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Rookies Bell, Jones could start for Steelers if they can learn systems

| Thursday, June 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
The Steelers' Le'Veon Bell carries the ball during OTAs on Wednesday, May 22, 2013, at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones makes a catch during OTA's Wednesday, June 5, 2013, at the UPMC complex.

They're being called perfect fits.

Jarvis Jones, college football's best pass rusher, and a Steelers defense in desperate need of a pressure-the-passer presence.

Le'Veon Bell, the Big Ten's most prolific running back, and a Steelers offense that had its second-lowest rushing output since 1978.

Six weeks since the NFL Draft, there is no evidence that neither first-round Jones nor second-round Bell will start the Sept. 8 opener against Tennessee. While the Steelers insist they didn't draft them to fill urgent needs, they certainly seem to do exactly that.

Not so fast, according to a couple of Steelers veteran players.

Inside linebacker Larry Foote said coordinator Dick LeBeau's defense can be so complicated at first for a player coming out of college — even one who played the 3-4 defense like Jones did at Georgia — that starting as a rookie could be a difficult assignment.

And running back Isaac Redman said Wednesday that while it's difficult to judge any player before the pads come on, which won't happen until training camp, trying to start as a Steelers rookie can be an intimidating prospect.

“It's pretty hard to start any position as a rookie, to come in and see the change of speed. He won't really realize it until he gets into the game,” Redman said. “But I wish him all the best of luck.”

Coach Mike Tomlin said earlier in the week he won't begin to sort out the running back situation — Bell, Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are competing — until training camp.

Regardless, Redman is ready to make a rather bold prediction about what was the NFL's 26th-best rushing offense last season.

“We're going to be one of the best running back groups in the league. Our offensive line is looking great, and it's going to start up front with them. If the running back room can stay healthy, if the offensive line can stay healthy, we're going to do big things this year.”

Dwyer ran for 623 yards and a 4.0 average, while Redman ran for 410 yards and a 3.7 average last season when returning starter Rashard Mendenhall struggled after returning from major knee surgery. The 1,537 yards rushing were the second-fewest in a Steelers 16-game season to the 1,488 yards of 2003.

Redman believes the numerous injuries in the backfield and offensive line were more responsible for the running game's drop-off than a shortage of talent.

“I take it personally,” Redman said of the criticism given those involved in the Steelers' ground game. “You try not to listen to it, but you hear it. It gets to me. It doesn't do nothing but motivate me, make me work harder. ... We showed those spurts in those couple of games that we could be dominant running the ball.”

The Steelers won four straight games during the middle of the season but dropped five of seven after that as offensive line starters Mike Adams and Willie Colon went down with injuries.

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