When the Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2013 NFL Draft earlier this year, they had positions in mind that they knew needed depth. Some of those positions were critical. With the departure of Rashard Mendenhall at running back, it was a likely bet that the Steelers would go after a talented running back with the potential to have an immediate impact. In the second round, Pittsburgh selected Le’Veon Bell, and at this point he has proven that he could push for a starting role on the Steelers’ roster.
“It was pretty clear that this was the guy that we would be most excited about being available when it came to our pick,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said following the draft.
The Steelers never just open up and declare anyone prior to regular season play their go-to guy. Players must compete for the honor of being ‘the starter’. With Dwyer having been shopped around during the off-season, the departure of Mendenhall and the inefficiency of Isaac Redman, Bell is expected to step up in a big way. Since no rookie has lead the Steelers in rushing since Tim Worley (1989), the Steelers need Bell’s ability to find openings and be a bruising workhorse right away. Coming off their second-worst rushing season since the 1978 change by the NFL to a 16-game season, Bell could just be the Steelers best hope to repair that statistic. The Steelers rushed for 1,537 yards in 2012, a drop from the 1,903 yards they acquired during the 2011 season.
Bell stood at the top of college football’s rushing category last season at Michigan State in carries. Bell carried the ball 382 times. During a game against Boise State in 2012, Bell had 50 touches for 265 yards in a close victory. With a total of 1,793 yards, 921 of those were gained after Bell made contact with defenders.
Steelers running back coach Kirby Wilson wants the complete package from his running backs: the ability to carry the ball, to be able to protect the quarterback and to be as effective in the first quarter as they are in the fourth. At the Steelers’ mandatory minicamp, Bell called the fourth quarter “grind time.” “That’s when you have to bring it home,” said Bell. “That’s when you know your team is going to look to you to make plays, and that’s something you look forward to. You have to take pride in that and get the job done.” Bell will have to prove that he can squeeze between the offensive tackles, show he can pass protect and learn to square his shoulders and leave his upright running style for the open field.
At 6-foot-1 and 244 pounds, Bell sees himself as a finesse rusher who has the ability to get outside and evade tacklers in the open field. He’ll be expected to do that and more. The truth is, the Steelers could use his size to their advantage. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has shown that his offense utilizes the ability of running backs to break off of protection and catch the ball as well. Bell isn’t opposed to doing just that. “I know the Steelers love revolving their offense around the running game,” said Bell. “I’m glad where I’m at, and I want to go out there and make plays for them.”
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