Steelers take running back Bell with second-round pick
The Steelers proudly say they never draft to fill a need. Choosing Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell in the second round of the NFL Draft on Friday seemingly contradicts that.
From general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin on down, it was evident the Steelers' biggest need on offense was a running back durable enough to make a lot of carries but fast enough to get upfield in a hurry. Maybe catch a pass or two. And give the defense something to worry about other than Ben Roethlisberger's throwing.
The Steelers quickly identified Bell — who, at age 20, is a couple of years younger than many draft-eligible backs — as the best running back in this draft to do that. Even more so than Alabama power runner Eddie Lacy, who was available when they made the 48th overall pick yet was passed over for Bell, who ran for 1,793 yards on an FBS-leading 382 carries last season.
“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 of Bell, who had three 200-yard games while winning the Big Ten rushing title.
Colbert and Tomlin said much the same thing Thursday when the Steelers filled another major need by drafting outside linebacker Jarvis Jones of Georgia in the first round.
Of all the positions, running back might be the one where it is easiest for a rookie to come in and make an immediate impact. The Steelers, coming off their second-worst rushing season (1,537 yards) since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, certainly need an impact back in Haley's offense, which relies on quick, accurate throwing and a balanced running game.
To Haley, Bell is capable of being a three-down back — even though the Steelers, only a few hours earlier, signed former Pitt running back LaRod Stephens-Howling, a third-down specialist and kick returner who had three kickoff return touchdowns for Arizona.
“It was a position that we needed to bring in some competition,” Haley said. “We have two totally different type guys with LaRod and Le'Veon. I'm excited. I think it puts us back in a place where we can have a chance to run the ball and throw the ball.”
Haley said Bell, despite all his carries, “doesn't have a lot of tread on the tire” because of his age and the fact he had far fewer carries the previous two seasons: 289 combined in 2010 and 2011.
And while multi-time 1,000-yard rusher Steven Jackson compares Bell to himself, Haley dropped in an Eddie George reference by saying, “He's taller (at 6-foot-1) than you would normally see, is a good athlete. We love the fact that he catches the ball really well, and he still has that big back presence.”
Bell weighed in the 240s last season, but he is currently at 230 as many backs drop weight in advance of the combine to help their 40 speed. He plans to stay there unless the Steelers suggest otherwise.
“He has a lot ahead of him,” Haley said of Bell, the first running back drafted by the Steelers in the second round since Sidney Thornton in 1977.
And, it can be suggested, Roethlisberger might have a lot bigger threat lining up behind him than he did last season when leading rusher Jonathan Dwyer managed only 623 yards.
“I'm going to come in and compete,” Bell said.
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