Steelers' faith in rookie running back Bell finally paying off
LONDON — There won't be much love lost among the Steelers for their overseas experience this past weekend, given the 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings that left them winless and wondering what could go wrong next.
But at least one element Sunday had the look and feel of something really right, now and into the future: Le'Veon Bell can flat-out run the football.
“It was nice just to get out there, to get the ball, to make a couple things happen,” he was saying after an NFL debut Sunday of 57 yards on 16 carries, his team's first two rushing touchdowns of the season and a nifty end-zone flip to celebrate the first. “But there's no question what you want is a win. That's all that matters.”
If this season stays on its current trajectory for the Steelers, individual performances from younger players will take on additional meaning with each passing week. Bell's debut, they can only hope, was just a start.
Coach Mike Tomlin declined to get specific in his evaluation after the game: “I will look at the tape. Obviously, I thought he gave us a good effort from a conditioning standpoint for a guy who has not played a lot of football. To absorb the number of snaps he did was positive.”
Bell, who missed the first three games to a Lisfranc injury, participated in 60 of the Steelers' 79 offensive snaps.
“But in terms of evaluating his play with a fine-toothed comb,” Tomlin continued, “I'll do that at the appropriate time.”
And yet, the coach's actions already have spoken loudly about his appreciation for Bell. Maybe none more than how, in the moments before kickoff, he could be seen exchanging double fist-bumps with the rookie.
Bell would reward that apparent show of faith with a fine first NFL touchdown, one that showcased all that the Steelers' scouts liked about him at Michigan State. From 8 yards out, he ran toward right tackle, shifted gracefully to his right when he didn't like what he saw, then cruised into the end zone with long, confident strides, followed by that flip.
“It felt good, my first time,” Bell said. “I'm just going to keep grinding, working hard to get better.”
Why the flip?
“I did that once last year, maybe a couple times before that. First touchdown, you know?”
Reminded he might have frightened more than a few Pittsburghers with the acrobatic celebration, he managed a small laugh and replied: “Yeah, I'm fine when I do that. Don't worry.”
Whatever worries the Steelers themselves had about Bell were significantly allayed, from the foot to the rust to general conditioning, the latter of which became a hot topic last week after Ben Roethlisberger publicly expressed doubt that he knew Bell was working as hard as needed to return.
Bell addressed that at the time with a cool humility, a trait he displayed again Sunday.
“There's a lot that I need to work on to get better,” he said. “Obviously, this game wasn't enough. I need to keep working on my craft. I need to keep improving myself.”
He clarified he wasn't simply referring to blocking and picking up blitzes, a big stressing point in Latrobe.
“Even running the ball. Everything. That was my first NFL game. I'm still learning everything on the move, you know?”
Beats having running backs at a standstill.