Steelers rookie Benny Snell relishes role of workhorse running back
The last time Benny Snell was on a football field, he was given the ball on eight consecutive plays. Snell seemingly takes as much pride in that as he does in the 14 Kentucky records he set or tied.
“That’s just Benny Snell football,” Snell said of that steady diet of carries. His workhorse effort ran out all but 1 second of the 4 minutes, 12 seconds that remained with the Wildcats clinging to a 27-24 lead against Penn State in the Jan. 1 Citrus Bowl.
“Downhill, running the ball, running the clock out. My team depended on me in that time of need, and I am gonna make it happen. In situations like that, they trusted me. All through the season (and) all three years, that’s what I was known for.”
As the sport has evolved more pass-happy offenses, Snell was something of a throwback in college. His 289 carries last season were fourth most in the country (22.2 per game). His 1,449 rushing yards were sixth most among all players nationally, and his 16 rushing touchdowns tied for fourth among Power 5 conference running backs.
“Benny Snell is a dominant SEC runner,” general manager Kevin Colbert said after taking Snell in the fourth round. “He’s got a little natural run skill to his game. Where he sees things, he’s really good on the second level finding and creating space.”
Coach Mike Tomlin was impressed by how Snell became the leader of the renaissance of Kentucky football from bottom-feeder (19-41, all losing records in the five seasons before Snell arrived) to SEC contender during Snell’s tenure (24-15, bowl games all three years).
“At Kentucky, competing and winning and what he was able to do down there,” Tomlin said, “that speaks to that football grit element.”
So does Snell’s playing style. “Benny Snell football,” remember?
According to Pro Football Focus, 63.3% of Snell’s rushing yards during the 2018 regular season came after contact. Also per PFF, he forced more missed tackles than any SEC running back last season.
Benny Snell Jr. forced more missed tackles than any other SEC running back. pic.twitter.com/tnLNIwHNBq
— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 28, 2019
And with all due respect to Snell’s lateral athleticism or speed (at best, NFL average-level), rest assured most of those missed tackles were because he ran through them or over defenders.
“Benny Snell football,” Snell explained while using another third-person reference to himself, “is that it could be second-and-3 or like third-and-3. It could be fourth-and-2. It could be third-and-goal, fourth-and-goal. Or it could be four-minute offense, and you just have to run the clock out just to win the game.
“It’s just feeding him, just feeding him, feeding him, let him run it up. He’s gonna get up. He’s having fun. He might dance a little bit, but he’s gonna run back and he’s gonna do it again, and everybody in the stadium, both teams know what’s happening.”
Benny Snell gained 63.3% of his rushing yards this season AFTER contact pic.twitter.com/2qJjzbxVBt
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 11, 2018
That could hold some appeal for the Steelers, who would like to establish roles for a division of labor between Conner, Samuels and Snell. As great as Le’Veon Bell was while he was with the Steelers, he tended, at times, to struggle in short-yardage situations.
The most recent season Bell played (2017), for example, the Steelers were a pedestrian 9 for 17 in picking up first downs on rushes of third-and-1 or fourth-and-1.
“Definitely about having that hard-nosed mentality, whether it’s one, two, three people in your way, you have to learn how to have that extra push and that extra drive to get through them no matter what,” Snell said.
Could goal-line or short-yardage back be the quickest and easiest way for Snell to carve out a niche on the Steelers during his rookie season?
Sure, he said. But Benny Snell isn’t going to pigeon-hole Benny Snell.
“I’m willing to fill any role,” he said, “whether it’s on special teams, whether it’s on offense, defense.
“Whatever they need me for, Benny Snell is gonna do it at his best.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .