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Steelers hope they have ringer in running back Bell

Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell breaks through the Ohio State defensive line during a game Oct. 1, 2011, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.

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“I thought Bell was a second- or third-round guy, one of the five or six top guys.”

Mel Kiper Jr.

On new Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell

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By Alan Robinson
Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

For as long as Le'Veon Bell plays for the Steelers, his competition won't be just the Browns, Bengals and Ravens. It also will be Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy and Christine Michael.

Bell, the Michigan State power runner who led the nation in carries last season, wasn't considered to be the second-best running back available in the NFL Draft last weekend. But the Steelers made him the No. 2 running back taken, choosing him over Lacy (Packers) of Alabama, Ball (Broncos) of Wisconsin and Michael (Seahawks) of Texas A&M, all of whom followed Bell in the second round.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. called the pick “a reach” and suggested the Steelers should have taken Lacy or Ball — though he won't criticize them for taking Bell.

“Bell would have been a guy that it depends upon your running backs coach and your system and your style of play and what you're trying to do — running backs have to fit a system,” Kiper said. “Bell is a guy who (Mike) Tomlin and (Kevin) Colbert and company like, and I have no issue with that.”

Kiper added, “I thought Bell was a second- or third-round guy, one of the five or six top guys, and I have no issue with that.”

Bell was drafted higher than all but two Steelers running backs in the past 31 years: first-rounders Rashard Mendenhall (2008) and Tim Worley (1989).

“When you watched him, he was getting five yards every carry,” Colbert said. “If it was a one-yard run, if he didn't have any room, he always seemed to fall forward for four (more).”

Lacy was considered to be the top running back going into the draft but ended up being chosen fourth behind Giovani Bernard, the North Carolina runner who went to the Bengals five picks into the second round; Bell; and then Ball.

The Steelers liked Bell because they felt he picked up tougher yardage than Lacy, who ran behind Alabama's NFL-like offensive line.

Running backs coach Kirby Wilson assembled video of the top runners against the best competition and in situations where they had to create much of the their own yardage.

“He tries to put on the roughest games. The games where the back isn't necessarily getting those big holes, so you can see what he's really capable of doing on his own,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.

The Steelers' offense labored last season during the long stretches in which the running game produced almost nothing, and it badly needed an effective runner to make defenses respect something other than Ben Roethlisberger's throwing.

And while Bell must beat out Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman to start, Haley might have tipped his hand when he said that adding Bell and former Cardinals running back LaRod Stephens-Howling “puts us back in a place where we can have a chance to run the ball and throw the ball.”

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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