rightly so) over the years, not as much attention has been paid to the lack of Goal Line rushing success displayed by the Steelers.  This is fully evident in the Black and Gold’s most recent struggles “pounding the rock” when it is most necessary and the difference between 3 and 6 points is on the line.  I can point to many examples, but I will point to three.  The first was in the Monday Night Game against New Orleans where from the 1 yard line and with a chance to take a 7-0 lead, the Steelers failed to reach the end zone three times against a less than stellar Saints Defense.  Not good enough?  How about in Miami where despite getting First and Goal and the clock running,  they couldn’t convert, and luckily salvaged a win due to a lucky replay technicality?  Not good enough?  How about when down 10-3 against Baltimore with 1st and Goal at the 2 yard line and a chance to tie, the Steelers managed only a Field Goal?  Wouldn’t it be great if Steeler Nation didn’t have to hold its collective breath when the team enters the Red Zone and then the 10 yard line?

Granted there are others at fault in this lack of success of the Steelers’ short yardage rushing attack.  The lack of cohesion and overall talent on the Offensive Line for the last half decade is a definite reason.  Yet luckily with Sean Kugler coaching them up and competent players being inserted into the lineup (Maurkice Pouncey), there is reason for hope.  Bruce Arians’ pass happy nature and questionable play-calling at most times is another legitimate reason that would take me too long to get into at the present time.  However, at least some help in terms of short yardage rushing success may finally come in the form of Clay.

This is not to say that Rashard Mendenhall is an awful ball carrier inside the 10.  He has performed adequately and has proved himself to be a decent option considering their personnel.  Yet, if Clay proves himself at camp and in the preseason to perform what his m.o. at Wisconsin was and “pound the rock” for short yardage, why not give him his shot?  Or at least alternate him with Isaac Redman to find a solution to this problem?  All signs are pointing to Clay using his bruising running style to make the squad.

Can Clay Help?

According to an article published from the Racine Sports Zone section of The Racine Journal Times, Clay will be reporting to the Steelers weighing 245 lbs..  Unlike at The Combine where he weighed 230 lbs. and turned in a subpar. performance with a close to 4.8 40 yard dash, Clay was encouraged by Mike Tomlin to play at a more appropriate weight telling him that he should be in the 240-255 lb. range and assume the power back role he had at Wisconsin once entering the NFL.  Obviously Tomlin saw the potential of acquiring then having at his disposal a 250 lb. man to enter the game after a clock eating drive by the Offense, with the ball inside the 5 yard line, and just grind his way into the end zone for 6 points.

If Clay proves worthy and has success, dreams for us younger Steeler fans wishing to see visions of Foster, Morris, and Bettis powering successfully near the Goal Line would become reality.  Envision the Steelers lining up at the three or four yard line on 1st and Goal and not employing a 3 or 4 WR set.  Then imagine them breaking the huddle with two TE’s, either Johnson, Redman, or Legursky as the Fullback in a Jumbo Formation, and Ben handing the ball to Clay off Right Guard and rumbling into the end zone with ease.   Clay could inevitably become an invaluable X-Factor for Pittsburgh inside the 10 yard line.  While many of those with Mendy on their fantasy teams would be distraught that his TD’s could be poached, Clay will get a serious look in Training Camp to do what he does best.

Should He Get a Shot?

Some will argue how a valuable roster spot should not be wasted simply for a Goal Line and short yardage bruiser with a roster full of capable backs.  Yet, lest we forget Isaac Redman and how his raw ability to run with power is what earned him a practice squad invitation in 2009, a roster spot in 2010, and has given him a chance to be a leading candidate to be the new 3rd Down back and an expanded role in the offense in 2011.  What could start as a power back on the practice squad, could lead to the development of a more complete back over the course of time.  Thus, only will tell whether or not Clay can help the team or even make it, but the fact remains he could inevitably be part of the cure to the short yardage and Goal Line rushing woes of the Steelers.  All I know is that I’m excited to see how the Depth Chart is shuffled over the next few weeks behind Mendenhall and whether or not Clay’s skills can be parlayed into future success.