LATROBE _ It’s the first test in a stadium with the lights on against a team in a different colored jersey, so it’s a big deal for those who would be Steelers and for those the Steelers will be counting upon who have not yet established themselves.
Dri Archer falls into the latter category, and what he’s able to do on Saturday night against the New York Football Giants should begin to reveal how much the Steelers can seriously expect to glean from their third-round speed freak.
Archer can absolutely fly on a football field, but a 5-foot-8 and 173 pounds size is an issue.
The Steelers want the ball in his hands but they’d prefer that he not get splattered.
What happens in the swamps of Jersey will begin to provide the Steelers with some significant feedback in dealing with what Mike Tomlin insisted was a familiar conundrum.
“We’ve had Dri in many forms over the years, to be honest with you,” Tomlin pointed out. “In 2010 it was Antonio Brown, and we’ve had Stefan Logan, Chris Rainey. Sometimes they’re a wideout, sometimes they’re a running back. The bottom line is they’re space football players and we’re trying to get the ball in their hands.
“Obviously, some of them have grown and developed into other things. Antonio Brown is an All-Pro caliber receiver. But we’ve had Dri Archer in many forms over the last several years, or the better part of my time here.”
Archer has made more than his share of splash plays at St. Vincent College.
But on one of his carries yesterday he ran up the back of center Maurkice Pouncey. Archer was going so fast at the time that he bounced off Pouncey and fell to the ground.
It was a variation on the inside-runs-don’t-work-with-Archer theme, but the result was the same.
Archer has also had the ball knocked from his grasp by veteran safety Will Allen after catching a short pass over the middle in a two-minute drill.
The Steelers need to figure out if Archer is a return guy only, if he’s an in space guy only or if they can utilize his unique skill set in a variety of situations.
Of the similar-type players Tomlin mentioned that preceded Archer, Brown has indeed developed into a tremendous weapon. But Logan was no more than a decent return man for a short stretch and Rainey was a train wreck.
This isn’t going to be an easy fit at running back.
Archer isn’t unwilling as an inside runner and doesn’t shy away from contact, but nor has he had much success in the trenches.
But in the flat catching a pass or on a cutback that finds daylight, see you later.
Archer has a gear not many others possess, and when he shifts into overdrive it’s hold-your-breath time.
Can the Steelers find Archer the daylight he seeks if he’s little more than a one-trick pony and the defense knows what’s coming?
Can Archer be more than that?
Can he be so effective on kickoff and punt returns that the Steelers won’t need much else from him?
Or did the Steelers waste a third-round pick on a longshot that will ultimately prove to be too small?
“We’ll see what he develops into,” Tomlin offered.
It’s going to be fascinating watching the Steelers find that out.