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Steelers rookie RB Bell gets respect from teammates, foes alike

| Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, 6:42 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is helped off the field by Anthony Yates and James Bradley (right) after his helmet came off, and his head slammed off the ground against the Ravens on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, in Baltimore.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell loses his helmet after a tackle against the Ravens on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, in Baltimore.

The most impressive of Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell's statistics aren't his yards gained, passes caught or tackles broken.

They are these: Helmets broken, 1. Respect earned, immeasurable.

The effort the rookie displayed while getting into the end zone despite a helmet-removing hit last week in Baltimore resulted not in a touchdown, but a concussion.

But while a review took Bell's touchdown away because his helmet came off as Jimmy Smith and Courtney Upshaw hit him simultaneously, Torrey Smith and other Ravens players took to Twitter within hours to wish Bell well and pass along their respect.

Quite the contrast from Rashard Mendenhall's rookie year. A few days after he angered the Ravens with some pregame comments, Ray Lewis ended his season with a hit so hard it broke his shoulder.

“It's always good to have other guys from other teams wishing you luck and hoping you're all right,” Bell said Thursday. “So it's a great rivalry, but there's also respect.”

There's even more from his own team.

“A guy like that, you have to respect him,” Jonathan Dwyer said. “He told us before that play he was going to get in, and he got it. It's just unfortunate it (the touchdown) got taken away.”

Bell's rookie season has been interrupted by knee and foot injuries during training camp that delayed his NFL debut for nearly a month and now a concussion. He is passing his daily tests and expects to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (6-6).

Despite the multiple setbacks, Bell leads AFC rookies in rushing with 528 yards. He also has 319 yards receiving for a combined 847 yards.

“If you have a guy back there that is a big dog, he gives you a chance to be multi-dimensional,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said.

It's exactly what the Steelers expected when they passed over the higher-profile Eddie Lacy of Alabama to draft Bell in the second round.

With four games remaining, Bell is within reach of the Steelers record for rushing and receiving yards by a rookie running back set by Franco Harris with 1,235 yards (1,055 rushing, 180 receiving) in 1972.

“I think they're more confident in me. I feel like I've shown them enough to be confident in me in different situations,” Bell said of being used as a runner and a pass catcher. “Me being a younger guy, at first they're not going to trust me with everything. They're going to ease me into it. Slowly but surely I'm trying to get more comfortable on the offense, and the offensive players are more comfortable with me.”

Haley agreed, saying, “I'm not going to start carving the bust for Canton. But at the same time, we've been excited about him since Day 1 with the things he has shown us, the attitude, his development. He had some setbacks, and he handled them in a positive manner.”

Bell is showing no hesitancy to play again after what initially looked to be a serious injury that, he believes, occurred not when his helmet was broken but when he landed hard in the end zone with no head protection.

“As a running back, you can't think about getting hit because I'm going to get hit regardless. If I'm worried about getting hit, I'm not going to be effective as a runner,” Bell said. “There are going to be tough hits, and that's not the hardest hit I've been hit. I'm sure it won't be the hardest I'll get hit. I'm sure I'll get hit harder. That's something I have to get used to, and I'm glad I'm OK.”

So are the Steelers.

And the Ravens.

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

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