Role of hybrid is pivotal to Steelers' offense
Only a fraction of Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley's system has been installed through the first two weeks of organized team activities.
Even so, one critical concept has become quite clear — a player who can line up as a running back, motion out of the backfield and set up at the slot receiver position is going to be extremely valuable.
Enter Baron Batch and Chris Rainey.
Despite not having one NFL snap between them, Haley has a pair of prototypical hybrids with Rainey (5-foot-8, 178) and Batch (5-10, 210) who can fill that important role in his offense.
“It might be third down, it might be by package, you might see him as a receiver or as a running back, but you'll see him do a little bit of everything,” Haley said after drafting Rainey.
The same can be said about Batch, who tore his ACL after turning some heads during the first week of training camp last year. He missed his entire rookie season.
“There is a lot of stuff to get the backs in space (with this offense),” Batch said.
The hybrid role sounds like a typical run-of-the-mill third-down back, but it's really much more complex.
Haley is looking to create favorable matchups with a versatile guy who can outrun linebackers and safeties from multiple spots on the field, and he could get that with Rainey or Batch.
Rainey started 13 games at running back and six at slot receiver during his time at Florida, and Batch was versatile while at Texas Tech, making them good fits Haley's hybrid role.
“I have no clue yet what my role will be,” Rainey said. “I don't care what it is, but I love running back. I am ready whatever they want me to do. I have mad confidence in myself. I got a lot of talent and God-given gifts.”
Haley used that role the past two years in Kansas City with Dexter McCluster. After toying around with McCluster as strictly a slot receiver, Haley settled on a role in the backfield for McCluster where he could run or catch it equally effective.
Haley said after a preseason game last year against Baltimore when McCluster gained 71 total yards on seven touches (six of which came on first down) that “this guy clearly in space is a hazard to the defense.”
McCluster had 516 rushing and 318 receiving yards on 160 touches last year from the hybrid role.
Batch welcomes the challenge of the position if presented to him.
“Roles are something that we really don't talk about,” Batch said. “I have always been that type of player that I am willing to do a lot of things. Being a competitor, I don't like to put myself in a certain box of what I can do. I like to be well-rounded, and if I am asked to do something, I know that I can do it effectively.”
Batch isn't 100 percent yet since ACL surgery in August. He's been wearing a blue practice jersey indicating that he's still not ready for rough play, but he is sure he will be ready for training camp where he is prepared to battle Rainey for what could not only be a significant role with the offense but a roster spot as well.
“I always say this, if you are not willing to compete, you shouldn't be in the NFL,” Batch said. “I am a competitor, and I love to compete. I am a competitor in everything I do whether it is ping pong or bowling. I want to be the best at it, and because of that, I think of wherever they put me I can compete and do well.”