Thursday, May 9, 2013

Le'Veon Bell Could Be A Running And Receiving Threat For Steelers

A quarterback's best friend is a good running game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers only ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing last season, while running the ball on only 40.3% of their plays. That was the lowest in franchise history. They only averaged only 3.83 yards per carry from their main three running backs (Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall), and only 3.7 YPC as a team. It's a far cry from the likes of John Henry Johnson, Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis or even Willie Parker.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is like any other NFL QB in that he would benefit from a solid and productive running game. To put a fine point on it, when the Steelers rush for 4.5 or more yards per rush in a game, Big Ben and the Steelers have a record of 40-12. Running the ball efficiently is what offensive coordinator Todd Haley would like to see the Steelers return to doing, as well as throwing to them out of the backfield.

"I like to have the running backs involved in the passing game other than just blocking," Haley said recently on ESPN 970. "So I think going into last year, the way that you looked at the backs around here was, can they pick up the blitz, period, when it came to passing situations. Now we're starting to make a movement more to getting them out, free releasing them, keeping other people in at times for protection, and letting the backs get out and create matchups on linebackers, which are ideal matchups a lot of times if you get the right ones."

Enter Le'Veon Bell.

"He's a big back, No. 1, and a three-down back, which is a big thing for us," Haley said of Bell after the draft. "He has very good hands and catches the ball very well out of the backfield."

The 6'1", 230-pound Bell is the product of a Michigan State Spartans' system that will help his transition to the next level, a point which Haley verified.

"He's coming from a pro-style offense," Haley said. "A lot of the (Steelers’) runs will be very similar to the runs that he was running."

Bell is more than capable of winning the Steelers’ No. 1 spot at running back and toting/catching the rock 20-25 times per game. The recent release of the Steelers depth chart shows him already listed ahead of Dwyer and Redman, though that means about as much in May as a preseason Top 25 college football ranking does. But, according to Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, who joined Ken Laird and Guy Junker on, from the very start they saw Bell as "an NFL back."

"He had 1,700 yards last year, and close to 900 of those yards were yards after contact, which indicates an ability to make NFL runs, because the holes in the NFL aren't going to be the same as they are in college. You saw him make a lot of what we thought were NFL-type runs. Even if he only had a one-yard hole that was blocked, once he made contact, he always seemed to fall forward for four more." -

Whether falling "forward for four more" or catching the ball and running for several, the Steelers are obviously hoping Bell can bring life back to what was an abysmal running attack last season. Remember the 3.7 YPC the Steelers had last season? Bell ran for 4.7 YPC his senior year - also more than the 4.5 YPC needed to attain the 77% winning percentage spoken of earlier.

Bell's ability to be a pass catcher is one of the things the Steelers brass loves about him. In 2012, Dwyer and Redman combined 37 receptions. His senior year in college, Bell had 32 himself. Behind The Steel Curtain further breaks down the ways in which Bell can help in the passing game based on formations in their piece on the subject:

One of the best ways to help get the ball out of Big Ben's hands quicker next season is to have a running back with soft hands who is used to making something out if nothing.

Also, as alluded to at the outset, Bell could end up being Big Ben's best friend.

(Addendum: The Steelers depth chart has since changed and Bell nor, for some reason, Gilbert are any longer even mentioned.)