Summers hopes for Steelers FB revival

By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer dlolley@observer-reporter.com

PITTSBURGH - Frank Summers' fireplug build and hard-running style earned him the nickname "Tank" at UNLV.

And like a tank, the Steelers hope Summers can move opposing defenders out of the way for their running backs this season.

The 5-10, 240-pound Summers rushed for more than 1,600 yards and scored 14 touchdowns in two seasons at UNLV after transferring from Laney Junior College.
But the Steelers see Summers as a lead blocker more than a ball carrier and have worked extensively with him at fullback since selecting him in the fifth round of the 2009 draft.

For the past couple of seasons, being a fullback in Pittsburgh was akin to being a designated hitter in the National League - you weren't going to see a lot of action. But with the Steelers' emphasis on improving their running game in 2010, the fullback could be back in vogue. "I hope so," said Summers. "I'm just trying to help the team out anyway possible, trying to get the running game going, just doing whatever the coaching staff asks of me."

Starting running back Rashard Mendenhall played in an offense at Illinois that did not use a fullback, but he likes the idea of having a lead blocker at times.

"I prefer a mix, throwing a lot of different things at the defense," Mendenhall said. "I feel like Frank is doing a pretty good job. He's getting more comfortable. He was injured last year so he had to come back. He's making good decisions and I feel good about Frank."

Summers played in two games as a rookie, starting one, before a back injury landed him on injured reserve.

The injury was difficult to deal with, but it gave Summers more time to learn how to play fullback. Summers said it's more difficult than just running through the line and blocking the first player he sees.

"Fullback, as I'm learning, it's a lot of adjustment," Summers said. "Defenses aren't going to come out there and do what you expect them to do or what you want them to do. A lot of times, I'm trying to track a guy down and he's running across the field. It's been a great challenge and a lot of fun for me trying to get my block and then seeing Rashard (Mendenhall) or (Isaac) Redman or whoever is back there, getting positive yards."

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has used tight ends and reserve offensive linemen as lead blockers in previous seasons and that will likely continue to some degree. Summers feels he can add another dimension at the position as a runner and pass catcher.

"I believe so, yes. Catching the ball, I caught one ball in our first preseason game for a first down and I still have my same athleticism. I can still catch and run," Summers said. "Even on special teams, I want to get down there and make the tackle and protect on punts."

Summers likes what he's seen of the Steelers' running game so far in the preseason. Pittsburgh has rushed for 278 yards in two games, including 161 in last Saturday's 24-17 win over the New York Giants.

"Last game, we went downhill pretty well, starting with the first play of the game," Summers said. "It was pretty good. It was a good step for us."
Odds and end zones

Free safety Ryan Clark will not play in Sunday's preseason game at Denver due to health concerns about playing at high altitudes. Free agent signee Will Allen will start in his place. ... Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said he intends to get third-year quarterback Dennis Dixon some snaps with the first-team offense at Denver. The starters will likely play into the third quarter against the Broncos. ... Cornerback Bryant McFadden has a pectoral injury and will not play at Denver. He is likely to be replaced by second-year corner Keenan Lewis. Lewis left last week's game at New York with a concussion, but has practiced this week.

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