Against Giants, Steelers rookie RB Bell gets chance to show impressive camp no fluke
It's difficult to find anyone who has anything negative to say about Steelers rookie running back Le'Veon Bell's first two weeks on the job.
Except for Bell.
Despite coach Mike Tomlin rewarding Bell's eye-opening training camp with promised first-team snaps against the Giants in the preseason opener Saturday at Heinz Field, Bell doesn't understand what the fuss is about.
“I still don't feel like I am doing what I need to do,” said Bell, just 21 years old. “I feel that there is still so much more that I can get better at.”
He might be the only one who feels that strongly.
Just ask the running backs coach. “He's shown he is a violent and gifted runner,” Kirby Wilson said.
Or the veteran quarterback. “I've seen him show some kind of shiftiness, quickness, and he's made some guys miss, which is good,” Ben Roethlisberger said.
Or one of the linemen who blocks for him. “He has shown the tools to get the job done,” guard Ramon Foster said.
Or a linebacker he faces every day at practice. “He looks pretty darn good,” LaMarr Woodley said.
The Steelers used their second-round pick in April to select Bell in hopes of bolstering a stagnant running game that dipped to historically low proportions a season ago.
While the organization's initial thought was that Bell could find a niche to help the 26th-ranked running game, that notion has been altered.
Bell has flashed speed, power and quickness and shown he fits nicely into the Steelers' new zone-blocking scheme. But perhaps the most notable thing is something Bell hasn't done at all — make a mental error in blitz pickup or pass protection, which is unusual for a rookie.
“He knows 100 percent who to block, and he is executing at a very high level,” Wilson said.
Wilson has coached running backs for about 20 years and never has seen somebody so NFL-ready so soon out of college.
“He is doing exactly what we saw on film, and a lot of times that is not the case (with rookies),” Wilson said. “He is ahead of the curve in terms of what we are asking him to do.”
Bell rushed for nearly 1,800 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior at Michigan State before forgoing his senior season.
Bell is trying to become the first Steelers rookie running back to start the season opener since Tim Worley in 1989. A good first preseason game could set him apart from incumbents Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman.
“It doesn't mean anything to me how good I have been playing,” said Bell, who insisted that he has been overwhelmed at times. “I just want to get better each and every play. No matter what I do Saturday, I want to do better the next week and the week after that.”
Wilson said he is not as interested in Bell's statistics against the Giants as he is to see how Bell handles assignments and whether he approaches every play with a sense of urgency, something with which Bell has had lapses in camp.
“One play can't lose a game for you, but one can win a game for you, so we are trying to increase the awareness of every play to approach his assignment with 100 percent urgency,” Wilson said. “He is getting there.”
Bell quickly realized he is not going to overpower anybody in the NFL like he did in college, whether it is in the open field or picking up a blitzing linebacker.
“In college, I knew that there were a couple of times that I could just manhandle a linebacker and get away with it,” Bell said. “Here, I have to use my technique every time because he can beat me on any given play.”
If Bell can do that, he likely will get more reps with the first team beyond the preseason.