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June 9, 2013

LaRod catching on to ways of the Steelers

PITTSBURGH — Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling basically figured that he was just coming up in the world.

That’s how the Greater Johnstown High School product initially viewed playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, mostly because he could park in the lot next to the team’s offices.

During four seasons with the Pitt football team, Stephens-Howling – along with his teammates and the media – was relegated to parking in the lot on the other side of the indoor practice field.

And among the first things he did upon returning to Pittsburgh was check in with the Panthers side of the building.

“Well, there aren’t too many people left over there,” Stephens-Howling said. “But Rob (Blanc), Chris LaSala, Coach (Bob) Junko and Joyce (Salsbury) and the equipment guys, Ox (Tim Enright), there are a few of them. I stopped over after I settled in here. It just feels like home here, and it really made me comfortable.

“So, signing with the Steelers definitely was the best thing. The only difference is that I used to have to walk through the parking lot, but now I can park there. It’s a step up, I guess. But, it’s basically a second home. I’m just competing to try to stay here, so I’m learning the playbook. And it’s going well so far.”

It was a nice perk for Stephens-Howling to come to a team that also is located a short ride from his hometown, but that was not the determining factor.

“Sure, coming back near my home is nice, but I saw a great opportunity here,” Stephens-Howling said. “It’s a winning franchise, and I definitely wanted to be a part of that. So, I want to do my best to keep that winning edge as much as I can. Playing running back at this level is probably pretty much the same.

“But it’s just about learning the different terminology. And that’s what we’re doing this spring. I’m learning the terminology that Coach Haley and Coach Wilson use for the Steelers running game. And the running backs that we have here, they’re also doing a great job helping me out when I have a question.”

Steelers second-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley left his head coaching position with the Arizona Cardinals before Stephens-Howling was picked in the seventh round during the 2009 NFL Draft.

It was the day he officially graduated from Pitt, so that was a special time for him. When Stephens-Howling officially completed his rookie contract with the Cardinals, it was time to move on.

“I stayed confident through the whole free-agent process,” Stephens-Howling said. “I landed here, and I’m in a great position. It’s a great opportunity, and I’m glad to get it. I’m very thankful that it’s with a great franchise like the Steelers. I just want to help out in any way that I can. I know the offense Coach Haley likes to run. He uses his backs on third-down and short-yardage situations.

“And I believe that I can be that type of back for this team, running the ball or catching passes. And I want to return kicks, too, but right now I’m just competing to gain the trust of my coaches and teammates so I can be part of the mix in September. And it’s a great mix we have in our running back room. We have a lot of experience, even though we’re relatively young.”

Incumbents Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, third-year pro Baron Batch, rookie second-round pick Le’veon Bell and Stephens-Howling are the primary competitors for playing time at running back this fall.

Redman and Dwyer have both started in the NFL when former Steelers starter Rashard Mendenhall was injured or demoted, but Bell should challenge them.

And Stephens-Howling was brought in to be a change of pace back and third-down specialist, as well as  a kickoff returner, in the role held by rookie Chris Rainey last season.

Before he was released, Rainey tallied more than 1,000 total yards rushing, receiving and in the return game.

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