Steelers hope Bell is rookie rarity at RB
Franco Harris is the only running back in the Steelers' 80-year history to rush for at least 1,000 yards as a rookie. That was 41 years ago.
Nobody is rooting harder for a second name to be added to that list than offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Le'Veon Bell won't be handed a job when the Steelers report to training camp Friday, nor is there any guarantee how many times he'll be handed the ball in the Sept. 8 opener against Tennessee.
But while camp will start with a three-man competition at running back among Bell and holdovers Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, it could become a one-man competition if the 6-foot-1, 244-pound Bell shows he's everything the Steelers expect him to be.
Namely, big, adequately fast, durable and capable of playing on third down as well as first and second downs.
“I like him — a lot,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said of Bell, the Big Ten's leading rusher last season with 1,793 yards for Michigan State. “What stands out with him is what he can do on third down. And that's unusual because so many of these guys, that's the last thing they can do. But he can play on third down because he can block so well and catch.”
Because full gear can't be worn during offseason practices, the Steelers won't see Bell practice in pads — or go against defenders wearing them — until Monday.
No doubt they hope to see a confident runner, not a tentative or confused one.
“We've got to get pads on and let it sort itself out,” Haley said.
Bell spent most of the spring absorbing a Haley playbook that is much thicker and more detailed than any he had in college.
“Guys here are just smarter, and the game is played a lot faster,” Bell said. “Technique is another big thing at this level. It may not be as big in college, but here everybody's just about at the same level athletically. Your separation from somebody comes with technique, and that's what I'm trying to do.”
Starting this weekend, Bell will be trying to separate himself from Dwyer, the Steelers' leading rusher last season with 623 yards, and Redman, who ran for 410 yards. What does Haley want to see from Bell?
“Just the ability to grasp the entire offense, the entire package — from a protection standpoint, ball security, running the right route on pass plays,” Haley said. “The fundamentals have to be there.”
Redman looked to be in superb condition during the May and June practices, and with kick returner-running back LaRod Stephens-Howling also in camp, it could be Dwyer whose job is most in jeopardy unless Bell disappoints.