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Steelers’ backups Archer, Harris ready to run

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USA Today Sports
Steelers running back Dri Archer rushes for a first down against the New York Giants during first quarter at MetLife Stadium on Aug. 9, 2014.
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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers running back Josh Harris cuts past Shamarko Thomas during training camp on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014, in Latrobe.

They’ve combined for 39 career NFL snaps, roughly half of Le’Veon Bell’s total during the Steelers’ most recent game.

But should something happen to Bell on Sunday, Dri Archer and Josh Harris will be the only active options at running back.

“Both of those guys are very capable runners,” said Bell, who at 22 years old and with just 24 games played easily is the most tenured Steelers running back. “They’re moving up the depth chart, and they deserve it. … They’re preparing as if they’re starters, and let me tell you, I watch them in practice every week: Those guys are ready.”

Archer has eight carries, five catches and 45 yards from scrimmage this season, and Harris — signed off the practice squad Nov. 18 — has yet to touch the ball.

Archer’s impact (13 touches) hasn’t been commensurate with a player drafted in the third round, as he was in May.

Because of his size (5-foot-8) and speed (4.26 seconds in the 40-yard dash), Archer intrigues, but he also fights to break a type-cast mold of a “freak show” of sorts.

Archer could be a coordinator’s dream as a slot receiver. As an every-down workhorse? Not so much, the thinking goes.

Even on the Steelers roster, Archer is listed as a “WR/RB” — the “WR” first.

Archer reminded that he is a running back by trade.

“People are going to have their views and whatever,” he said. “I know what I’m capable of doing.”

Bell, who played 71 of 74 offensive snaps against Tennessee last week, agreed.

“Oh, he’s definitely a running back,” Bell said. “A lot of smaller guys want to just depend on their speed all the time, just run outside. He’s a guy who likes running between the tackles. He runs the ball like a running back runs the ball. He’s going to hit the hole in there. If he sees 4 (yards), he’s going to just take his 4.”

Steelers receiver Lance Moore looks at Archer and is reminded of someone with whom he’s quite familiar — another undersized but speedy back taken in the middle rounds.

“People didn’t know exactly what (Darren) Sproles was going to give them in the NFL,” Moore said of his teammate for three seasons in New Orleans who had 1,313 yards from scrimmage in 2011. “They plugged him in there, and all of a sudden he took off, and I think that could be a situation that happens with Dri, for sure.”

While Harris doesn’t have Archer’s elite speed, he is fast (4.4 range in the 40), and he has the bulk of 210 pounds to suggest he is more capable of carrying a heavy, longer-term workload.

“I feel like I have a good split between power and some speed,” said Harris, who had 2,230 career rushing yards at Wake Forest. “I can hit people, I can block, but also, as soon as I’m out in the open field, I can make guys miss, and I can break out to where I won’t get caught.”

Tomlin wouldn’t commit to a number of carries for Archer or Harris on Sunday, but he insisted he would be “not reluctant at all” to use either should something happen to Bell.

With the release of veteran LeGarrette Blount last week, the Steelers wouldn’t have much of a choice.

“Each guy that sits in my room has the mindset that you’re not just a backup, you’re the starter,” running backs coach James Saxon said. “That’s the way they prepare, and that’s the way I expect them to prepare.”

“I don’t think that the group that works with them is lacking confidence in the abilities of either of them,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “I think everyone is excited to watch them and see what they can do.”

Staff writer Mark Kaboly contributed. Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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