In what amounts to a minor shock, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is announcing that the Steelers have waived reserve running back Gary Russell.
Gary Russell joined the Steelers as an unrestricted rookie free agent in 2007. During training camp he drew comparisons to Barry Foster for his low center of gravity and power rushing style, but played sparingly during the 2007 regular season.
After carrying seven times in 2007, he saw his role increased in 2008, which is why this move is so surprising.
Why Russell Instead of Gary Russell of Cary Davis?
The decision to cut Gary Russell is perplexing.
Russell’s overall numbers are not that impressive, 28 carries for 77 yards, which amounts to a 2.8 average. But during mid-season Russell appeared to have carved out a niche for himself as a short yardage specialist, and a pick returner. He also flashed during the Jacksonville game that he was capable of doing damage in the open field.
By mid-season Russell established himself as the team’s “go to back” in goal line and short yardage situations, and did quite well for himself. In fact, during November, one writer from Behind the Steel Curtain argued that Russell’s role with the rushing offense should have been expanded any more (and Steel Curtain Rising concurred.) Gary Russell scored three touchdowns in the regular season, and scored the first and only rushing touchdown for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
Russell was not the Steelers only undrafted free agent running back pick up in 2007. He joined the team with Cary Davis, who eventually replaced starting full back Dan Krieder.
That was 2007. In 2008, when the Steelers found themselves without Willie Parker and Rasshard Mendenhall, it was Cary Davis who got the nod at running back. But as the season progressed, Cary Davis found himself phased out in favor of Sean McHugh, while Russell got the work in short yardage.
As Ed Bouchette reported, the Steelers gave no reasons to explain Russell’s release. That leaves Steelers Nation wondering.
Did they simply feel they were set with Rasshard Mendenhall and Willie Parker back to health and Mewelde Moore behind them? As an undrafted free agent, Russell’s salary almost certainly was not an issue, and if so why him and not Davis?
Could it be because of off the field issues – disciplinary issues kept Russell from playing more than two years at the college level? In all fairness to Russell, Steel Curtain Rising is not suggesting off the field issues were the Steelers motive, we have no information to that effect, we’re merely asking the question.