Steelers like what Bell, Blount bring to the team's running game
If there is any rivalry between Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount over carries, playing time, importance or statistics, it certainly wasn't evident during the Steelers' training camp that wrapped up Thursday night.
Rather than having a single proprietorship at running back, the Steelers plan to have a partnership.
The pay won't be equal, and neither will the responsibilities, but it appears Blount is happy to have landed on a team that wants to run the ball better yet also has a potential franchise back in Bell.
Bell appears just as pleased to have Blount here.
As Blount was standing beside his locker, discussing how he envisions his role in Pittsburgh after playing for the Patriots last season, he echoed the sentiment that the Steelers aren't paying him $3.85 million over two seasons to be a spare part.
“Nobody is going to sign me to sit me,” said Blount, one of the NFL's most productive runners at the end of last season.
Standing nearby, Bell seconded that opinion.
“Straight up, for real,” he said. “Straight up.”
The Steelers didn't add the power-running Blount because of what Bell didn't do last season, because Bell did a lot in only 13 games as a rookie — 860 yards rushing, eight rushing touchdowns, 45 catches — despite not debuting until Sept. 29.
Rather, it was because of what Bell didn't have — a proven backup who could complement his versatility and take over if he were injured. The Steelers started 0-4 largely because they had historically low run-game figures — only 156 yards — with Bell injured and out the first three games.
Now, after adding Blount, they have what statistically is their best running back tandem since Jerome Bettis (941 yards, 13 TDs) and Duce Staley (830 yards, one TD) combined for 1,771 yards during their 15-1 season in 2004.
Bell and Blount combined for 1,632 yards last season, with Blount also contributing a 166-yard, four-touchdown performance against Indianapolis in the divisional round during New England's run to the AFC championship game.
Coach Mike Tomlin hasn't detailed how Bell and Blount will split time, but he offered a hint in last week's preseason game against the Giants. As soon as Bell opened up with runs of 9 and 8 yards, Blount immediately came in to give him a couple of downs off.
“They're both going to get their share (of carries). But in terms of the details and anything more detailed than that, no, we'll deal with that on a game-by-game basis based on the plan, based on health of the men and a lot of other variables,” Tomlin said Thursday. “We have a great deal of confidence in both guys. Both guys are going to be central reasons why we're successful. That's the plan, and I think they're open to that.”
“We're going to be good,” Blount said. “We're going to be real good.”
Even after Bell's successful rookie season, the Steelers have a lot of upgrading to do in what historically — or since the 1970 merger — has been the NFL's best running game.
In 2013, they were only 27th in rushing with 1,383 yards, by far their fewest in a 16-game season. Their 24.6 carries per game also was their lowest average.
“Adding LeGarrette Blount is going to be huge for us. He is another big back, along with Le'Veon,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. “I think running the football is something we're going to do better, a lot better. I believe we can throw with anybody. When you can throw it as well as we did without the run game not exactly where you want it, it tells you we have a chance to be good.”
The Steelers don't necessarily want to run the ball a lot more, they just want to run it better after averaging only 3.51 yards per carry last season. They also like that having two strong runners in the 6-foot-1, 244-pound Bell and 6-foot, 250-pound Blount should allow them to wind time when they're ahead in the fourth quarter.
“They want to run the ball, they want to be a good short-yardage (team) and near the goal line and in the red zone, and they're not going to put it all on Le'Veon Bell,” NFL Network analyst Solomon Wilcots said. “LeGarrette Blount is a really good fit.”